I grew up with an older brother that was probably comparable to many other brothers. John is 10 years older than I am. With such a huge gap between us, he was more than mildly letdown that I turned out to be a girl. When I got a little older he would tease me until my blood would boil. “Does the baby need a baba? Does she need her diaper changed?” That incredibly annoying baby-talk tone still rings in my ears. I can’t lie and say it was all him; I was an incredibly difficult child.
My brother and I didn’t become very close until I was an adult. I was always impressed at what an exceptional father he was; despite the fact he never had a great role model. He never needed a break from his two little girls. Never. I don’t know many fathers that would stay up all night with a sick baby without ever muttering a complaint. For as tough as he was on me, he was a sucker for those little angels.
John was the only one in my family who supported me when I decided to move across the country and get married. We had a heartfelt conversation and although he was protective, he still gave me his blessing, which meant the world to me.
Only months after that memorable conversation, I called him just to chat. He sounded different. I could tell something was wrong. He said he wasn’t feeling well and had thrown his back out. We had a short conversation and that was the last time I spoke to him before the bomb dropped.
After weeks of confusion and uncertainty, doctors finally discovered that John was suffering from a mysterious staph infection and his heart, among other organs, was quickly failing. They were scheduled to perform emergency heart surgery that night to replace one of his valves.
Nobody knew how serious the situation was but I knew I had to get home. My husband and I were driving when I called my mom the next morning to see how the surgery had gone and to tell her we were about halfway there. She was hysterical as she told me, between sobs and half-screams, that the doctor had just told her that John had suffered a major stroke and things looked “grim.” I had to pull over and my husband tried to hold me to keep me from convulsing. Every dark emotion that I had felt in my life suddenly flooded my body and I couldn’t do anything but scream and cry. Why didn’t I just fly home? Why didn’t I call him and talk to him before his surgery? What was I thinking living halfway across the country? How was my mom going to go on if John didn’t make it? He had never even met my husband yet! What about his little girls?
Seeing my brother in a coma is an image that I wish could be erased from my memory. He was yellow, almost translucent, and swollen, with his head tilted back in order to accommodate the tube they had to insert in his throat. He looked lifeless. I had an overwhelming realization that I was never going to see my brother again. That he was never going to meet my husband and that his girls were not going to have a father to watch them grow up.
They say God works in mysterious ways. He allows us to endure a trial and then He blesses us with miracles and tender mercies. It would take an entire book to tell about all the miracles and blessings we received as a family. Suffice it to say that God brought my brother back to us.
Although he suffered considerable damage to his brain and has lost most of his physical capacity, the ability to walk, eat, or talk, he is still my brother, with all of his mental capacities intact. I take care of him everyday. I cherish the fact that we didn’t lose him that day when I thought for sure we had. He has even made miraculous improvements and recently found his voice and is able to communicate, albeit limitedly, through speech.
My family has always been my most treasured possession. We have always been tight-knit and are even more so now that we have banded together to take care of John and his girls. My husband and I left a growing business in Texas. My sister sold her home for next-to-nothing. My mother left her home and transferred jobs. My younger brother is attending a university extension in our small community. All of these sacrifices were necessary in order for us to come together and make sure my brother has quality, 24-hour care at home, with his girls.
At times, it’s been extremely difficult physically, emotionally, and financially. We have gone through all of us living under the same roof, pooling our resources and helping each other graduate from college. We’ve been through pregnancies and births, changes in John’s care, and changes in jobs. Since then, I have become the primary caretaker for my brother during the day. I feel more connected and closer to him than ever before in my life.
Although it sure isn’t easy and even John and I argue sometimes, I wouldn’t trade my family for the world. I often have people tell me how unfair life is and how tragic my brother’s situation is. Sometimes I agree and other times I can’t help but think maybe this is the price I have to pay in order to be blessed with such an amazing and loving family. Maybe these kinds of things are what make families great. It breaks my heart that it has come at such a high cost for my brother, but this tragedy has brought us all together again.
Time is measured in our family on a different timeline now. It’s now “Before John got Sick” and “After John got Sick.” His experience has changed us forever.
We think twice now before complaining about things such as our weight, the taste of food, or how much we hate to exercise. We try to remember how blessed we are to have the ability to eat, exercise, or even walk. Contentment comes in these small gratitudes.
Finding contentment in life has nothing to do with material possessions, a striking physique, or the most prestigious honors man can receive. Contentment comes from true sacrifice, heartfelt gratitude, and genuine love for other people. Nothing has illustrated this better in my life than my brother’s experience.
I don’t try to explain why this happened or blame God for such a horrific trial for John and his girls. I don’t allow myself to replay it all very often or think about what might happen in the future. For now, I am content to hear my brother’s struggled but clear “I love you” and be exceedingly grateful that he is here and that I know he loves me just as I love him.