The words are not really flowing this year and I feel like Nicholas has been living with a brain injury my entire life. It’s not that I forget the 27 years I knew my big brother as uninjured, it’s just that 15 years is a long time. It’s most of my adult life to date. I don’t really have anything profound to say, but as I admitted years ago, acknowledging and writing on January 5th is part of my process, until it isn’t.
We had another hurdle with Nicholas’ health this past fall. He fell walking to the bathroom and hit his head. He had a small bleed that needed draining, so we treated it. For a split second, we all had to ask if this was necessary or lifesaving. It was necessary because, if untreated, we would be left with a very alive yet more injured version of my brother. That is an outcome we will fight to avoid for the rest of his days. So, he got back to his baseline. Success.
More pressing about this last year is less about Nicholas and more about our family enduring a great loss. We have friends so close we call them family: The Haesche’s. In July, after a long battle with prostate cancer, we lost Steve. Even though we knew it was coming it was and is a gut punch. It stings.
During Steve’s last few weeks he was on hospice and his daughters, my sisters, and wife kept vigil at his bedside. I’ve never been so close to the dying process and I learned a tremendous amount as Kate and Susannah shared what their moments and days were like. They shared with me an article that they felt was an accurate account of how they were all spending their days. It recounts what it’s like to be at the bedside of someone who is actively dying. Not only what to expect but how to help them move forward in the process. It feels equal parts necessary and haunting to type this and to read the article, but it was, if nothing else, helpful at the time.
While Steve was at the forefront of my mind and heart as I read and learned, there were echoes of life with Nicholas that I could not ignore. As I re-read it now it’s hard for me to articulate what felt familiar about it when I read it this summer. Perhaps just the title: “Sitting Vigil at the Death Bed”. Nicholas isn’t dead, but the first version of him is. The brain-injured version of him is alive, but we wait. I wait. I have questions. Will he live to be an old man? He’s approaching 50 but looks and acts like he’s 90. His heart is weaker than it would have been if he never fell out of that tree. He’s on a truckload of medication, namely anti-seizure, and that leaves a mark. He moves well considering his neurological impairments, but he doesn’t move well at all. He can only see partially out of one eye. He can’t read. He can’t really write. I wait. He can giggle, watch movies, smile, eat, drink, sparkle and fill our hearts when he’s in a good mood. So I guess, I’m waiting … with questions that I don’t need nor will I get answers too, but they loom. I don’t obsess. As someone with very little patience, I have plenty for Nicholas.
15 years is a long time. That’s all.