As you get older, months take on different significance. Months that used to be filled with birthdays, anniversaries and graduations now harbor dates where someone you love learned he was dying and months where father, brother, mother, died.
June is one of those months for me. My brother Mike learned he would die of a brain tumor in June. I think he suspected that he was dying but the doctors confirmed it on June 11th, 2007. I spent the next 2 weeks living in Virginia, fighting for tests, for hope, because my sister-in-law could not. She was in shock; she was losing her husband of 43 years. But there was to be no reprieve.
Every weekend for 8 weeks, my husband and I drove to Roanoke on Thursday evening or Friday morning and stayed with Mike and his wife. We brought wine, and steaks, pies, homemade chocolates and our love. Days and nights were spent holding his hand, talking, laughing, watching his favorite movies, listening to his favorite music, his only music — classical.
Poignant moments came at odd times like when he stood in his hall, looking at his CD collection and said, “No one will want my music when I die.” Or the time he looked up and me and said, “Why my words? Why is this tumor taking away my words?”
How do you answer questions like that? I answered by taking his hand, holding it, telling him I loved him and slowly, slowly moving him back toward living and away from the edge of his own death.
During those last weeks, he and I completed his last project together – putting the rails on the stairs to his front deck. Sounds like a simple job but it wasn’t.
Mike couldn’t calculate anymore. My genius, electrical engineer, computer programming wunderkind brother could no longer do math. I never could. But for 8 hours, on a Wednesday, he and I struggled to space the spindles on the last remaining stairwell on the deck. And we did it exactly correctly.
Oh I tried to do it easy – just aligning them with the spindles on the other side but Mike had lost his math skills, not his personal power. So, slowly, carefully, dividing to a 13th of an inch, he and I put those spindles in place. And when we were done, we sat on his glider, on his newly finished deck, poured the last of his 21-year-old Scotch and drank to each other, to the deck and to the day.
Michael died on August 8th, just 9 weeks after he received his death sentence – malignant astrocytoma – brain tumor. But he lives on, those days and weeks live on, memories, celebrations to a life well and truly lived.
It is June and I celebrate you Mike.
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