Seven Years

Yesterday was the seven year anniversary of my youngest brother’s death from cancer.

It’s hard to know what to call it – a death day, an anniversary.

I remember the night he died as almost dream-like – some of it crystal clear and some of it cloudy and strange.

Shepard had been hospitalized right after Thanksgiving because he’d stopped eating and drinking and needed to get on an IV. My parents had been spelling each other, one of them with him around the clock. That night, when my dad came to switch with my mom, the doctors told them that Shepard was deteriorating quickly and would probably only live another six weeks. The tumor, which they had scanned that morning had been noticeably bigger when they scanned it again in the evening. Eleven months of chemotherapy (after brain surgery) had shrunk the tumor to almost nothing, but, in the last few weeks, that “almost nothing” had come back with a vengeance and it was clear there would be no stopping it now.

My mom came home and told the three of us girls the news. It was so surreal. How can someone you love, someone you’ve seen every day of their life, someone you were sure was going to beat this, have only six weeks to live?

My mom sat down to write a few emails before returning to the hospital but had the distinct impression that she needed to hurry and get back to the hospital.

When she arrived, everything was quiet. She and my dad stood in the hallway talking quietly. An alarm went off and the nurses came running down the hall. My parents didn’t go in, thinking it was Shepard’s roommate’s malfunction machine again, until Shepard’s doctor came running too and they realized this time it was Shepard.

The alarm was the monitor attached to Shepard’s finger and it was indicating that he’d stopped breathing.

Shepard was taken to the PICU and put on life support, but it was soon obvious that he was brain dead and that only the machines were keeping him alive.

My mom and a family friend who had come over after Shepard stopped breathing came back to the house and woke us up.

It’s a way you never want to be woken up – to your mom shaking you gently and saying that Shepard is dying and we need to go say goodbye to him before we take him off the machines.

We drove the hospital. I don’t remember getting in the car, but I’ll never forget that drive as long as I live. I remember staring out the window, at roads I’d driven on hundreds of times, thinking it all looked the same, but nothing would ever be the same again.

At the hospital, we gathered around Shepard’s body, holding his hands as we said a final prayer as a family. After an hour or two, my dad drove us home where we went back to bed. My dad returned to the hospital and my parents spent a last few minutes with Shepard as they disconnected him from the machines and his body stopped breathing.

It was a long week, as we all stayed home from school and, one by one, each of the family got sick (my dad, by week’s end, had pnemonia). The house seemed so empty and still.

I wish I had something profound to say about all this or really anything at all. I don’t. I just miss my little brother. I miss knowing what he would have been like as a now-ten-year-old boy, rather than the baby he was when he died. I miss him at every family event -at our wedding, at Merrick’s wedding, at reunions, when we went to Disneyland. I don’t feel like my life is empty without him, but I know how much fuller it would be with him.

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  • Reply Jen Robinson December 1, 2007 at 2:54 am

    I’m so sorry about your brother, Janssen. I, too, have a quite a few years younger brother, and I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to lose him so early. Well, I guess I can imagine it now, because your post was very vivid (simply written, but straight to the heart). Thanks for sharing your thoughts. My heart goes out to you and your family. I know that anniversaries are hard.

  • Reply Meleah December 1, 2007 at 3:20 am

    Wow, what a post! It goes to show that you really have no idea what people have been through. I had no idea. Thanks for sharing your story. It was well written, I feel like I lost him too.

  • Reply Miriam Higginson December 1, 2007 at 3:22 am

    It seems like it happened such a long time ago – and yet it seems like last week (especially after reliving it through your post.) Beautifully remembered and written. Love you.

  • Reply Jennifer Lee December 1, 2007 at 3:32 am

    I love you, Janssen.

  • Reply smarteze December 1, 2007 at 3:37 am

    I don’t know what to say, but thanks for the post. I liked that you had his picture at the end.

  • Reply chloe elizabeth December 1, 2007 at 3:39 am

    Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with us.

  • Reply janet December 1, 2007 at 4:06 am

    I’m very sorry about your brother. Thanks for sharing this story though.

  • Reply Sheyenne December 1, 2007 at 4:23 am

    I’m so sorry about your brother. When I look at his picture I think of my own little boy, and it breaks my heart. I am thankful however, that your family knows the gospel and that you have the comfort of knowing that his death really wasn’t the end for him or for your family. Thanks for sharing that story.

  • Reply Emily Kate December 1, 2007 at 5:45 am

    Wow. I couldn’t read and not reply. I am so sorry for your loss. He looks like he was a sweetheart. Thanks for sharing your story. It touched my heart.

  • Reply allee December 1, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    Thank you for sharing about your sweet little brother. Bless you and your family, Janssen.

  • Reply Bethany December 1, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    That was really sad. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been.

    Now that I have a child, trials like that terrify me. I sometimes can’t sleep because I am so worried that something horrible might happen. Your parents must be incredibly strong faithful people to go through losing a child.

  • Reply Mary December 1, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    Thanks for sharing this story Janssen. I didn’t even know this about your family. I’ll be thinking of you and your family and will say a prayer for all of you.

  • Reply Ashley December 1, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    You made me ball like a baby. Like my mom said, beautifully remembered and written. Hugs your way.

  • Reply Ralphie December 1, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    I love you and love the fact that your story has made evey one of us with dear children of our own hold them a little closer and love them a little deeper.

    He is so beautiful. And you are so lucky to get to keep him forever.


  • Reply Terri B. December 2, 2007 at 12:35 am

    It is so hard to find words for something like this, but you wrote some beautiful ones. Blessings.

  • Reply The Dynamic Trio December 2, 2007 at 1:11 am

    Wow janssen. You and your family are so strong and united. I remember when this happened and i remember thinking what an amazing celestial family you belong to. I wish there was a less cliche’ thing to say than “I’m sorry” but i truly am. I can not imagine my life without my little brother. But the amazing thing is that you will see him again someday, …what a special experience that will be for your family. You are amazing. I just love you, i always have, and i LOVE reading your posts, they are so uplifting and real…thank you for this post Janssen. It was very special.

  • Reply Chelsea December 2, 2007 at 4:28 am

    Thanks for writing this story from your point of view. I’ve heard it from you Mom’s several times, but every time I hear it the memories come rushing back! I love you & my prayers are with you and your family!

  • Reply Kristy December 2, 2007 at 4:46 am

    Beautiful, Janssen. Thank you so much for sharing that.

  • Reply -R- December 2, 2007 at 10:21 pm

    Very well written. I’m really sorry that your family had to go through this.

  • Reply pal December 3, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I lost my dad to cancer when I was 13 and I remember many of the same emotions you expressed. I remember been woken up by my sister and us going in and having our last family prayer together. Our house was empty and still for many days after. It seemed like it too was mourining our loss.

    There isn’t really words to describe the emotions involved during that kind of a moment. However, you did an amazing job experessing yours. Isn’t it wonderful knowing that those we loose, are ours forever? It gives me goose bumps and peace all the time.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  • Reply Le Petit Chic December 3, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    That is such a tragedy. I’m so sorry for your loss. When I was 3, I lost my cousin who was also 3 to brain cancer and I still mourn the memory of him, even though it was so long ago.

  • Reply Heidi December 5, 2007 at 5:09 am

    Ohmygoodness, I don’t know how I missed this post. This is so beautifully written, I am in tears.

    Love you,

  • Reply She Likes Purple December 5, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    Janssen, I am so sorry for you and your family. Your brother is beautiful.

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