Remembering Joe

September 17, 2015

There are times when I am overwhelmed with grief, with the loss that has occurred in my life, leaving a scar that will never heal…

On September 17, 2003 my brother Joe died in surgery when they were trying to repair an aneurysm in the back of his brain. And even though twelve years have gone by, I can still remember it like yesterday.

The house was quiet with Joel and Zach off camping and Chelsea upstairs asleep. It had been a casual evening, one I spent with Jane watching the movie Chicago. Once the movie ended she had left and I began an evening filled with crafting, until the phone rang.

I knew as soon as Lisa spoke that something horrible was wrong. I could hear the fear in her voice. They had called an ambulance for Joe and he was at Metro Hospital, it is very serious.

My voice now trembling called my siblings to relay the information I had just learned. I tried multiple times to reach Joel on his cell phone, but twelve years ago the phones weren’t what they are today. He and Zachary were in a remote area camping and it would take the rangers voice and flashlight to wake them from their peaceful slumber.

The affects of Zachary being startled in the night lingered for years, as he was unable to spend the night anywhere without the fears of something terrible happening. For years we picked him up from his friends in the late hours of the evening when his worry consumed him.

That night at home I paced outdoors sobbing, shattered, and questioning life. I pleaded with God, and could not breath. The emotional turmoil left me heaving until there was nothing left. It was August 23rd, just days before the kids returned to school and I could not gain composure.

That night as I awaited Joel and Zach to return, I knew I could not go to the hospital until after midnight. The 23rd was the same day Ryan died in February, and my irrational emotions deemed it bad luck.

All night long I talked to my siblings as they updated on Joe and asked when I would be there. I was still waiting for Joel to get home and I wanted it to be August 24 when I got there. Finally in the wee hours of the morning we went to the hospital.

For the next three weeks our days were spent at Metro Hospital. My car traveled on autopilot, once leaving the kids at school I made the trip back to the hospital where we gathered in the waiting area for those bits of news delivered by the doctor.

Regardless of how small, we celebrated every milestone as they nursed him back to health. If he wiggled his fingers or squeezed someone’s hand, we cried tears of joy, and finally found hope. These were the steps necessary in bringing him back, each baby step needed to be ready for surgery and clamp the aneurysm.

On the day of the surgery, we all arrived at the hospital filled with optimism. They did this before; twenty years ago they clamped the aneurysm in the front of his brain, now this one in the back should not be difficult, especially after twenty years of improved technology.

I remember the confidence I held that day, this was the first step to Joe getting better. Now having faith and confidence in any battle sends me back to this day. Today I fill with doubt before I even hear of what may happen, because all those times in my life when I held the most confidence, were the times when things fell apart.

We were all led to a large room in the basement, filled with comfy chairs, several televisions and peaceful aquariums. Tranquil pieces of life surrounded us as we waited for the surgery to begin.

Instructed to watch the television monitor for updates, they prepared him for surgery. After feeling comfortable in knowing surgery had begun, Deb and I made the trip to the cafeteria for coffee, preparing us all for the long procedure ahead.

My mind reasoned with the restless thoughts of worry. He made it this far, I articulated, Ryan died, our father died, surely Joe was going to make it through this. This could not happen to our family again, right…

As Deb and I were returning to the waiting room, we could hear the echo of our mother sobbing, and my stomach sank. Once Deb and I were back they ushered the four of us into another room away from the other waiting families.

I knew these little rooms all too well, the small rooms they brought you to when the news was bad, a place to give you privacy from others, secluded from the rest of the hospital, where your sobs were muted.

The room with Ryan was filled with tables and chairs where we unknowingly sat until the betrayal that he would not make it was announced. Where Joel sprung up and I fled, as if running would make it go away. Our father had died before we arrived at the hospital, so we were led directly to this small, secluded, dimly lit room to deliver the news.

And so on that morning with Joe, hope was quickly removed, divorced from the band-aid that once protected our hearts. Secluded in another small room where they explained that he lost too much blood.

Eventually they lead us upstairs to another room where he was prepped for us to see him. As we arrived to the elevator our younger brother began punching the elevator door to open as the staff tried to calm him. His frustration made us crumble.

I don’t know what I expected to see, shock has a way of cushioning the blow. You have no tears; everything is going in slow motion as your mind tries to grasp what is happening before you.

It no longer looked like my brother, his head wrapped thickly with gauze to cover the damage. He was swollen and unrecognizable and I honestly thought they brought us to the wrong room.

There is no pain deeper then watching someone you love suffer. There is no pain deeper when you know they are gone, when you have to walk out into the world and pick up the pieces and go on, and there is no choice. We had no choice in what happened to Joe, we stood by him every step of the way and it all fell apart.

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