Today I wish you a Happy Birthday my dear brother. Though you left this Earth over 15 years ago, I carry you with me constantly. You had such a spirit, a strength, that guides me even today as I think back to these many years of struggle and sadness and triumph and acceptance.
You were born today in 1980. We, your family, celebrate your 29th birthday, in our hearts. I will light a candle and blow it out for you, making a beautiful wish on your behalf. Would that be okay? Actually, I'll have two candles as you are double digits after all.
I still find myself bothered when people ask How many siblings do you have? I never know what to answer. It often depends on the person and the context of the situation. With people I don't know and will probably never converse with again, I will tell them about M our younger brother who is living an exciting life in Australia as we speak. If I feel the situation allows for it, I will tell them about you D, and the amazing but short life you led. But this doesn't always happen. Does that bother you as it does me? Can you forgive the uncertain heart of your sister who sometimes is just so tired of the drama and sorrow in her life that she just doesn't want to get into that long story? I'm sorry. Truly. I don't mean to imply that you aren't important or that you are forgotten. It's just that time has carried me forward past the point where we lost you. I know you are with us on our journey but it's different, isn't it?
When I do get into the conversation about you, I'll tell them about the brother who lost the war with cancer. I tell them about the first battle with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer that affects mostly children. You were only five. Five, that's all! A small child who surely was terrified. Who didn't understand the fragile existence that is life. Or maybe you did. There's a part of me that thinks that that is probably true.
I'll tell them about how they put you on experimental doses of chemo and radiation in hopes that it would do the trick. They gave you the highest doses they could without killing you outright. There were surgeries too. Tumours removed. Just one? I don't think I ever knew, I was just a baby then after all.
I'll tell them how you won that battle with the utterance of the magical word remission. I'll tell them how your poor body suffered for that victory. How your pituitary gland was damaged and how you really didn't grow. You had to take expensive human growth hormones and inject them into yourself with needles (is it any wonder I hated needles all these past years?). I'll tell them that we had wonderful times, us three kids, just being kids as best we could, even though we knew that our reality was not like those of other kids our ages.
I'll tell them about that fateful day in the Safeway parking lot where I vividly remember Mom truly freaking out and yelling Why didn't you say anything before? How long has it been there? A puffy and red space under your left eye. I'll tell them how my parent's rushed you to Children's Hospital convinced it was an old nightmare returning to haunt us. I'll tell them that in fact it wasn't the old nightmare at all but a new demon. One we didn't see coming; similar but different all the same. Bone cancer. The result of all that radiation you had. The word tragic doesn't do the situation justice. At all.
I'll tell them about the second battle where you donned your armour again. This time, though, you are 11 years old and you know what it'll be like. Chemo and radiation and surgery, oh my! I'll tell them how we visited you in the hospital, M and I and Mom and Dad. And how M and I were scared (although we didn't know it at the time) and we didn't know what to make of the hospital and didn't know how to visit with our sick brother. So overwhelming for a 5 and 8 year old (respectively). We spent many an hour in the play room instead of with you.
Then I'll tell them how we all rejoiced when you won your battle yet again! What a miracle!
And how our faith in hope was shattered when that remission lasted only two years. How at thirteen years old, Mom told me that you weren't going to get better, and how I, a ten year old, would have to say good bye to you. How can I explain to them how that made me feel numb and broken inside? How I understood what death meant, but at the same time I didn't?
But you knew. You've always known. You knew that it took me till the tenth Anniversary of your passing to finally be free from my grief. How we all went to Saxe Point Park with your ashes to finally give the physical part of you back to the Earth from which you came. How I helped Dad free you. I helped lovingly spread your ashes into the bitterly cold Pacific Ocean, ever to be one with the Universe again. But you already knew that.
Do you also know that while Mom believes in G*d and angels, I've never been able to bring myself to believe the same? That my faith has taken a slightly different turn but that it's no less valid or strong? Do you know that I can feel your energy around me sometimes?
These things I can't tell people in conversation but I will tell them other things. Like how you taught me how to tie my shoes. One bunny ear, two bunny ears, then cross under and pull! How in a fantastic sibling fight you threw your harmonica at me and it hit me squarely on my chin and I wailed like a banshee, waking Mom out of her afternoon nap? (Boy she was mad). lol. Even today I still laugh over that memory. One of my favourites...
Mostly, though, Ill tell them about the boy who loved Star Trek (it was you who started us down the family Trek path after all), and was a great artist and was fascinated by computers. Mom thinks that you would have ended up in computer animation. That would have been cool.
Finally though, I will tell people how much you meant to me and how our short years together and your leaving changed me in such profound ways, I've still yet to fully comprehend it all.
Lastly, before I go, I want to ask if Alex and Kenneth have met their Uncle yet? Do you know them, my babies? Have you felt the tiny spirits of our boy Kenneth and Alex (our girl)? I like to think that you three kids come and visit me now and again because I can feel the energy around me stir in inexplicable ways at times. My heart knows (I think) even if my mind cannot.
It's Alex's birthday on Friday. The day s/he would have been born (estimated due date in any case). Will you come to the party and help me light a candle?
I love you. Always.
Your little sister,
P.S. My tears today are those of happy memories, not sadness.