My brother Tom passed away on January 22 after a two-year battle against a really nasty adversary: Multiple Myeloma. He was 66 when he was diagnosed and still full of beans, a healthy, active guy who ran and was excited about starting to train for a Half Ironman. Cancer was so far off his radar, well, there was just no universe in which somebody like Tom got cancer. Over the years, we would have phone calls and trade war stories about our running injuries. He was always trash-talking about how he was faster than me (he was, it was true, always faster than me). He was all heart when he ran, rarely stretched or cross-trained, and as a consequence he was injured a lot. I’d lecture him about the benefits of yoga, of stretching, of swimming. But he kept running, getting up at 4 in the morning to run for an hour before work (he did that for years) – he was a Devoted runner with a capital D. A deep, boundless love of running was something we shared.
When he was first diagnosed, we thought it was like Chuck’s Lymphoma – not curable, but a treatable disease. In the magical thinking that really frightened people in denial are so good at, we assumed that if the disease was kept at bay long enough, modern medicine would develop a miracle cure and Tom would live and run happily ever after for a long, long time. Unfortunately his cancer didn’t get that memo, and slowly at first then rapidly toward the end, the cancer ravaged him, taking him from a tough as nails long distance runner to a frail ghost of his former self. One of the greatest injustices of his cancer was that it took away his ability to run since it weakened his bones so much. Running, of course, was only one of the many ways that the cancer slowly but surely kept up its steady march forward. Still the toughness at the core of him endured. I was never so proud of him as when I saw him this past Thanksgiving, weak but still fighting, refusing to accept that cancer might win. He fought back until there was no fight left. And now he’s gone.
I don’t know how to describe the loss of a sibling except to say that there is something fundamentally wrong with it. It’s like the universe is out of order. Siblings are the ones who have known you the longest, who have shared your life’s ups and downs, joys and sorrows. They know you best, and they love you without question, regardless of your turd-like behavior. I am still processing the fact that my big brother is gone, that he will no longer be there at the family events and milestones, his big goofy smile and subversive sense of humor making me feel that no matter what happens in my life there is someone who will always make me laugh, feel safe and loved and valued, all at the same time.
In looking through old photos – is there a better therapy for grief? I don’t think so – I realize that while I may feel that he was robbed of years, he actually lived a long, rich life full of love and family and while he didn’t get to go on that Alaskan cruise or enjoy a long and fulfilling retirement or compete in that Half Ironman, he did something else a lot more important. He made a difference. He lived a life that impacted so many people and touched so many lives. He truly will live on in all of us who had the honor of knowing him. We should all leave this life with such a legacy of joy.
At the end as he was dying, I came to realize something else – that death really is part of our experience in this life, and that when living becomes just too painful, death is a release, even a comfort. I am not sure what is on the other side, but watching him leave this life, I came to believe that he was going somewhere – and maybe it’s somewhere where I’ll see him again. I hope so. Because I have realized that as I get older, these goodbyes will increase in number, not lessen. It’s the bittersweet fact that we all live with – no one gets out of this alive.
I love you, brother. I’m going to miss you forever. See you on the other side.