The room was clean. A large comfy chair with over-sized cushions sat angled in the corner to look out the wide window and see the city. The streetlights flickered like tiny candles reflecting on the snow falling in fat flakes from the sky. It was beautiful and I wanted to remain fixed on the scene outside, to forget all the details I’d been told days before, and just breathe.
You know, the kind of breath that wasn’t paired with the tightness in my ribs spreading to my chest to constrict my heart, and on some days felt as if I were going to suffocate. I wanted to exhale without my lips trembling, and my eyes misting.
I sat down in the chair. The room smelled of nothing. No scent wafted in to remind me of happier times, instead the emptiness stole any sense of the outside world, hidden beneath the blanket of despair hanging over me.
How it happened I couldn’t really say. How I’d spent the last five weeks in a hospital room watching my brother die was still a blur. Life doesn’t come with a textbook full of bullet points to what is next, because if it did, I’d have ripped this page out. How does someone watch a person they care so much for die? I’d been contemplating it for days. I prayed for strength, for a miracle, for peace. I prayed for it all to be a misunderstanding.
God gave me strength.
I came to the hospital every day, I sat with Joe and talked, laughed, but we never cried. I told him I loved him several times…I wanted to make sure he knew.
I watched him breathe while he slept in between bouts of vomiting and shaking. I washed his face, kissed his cheek and covered him back up with the blanket. I went home every night to my children and husband…and I smiled.
I was strong. I would not fall. Not in front of him.
When we found out how sick he was, I asked God to take him quick because he was in so much pain. I wanted to take that back now. I pleaded with God, to just give us more time, another week, one more day!
My hands shook, but I still could not acknowledge it. Maybe if I ignored the signs, it wouldn’t happen…right?
Everyone was making their exit and coming to my house before we went back again a few hours later. I stood in the line wanting to be one of the last to say I’d see him later.
As I approached the bed, Joe opened his eyes. For the first time in two days he was looking at me. Blue eyes that were vibrant—clear, and he smiled a crooked grin.
“Later, bro. I’ll see you in a few hours.” I kissed his cheek.
He shook his head, and a shaky hand grabbed the cross around his neck.
“What do you mean no? You got other plans?” I joked.
“Jesus,” he whispered and looked upward.
“No, not yet.” I am strong.
I didn’t believe him, or maybe I refused to allow myself to see the truth. A few hours later, with a house full of friends and family the hospital phoned to say Joe had passed.
Accepting what you do not have control over…
They say when someone is suffering it’s a blessing when they pass…I agreed with that sentiment until it happened to me. I wanted my brother to be here with me, with our family for longer than the short time it took him to die.
I was selfish and I didn’t care.
The days that followed ran into each other, as my sister and I planned his funeral. Picked out his urn, his headstone, and sat in the room at the funeral home holding his cross necklace, watch, and clothes.
It was all we had left.
I was strong.
Each morning I sat at my kitchen table thinking I had something to do, somewhere to go, and I realized…I’d never go back to the hospital again and see him there. I watched my boys to make sure they were okay, and held my husband as he cried. I talked to my parents and oldest brother every day asking if they were okay.
I kept my home open for anyone needing to come by to talk. Christmas was a little over a month away, and I bought gifts, cooked dinners, and smiled.
I was strong.
When my husband left to go back out of town at the end of February…it was the first night I did not sleep. I laid awake as bouts of anxiety rolled over me. Joe was gone.
I’d never see his face again, hear him say my name, or his laugh and the realization crashed onto me. My lungs filled with guilt. Layers of ‘what if’s’ or ‘why didn’t I’s’, and soon I was gasping for air in a panic. I didn’t know what to do, how to make it stop.
My strength was gone. The barrier I’d asked God for had evaporated, disappeared and I was left open and exposed to what I did not want to accept. I pushed it away.
Shoved the shame, remorse, and stopped my mind from replaying the things I’d said years ago when we fought, or when he stopped by and I was not home, the times I should’ve visited him. They penetrated me, piercing my skin like bullets.
I couldn’t see anything but what I’d done. How I’d let him down. All the excuses of why I couldn’t see him and his new girlfriend didn’t hold any weight now. Instead they shattered my soul, and forced me to acknowledge how cruel I had been. How I had hurt him.
I couldn’t see past this, and each night as I lay awake the words, and actions of years before would pulse in my mind. Guilt soaked me in sweat, and I’d whisper into the night how sorry I was…but it was too late. My heart was heavy, my eyes were dry and I could not make it right. I could not go back…oh how I wished I could.
Nightmares pushed themselves into the few scattered hours of sleep I’d get, and as the days passed I began sleeping during the day when the kids were at school. I felt myself sinking deeper and deeper into something I was not familiar with.
