This past Thanksgiving I stood in that same kitchen, and thought back to how different this holiday was from the last one.
We did indeed have cancer in our family -- my brother was living proof. Christmas came and went, along with 2012, and Matt still trooped on.
Over this past weekend though, my brother passed away at the age of 40.
Cancer (and indeed any and all disease...) sucks. I'm not the first person to say it, nor will I be the last. Nearly every person I know has been touched in some way by a relative, friend or colleague who has had cancer. Some have lived, many have died.
When I first discovered Matt had cancer, I went for a walk with a childhood friend. Walking is, after all, the cheapest form of both exercise and therapy. She had recently listened to a radio special on cancer -- and she mentioned how many of the people they interviewed said the disease brought them closer together as a family.
I was a little skeptical, but as 2012 carried on, those words stayed with me. My brother and I definitely had our differences, especially as we grew into adulthood. I wasn't totally convinced that him having cancer would cure us of our relationship woes. In fact, I thought it might make them worse. But in the end, while it was no doubt one of the most difficult years of my life, I am forever grateful for the extra time I got to spend with Matt. The radio broadcaster was right. Cancer had brought us closer. Cancer still sucked, but good can occasionally spring forth from a bad situation.
While we continued to pray for a miracle of healing, I think the true miracle was the reconciliation that occurred in our family.
I told Matt how much I loved him while he was still alive. I even wrote him a letter (because I often stink at actually verbalizing my true feelings) and then I read it to him. The letter contained 10 things I wanted him to remember -- I'll share just one with you:
"You were always braver than me – whether it was with a roller coaster, bungee jumping, buying a house, fighting fires, pulling people out of vehicles and now going through cancer. You have definitely trumped me with guts. (I know I gave you some lame excuse about not wanting to hurt myself for an upcoming cross-country race when I didn't go bungee jumping with you, but really, I was scared sh*tless.) The only time I remember you being a chicken was when you had a spider in your room at the A-frame and you wanted me to get rid of it. Now that I think about it… maybe that was just your ploy to get me to do your dirty work?!"
We hugged through tears and sniffles and even a few giggles, and then we had eight more months to reminisce about our childhood. Those were the best moments I shared with him. They are the memories I will cherish in the years to come. And in the moments after he died, I thought to myself, "I'm so glad I gave him that letter so many months ago."
No regrets about anything left unsaid.
But I know life will never quite be the same. C.S. Lewis says in his book, The Four Loves:
"If, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B loses not only A, but ‘A’s part in C’ and C loses not only A, but ‘A’s part in B’."
I have always appreciated this poignant quote, because whenever death occurs, it not only affects you, it affects those around you who also knew that person, and therefore it changes your relationship with those people, even if only slightly.
I will feel my brother's absence not only in my own realm, but in the lives of those he touched throughout his life.
|Matt and me -- circa 80s|
Watching my only sibling deal with cancer changed me. Life really is too short. Live with no regrets. Forgive. Move on. Get in touch with friends you have been meaning to get in touch with. Write a letter. Encourage someone. Tell and show others how much you love them.
And the next time you encounter someone going through something as big as cancer, remind them of their bravery, and then let them know they are not alone. Matt would have liked that.