B is for Brother

I was visiting my mom and sister in Edmonton, Canada, when I got the news. It was the day after Christmas, and the West Edmonton Mall, where my sister and I were spending the afternoon to distract ourselves, was crowded.

Our brother had been taken to the hospital the day before because he was not well. My mom, sister, and I could see this when we Face Timed him Christmas morning. My sister-in-law brought him to the emergency room in Idaho Falls, and he was admitted immediately. His liver was failing.

The news from Idaho got worse and worse as the hours passed, and my mind was shadowed with what if thoughts. But we didn’t really expect him to die. He was only 40 years old! Sure, he wasn’t in the best physical condition, but he had three young sons and a wife who needed him. Things like this don’t happen to us.

But it did.

The call came as I was considering a purchase in a store that doesn’t exist in the states. My sister was the one to get the news from our sister-in-law. She turned to me and said two simple but life-changing words: He’s gone.

I was in shock at first. Then the white-hot pain of irrecoverable loss seared its way into my core. I was gutted.

We abruptly left the store. Our mom, who lived within walking distance of the mall, needed us. Tears now rushed down my face as I dodged shoppers, strangers who knew nothing about my pain, looking at me as if my secret-to-them tragedy might be contagious. I wanted to fall to the ground and cry out that my brother—my baby brother and one of my best friends—was dead.

I tried to call my husband, but my US-based carrier wouldn’t connect until I was outside in the cold. My sister led the way as I followed far behind, trying to tell my husband what had happened. In my distraction, I almost walked into a man who was crossing in front of me.

Canadians are supposed to be nice, but this man’s look said, “Watch where you’re going, idiot!” I stopped, prepared to challenge him, to stone him with four-letter words. It might have felt good to take some of my anger out on this man, but he kept walking. That was a good thing, for both of us.

My hands grew numb during our walk, which was longer than my sister implied. She carries her grief differently than I. I wear my heart on my sleeve; she keeps it inside. My hands grew numb, and I was glad. I welcomed the pain, the distraction.

By the time we reached my mom’s condo, my southern California body felt nearly frozen. But that didn’t stop the nauseating disbelief and emptiness. It didn’t bring back the breath that was knocked out of me at the news. It didn’t stop the tears.

I was broken. I am broken. My brother meant the world to me. He was good. We shared a bond through our love of nature, a similar sense of humor (he was so much funnier than I am!). We worked together as team teachers at the same school for a while, and I never tired of talking to him.

My brother was loved by countless people—former students, school families, friends, co-workers. Again, he was good. He touched lives every day. His wit, combined with his non-judgemental heart made him easy to talk to.

But he struggled. Underneath his humor and his generosity was a man who was filled with anxiety, depression, and self-doubt. The grace he extended so freely to others, he rarely gave to himself. Not many people knew this side of my brother.

He felt he didn’t have much to offer, that he wasn’t able to impact people in a positive way. This bothered him greatly. He passed on with these doubts. One thing that comforts me is that I know he now knows how much his life mattered to everyone who knew him. He now knows how loved he was.

We had a memorial service planned for my brother. It has been postponed because of the pandemic. As is natural, the loss of my brother has taken a back seat at the moment as Covid-19 slithers its way into countries, cities, communities, and families around the world.

Andrew was a father, husband, son, uncle, brother-in-law, cousin, friend, teacher, counselor, mentor. He was my brother. He will always be my brother, and for that I have been eternally blessed.