I prayed for God to help me heal, to tell my brother I loved him, and to be with my family. I know He was there, but I was so wrapped up in my own despair I couldn’t allow Him or anyone else to help me.
Anger, denial and guilt…
Death has no mercy.
When you think things are getting better and you’re coping well, death will punch you in the face without any remorse. It will drive all the light from your life, cast you into darkness, and bring you to your bloody knees.
Death has no sympathy, it has no friends, and it has no conscience. It succeeds in pushing you off the edge, watching you spiral out of control until you cannot shed another tear, until your voice is horse from wailing.
Death is not beautiful, it is a horrid, gut-wrenching experience, it will change your life; make you second-guess your own purpose.
Death leaves you vulnerable, empty and lost.
Anger often greets mourners lying in wait to pounce, casting its evil fingers into your spine and grab hold. It was where I stayed for six months.
I couldn’t understand why my brother had to die. I was angry at how he’d never found true love, had children of his own, or got to see his Godson graduate high school. Life hadn’t been fair to my brother, and now he was gone.
I laid awake each night going over our life with him. Every detail replayed in my mind—conversations, our weddings, how good he was at being a Disc Jockey. How ten years before he’d been beaten so badly by bouncers he’d suffered a massive stroke that paralyzed him on the right side and he lost most of his speech.
And then I’d think how he kept going no matter what life threw at him. He still smiled and I’d become angry all over again because it wasn’t fair. He was a good person. One of the kindest I knew.
I couldn’t write, had lost weight and during the day I walked around in a haze taking small naps because I knew when darkness fell I’d be accosted with nightmares and memories I could not take back.
All of this time I prayed, but God didn’t answer me. He didn’t take the nightmares away…He didn’t let me have peace. I pushed everything away. I said what needed to be said, and smiled and laughed but inside I was a shell.
I didn’t listen to any music for six months. Every song held a reminder of my brother in some way. I closed myself off from the outside world…not working, or going out with friends.
I cried often.
There are moments in life when we sink so low, we cannot seem to find which way is up. I was there. No one knew. Not my children, husband or family. I kept it to myself because I was afraid they’d tell me to let it go. I couldn’t. I had been unkind to my brother the last few months before he got sick. I didn’t like his girlfriend. I deliberately left my house when I knew they were coming over. I was horrible. I did not deserve his love…and yet he loved me. Why? When I could not even love myself?
Finding my peace…
I wrote the first letter to my brother at four o’clock in the morning seven months after his death. I told him all the things I should’ve done and said while he was alive.
I wrote him every week for two months. I told him about the boys, my husband, mom and dad and my sister and brother. I talked to him as if he were living abroad.
My chest began to lighten with each letter, and one night as I sat in bed afraid to sleep. I prayed.
I had stopped praying since my brother passed. As I spoke to God I didn’t hold back and just like my letters to Joe, I let God into my heart. I didn’t realize by shutting everyone else out, I’d shut God out too. I’d pushed Him away. Not deliberately, but the anger had a bitter hold on my body. I was consumed with nastiness, that I could not see the person I was or should be.
I closed myself off to God because I was angry with Him. Most people would say ‘it happens,’ or ‘of course you did who else is to blame.’
But what I realized is this: God is not to blame for my brother’s sickness and death.
He did not place the cancer in his body, nor did he use the bouncers who beat him up ten years before to send some sort of message.
God is not Tony Santana from Scarface. He is not a mobster, or a killer.
He is love. He is kindness. He is a hand to hold when you have nothing else to hang on to. He is light in the darkness, and even though like me, I was caught in the dark for a long time, all I had to do was call out to Him and He was there.
I turned away from His strength, His love…His help. I walked the other way. I took the wrong path into darkness and despair. As I prayed that night I could feel a calm come over me. The weight I’d carried from my brother’s passing had been lifted. For the first time in months my shoulders did not sag, my eyes did not weep, and my heart did not ache.
I’ve always known my brother was in heaven, this I never second-guessed, but now I knew I was not alone. Trials and tribulations will come in and out of my life, and I will face them head on. I’ve learned to hold my children tighter, appreciate the people in my life, to laugh more and smile more, and when the pain comes to accept it. I can do all of this because of my faith.
Always remember…even in your darkest hour there is light and with light comes hope.
Kat Flannery’s love of history shows in her novels. She is an avid reader of historical, suspense, paranormal, and romance. Kat volunteers her time teaching writing classes and giving back to other aspiring authors. She’s been published in numerous periodicals throughout her career and continues to write for blogs and online magazines. Her debut novel CHASING CLOVERS has been an Amazon Top 100 Paid bestseller. LAKOTA HONOR and BLOOD CURSE (Branded Trilogy) are Kat’s two award-winning novels and the MONTGOMERY SISTERS is Kat’s first novella series. She is currently hard at work on her next book. You can find more information on her site, and find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of DAVIDCOHEN.