Sixteen years ago today I lost my brother Kevin to Colo-Rectal Cancer. He was 29 and my only sibling. His death was a seminal moment in my life, the kind of experience you just cannot fathom before it actually occurs. I have heard many people talk about it being better if death is immediate, because the person does not suffer. My brother suffered, for probably about six months with this horrid disease.
I think I will always remember that Sunday morning when my mom showed up, uncharacteristically, at our door on a Sunday morning before church. My mom never, ever did that. We were working to get our sixteen month old son ready for church and her appearance signaled something was significantly wrong.
My mom was a nurse for four decades. She loved the medical field, working in a physician’s office for decades before finishing her career in a couple of local operating rooms. In that time she was able to accumulate a broad knowledge of indicators of medical issues. When we sat down in the living room with her, the look on her face told us a lot.
She said she suspected Kevin had Cancer. Those words struck me like nothing I could have ever imagined. It seemed like an eternity between then and the afternoon when we shared lunch with my parents and brother who still lived at home. We had a few moments alone and I asked Kec=vin the answer I, as a Christian, found most important at that moment. I already knew the answer, but I asked for the sake of my mortal mind. “Do you know Jesus as your personal Saviour?” Because I believe this is necessary for one to go to Heaven for eternity. My brother of course told me he did. I said,”Then all this other stuff we can handle.” I suppose it seems an empty comment to some of you, considering I was not the one fighting a disease that would ravage my body, but to us it meant so much.
On October 1st of 1996, we got the medical confirmation. Kevin had been to the emergency room and the doctor’s office several times, but at his age no one even considered the fact he could have colon cancer. The news was no shock to my mother, only the embodiment of her worst nightmare. By the time it was found, the die had been cast, Kevin never had a chance.
The oncologist tried their various methods, including radiation and chemotherapy. They ravaged my brother’s body, but not his spirit or soul. My brother had a happy-go-lucky approach to life. Even throughout his declining health he fought to be true to his personality. His eyes began to show the effects and the spark was weaker.
Just before Christmas of 1996, my wife, son and I were visiting with Kevin and my parents when a group of carolers from the church we grew up attending came to sing to Kevin. Before and since then I have on many occasions been in the group of singers, sent to minister to those who were either unable to attend church or facing health a health crisis. This is the only time I was ever part of the receiving piece of this act.
Throughout all the struggles of that fall I fought to keep my tears at bay. As my wife, who said her quick tendency to cry is a curse will say, no one who is sick wants to see you crying over them. I cannot remember which song it was, but I guess it truly was the realization Kevin would not hear these on another Christmas Day that finally broke the tear dam.
Christmas that year was severely subdued. Kevin was still with us, but as a shadow of his former self. He was a good eighty pounds lighter and struggling to maintain the semblance of what passed for life. My son was eager to have “Uncle Kevin” watch him open his gifts. Kevin tried, showing my son how to find the seam and rip the paper. I have home video of this that I looked at just a few months ago. It remanded me of how little time my son had with his uncle.
On the evening my brother died, we decided to come home to rest as we had stayed overnight to try to spell my mom, who stayed up all the time to nurse my brother. The call came during the night and we traveled the short three minutes back to my family home, where people began to gather. It was a surreal experience, because Kevin had always been there, always a part of that landscape.
I think I will always remember the sound of the gurney the funeral home used to take my brother from the house to the hearse. As the wheels rolled along the twenty-five feet stretch of deck to go toward the drive way my wife clapped her hands over my ears, but it did not matter. That sound seemed multiplied 100 times.
There was a huge crowd at the funeral home for Kevin’s wake. Unbeknownst to us, eight inches of snow would fall in the three plus hours. I considered it a great compliment to my brother’s life that even in this adverse situation so many people made an effort to attend. The next day I found myself at the center of a circle of my friends, mourning the death of the brother I shared a room with for so many nights. Life would never be the same.