Nineteen years ago I remember sitting next to my brother Jasper's bed as he lay in the ICU. The snow was softly falling without making a sound - it was deafening silent and yet peaceful and comforting at the same time. Inside the sound of his breathing machine hissed as it pumped up and down - the only thing keeping him alive. Three weeks earlier my brother walked into the emergency room complaining he couldn't breath. He would die TWICE on the table that day. Little did we know then that his life was spared only temporarily.
What do you say to your brother knowing it will be the last words he'll ever hear from you? I said something like you're the best brother a sister could ever have... God even know it sounds so trite. My brother was dying and the only emotion I could express was that? Was he wanting to burst out laughing? We used to throw each other down the stairs for sport afterall.
The breathing machine kept hissing - he couldn't talk thanks to the breathing tube and he had become to weak to write. Instead he just squeezed my hand as I rattled off my top layer emotions. Each squeeze felt like - I understand all the things you want to say, but can't.
My 26 year old brother Jasper would die on a cold November morning - the week before Thanksgiving. The die was cast that he was going to leave this world - the three weeks as it turned out was for us - his family to come to grips with him leaving.
My own mortality became real that day - dying wasn't something waiting for me some 60 years away. If it could happen to my brother - it could happen to me. I realized a lot of things over those three weeks, but the most profound was how closed off I had become to experiencing the highs and lows of life. My brother was leaving this world and wouldn't get to live the life he was entitled to have - falling madly in love - children - a family of his own - traveling the world.......... All those possibilities were no longer possibilities for him.
If my life ended tomorrow - would it end with a life full of regret for all the "what if's" I didn't do because I was too afraid of failing - getting hurt - feeling foolish - being judged - standing out of the crowd. Isn't that what life is supposed to be about?
At the time I was married to a man - our connection was top shelf emotions. Neither one of us wanted or demanded anything more. That arrangement was working sort of when I walked through the hospital doors. The birth of my daughter months earlier had already created some huge cracks in the foundation. By the time I walked out the hospital doors three weeks later the house I had built had completely crumbled. That life was gone for me.
To the outside world including my Ex Husband it looked like my brother's death was a death to everything wonderful. Only for me Jasper's death ended up being a rebirth of sorts. I had risked very little emotionally in my life so far and by doing so I had been given little in return. I was so afraid of emotional risk that I had stopped living.
My brother didn't get to choose how or when he was going to die - those decisions were out of his hand, but his life and how he lived it had been all his. He lived and loved without much thought to what the outside world thought about it. He had been hurt to the core from taking emotional risk and he had been given a love that continues on even after his death. Life is about living not just getting through the day.
Five years later, at Christmas time - my Hubby Raylan would surprise me with a romantic getaway to Lake Louise and ask me to marry him. Among many things he said "I LOVE THE WAY YOU LOVE ME!" Every time I think of my Hubby's words I think of my brother. Without Jasper teaching me what life was really about I would have never heard those words from my Hubby or built our life together these past fourteen years. I learned how to love without fear or expectation - the best gift I have given to everyone in my life, but to myself as well.
This Holiday season I wish everyone the gift of emotional risk - allowing yourself to live - soaking up the roller coaster of a ride. For those of us in blended families the ride can be extremely challenging at times with some very low lows, but man the high highs are unlike no other. Enjoy living and loving this Holiday season - we are all so lucky to have each and every day to do so!
Cheers my Friends!