I would write something, but I think my sister Elizabeth has already done such a lovely job that I will instead share what she wrote here with you.
I don’t have the right words I need for this so I will borrow some.
“I wish you could have been there for the sun and the rain and the long, hard hills, for the sound of a thousand conversations scattered along the road, for the people laughing and crying and remembering at the end. But, mainly, I wish you could have been there.” – Brian Andreas, Wish List.
Nick, time has betrayed me. Ten years have gone by in a moment and I’m left wondering how I got here.
The first time you were diagnosed, the news came through my mother and father while I sat with all of my siblings in my sister’s room. I was in first grade. A few days earlier, Joe had been sitting on you and punching your back while watching TV. You peed blood. Mom told us that it was because you ate too many red vines and I believed it. For the next week, I cried every time I had to use the bathroom because I was afraid. The truth was that Joe had aggravated a tumor the size of a football in your torso. They gave you a 40% chance of living 6 months and recommended hospice but you decided to fight. Soon your head was bald and we made sure to replace your lost hair with dozens of temporary tattoos. This was against the rules at our Catholic school but they made an exception, letting you be the only kid in third grade who could show off his Beavis & Butthead tattoos. One surgery and several rounds of aggressive chemo later, you were down a kidney but you were given more time.
The second time you were diagnosed, the news came through a phone call before basketball practice. I was a sophomore in high school. For the past few weeks, you’d been having back pain and didn’t know what was causing it. Your hair had been in and out recently as a result of alopecia areata. Though it’s benign, the combination of that with the unexplained pain had us all worried about what was going on below the surface. The truth was that there was a tumor the size of a grapefruit where your kidney had been. They gave you a good prognosis and removed the slow growing tumor a few days later. Soon you were having morning radiation and consistently treating your friends to weekday breakfast because and you knew you could get them an excused tardy. One surgery and several rounds of radiation later, you were given more time.
The third time you were diagnosed, I was in the room with you. I was a junior in high school. For the past few weeks, your back pain had come back and we were all nervous. We were told that we could get test results faster if we went to the ER so we spent a day in the waiting room and were told that the tests suggested that it wasn’t cancer but they would do a full scan to be sure. The truth was that they were wrong. The cancer had changed; it came back aggressive and unrelenting. Dr. Dahl wept as he gave you the news for the third time. I wept in the doctor’s office, and in the car, and when I told my sister what had happened, and every morning when I woke up and, for a moment, forgot what he’d said. A few days later, you and I were alone in your room and you apologized to me for having to have hear the truth of your illness. You were sorry that you didn’t have a chance to sugar coat it, to deliver it more softly, to find a way to make the tumors in your lungs, your hips, and your sinus seem smaller. You were the one who was sick and you were already looking out for the people around you, demonstrating a type of strength that it took me years to fully understand. I told you that I was grateful to have been in the room and that I didn’t want to hide from this. You got ready for your third fight and gave it your all for 9 months. A few surgeries and countless rounds of chemo and radiation later, you weren’t given more time.
The day you died, I was standing at the foot of your hospital bed. I was a junior in high school. For the past few weeks, you’d been getting more sick and we were all broken. You’d had a surgery that didn’t go as planned and we knew we were down to a matter of weeks, if not days. It was a time of learning to put your comfort before our own deep desire to have you with us. We told you we loved you, we told you it was ok for you to go, and we waited. At 10:32am on 6.26.2005, you were gone and we experienced our first day in an incomplete world.
That’s where we’ve been ever since: living in a world where every day feels incomplete. And now it’s been 10 years and I wonder where the time has gone.
So today I can only say thank you and promise that I will keep missing you in every day to come and I will keep trying to make you proud. Nick, thank you for simply being my brother. The boy who told me he could read my palm to see my future house and then spit in my hand to show me where the pool would be. I cried and you told me you’d do it for real this time and then you spit in my hand again. Later, when we grew up and things got hard, thank you for teaching just how deep and complex strength can be. Thank you for teaching me that sometimes the odds are just numbers and that you can always try. Thank you for teaching me how to have a sense of humor even when it all seems pointless. Thank you for everything.
I miss you, brother. I love you.