Brother, You’re Dying

Arrianne Talma and brother

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The title of this post was inspired by ‘Brother, I’m Dying’ a book by Edwidge Danticat. I wrote a paper on this book while in university and it touched my soul deeply. I can’t recommend it enough, especially in light of the current events with regards to the refugee and immigration crisis — just make sure you have some tissues ready.

It was July 15th, 2017 — exactly one week before my brother died.

It was just Luke and I in the hospital room in St. Clair Medical that morning. Out of everyone in the room the night before, he had asked me if I’d stay with him. “Of course, I’ll stay” I said, smiling gently.

On the inside, I was falling apart.

Watching what had been unfolding in front of me over the last 15 months was almost too much to bear, and a night in the hospital surrounded by the worst of it was the last place I wanted to be at that moment.

But I’d never let my composure betray me and let him see that — this moment was the furthest thing from being about me.

. . .

One week prior, we’d checked into the hospital after fluid began building up in his abdomen and ankles.

I was woken up by a call telling me that we needed to go to the hospital. I had slept over at my boyfriend’s house the night before, so I rushed out of bed and he drove me home. I didn’t say a word for the whole drive.

When I got home, I went into the room to check on him. Seeing his discomfort, I reassured him that we’ll be leaving soon and everything will be okay. Outside of that moment, I have never experienced a greater disconnect as the one between the words I said that day and what I believed and knew in my heart.

I went downstairs to get changed and as I walked into my bathroom, I fell to my knees.

This is it, isn’t it?

. . .

It was written all over the faces of the doctors and nurses when we arrived at the hospital that day.

Throughout the time that Luke was sick, I never showed weakness around him. I never cried. I never treated him differently — because who the hell wants to be treated like a sick person by everyone 24/7? I just wanted things to be normal — as normal as they could be.

It didn’t take away from the fact that I felt all of it. I felt the pain of watching him suffer and the dread of what was coming, but I never dare let him see that… not until that day in the hospital.

Pulling back the drapes that separated patients, I walked away quietly as the nurses looked over him, bursting into tears as soon as I was far enough not to be seen or heard. One of the nurses, seeing me break down, led me to a small bathroom around the corner from the emergency room as I tried to compose myself. I splashed water on my face over and over again.

“Shit… Shit…”

There was no getting rid of my puffy eyes and red nose. How was I supposed to go back out there now?

As I drew the drapes back into his makeshift room, he looked at me.

“Hey, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” he asked.

‘Am I okay?’ Can you imagine that? The man with cancer laying in a hospital bed wants to know if I’m okay?

Tears streamed down my face again.

“Come here,” he said, as he held my hand. “I’ve never seen you cry throughout this entire ordeal…” Those words stung, not because he meant them in a bad way, but because I knew I had given up my position. I’d given away the upper ground. I’d clued him in to how bad this situation really was. He knew it, but now he knew that I knew it, and that made it all the more real.

“Everything is going to be okay, alright, don’t worry about me,” he said. “If anything, I’m just excited to see Dad again.”

My Dad had died in a car accident 8 years prior.

More tears.

. . .

The next week was filled with time in the ICU, tests, and long, drawn out periods of silence, empty time, and the occasional moments of joy and laughter when his friends would come to visit.

The more time that passed, the more I could see that there was hope in his eyes — something that made me happy while simultaneously ripping me apart.

That changed a day later when one of his doctors came to see him.

Luke was brave. He was stronger than anyone I know. He knew what was coming and accepted it. But I don’t think he realised how quickly he’d have to accept it.

“I know things are not good doc, but how long are we talking? A year.. maybe two?” he asked hopefully.

She looked down at that moment.

“We’re looking at a little sooner that that, Lukie.”

“Months?” he asked.

A moment passed.

“Weeks?” he gasped.

I feel like I saw the light go out in his eyes at that moment.

“Did you hear that?” he looked at me incredulously when the doctor left the room. I didn’t know what to say. I was in shock myself.

“We should… maybe… let’s just wait until the other tests come back, alright?” I stammered.

This can’t be real. This isn’t happening. Not to my brother.

. . .

“Mom’s going to stay with you tonight, okay?” I said as everyone in the room was packing up to go home. Only one person was allowed to spend the night.

“Arrianne, you stay nah,” he replied.

“Of course, I’ll stay” I said, smiling gently.

That night, like many of the other nights, was restless and sleepless. Every now again, he would wake up dazed and ask, “Arrianne, I’m okay, right?”

“Yes, of course Luke, you’re fine. Just go back to sleep. Everything is okay.”

There was that disconnect again, but now the pressure in between was building up. The act was getting really hard to keep up.

. . .

Alone in the hospital room that morning, we chatted briefly and I watched as the nurses brought food, checked vitals — all the usual stuff.

As time passed, the room next door to ours started to grow loud and rambunctious. I remember feeling like my blood began to boil as I noticed it was bothering Luke. I marched outside determined to find a nurse to help quiet things down. As I opened the door, I noticed people walking in with a sign that said “Congratulations.” Must be a newborn, I thought.

Things died down for a while and we sat, in quiet togetherness, watching an episode of Friends.

After a while, a nurse popped in and said that the doctor wanted to see me for a moment. I looked at Luke and he looked at me, and I walked outside.

As I made my way down the hall following the nurse, two doctors who had their backs turned to me suddenly looked around and stared directly at me. They were both my brother’s doctors.

“We need to speak to you.”

There’s something you don’t want to hear from a group of doctors.

What followed was a conversation where I was simultaneously present and absent. In psychology, they use a term called dissociation to describe moments like these. Your mind shuts off a piece of itself to protect you from the trauma being inflicted upon you at the moment.

“Do you want to wait for the rest of your family to get here?” they asked me.

“No, it’s okay. It’s better if you just talk to me,” I replied, taking a deep breath. I knew that my mother couldn’t handle this conversation.

The nurse led me into one of the patient rooms, pulled me a chair, and I sat in my pajamas, as two doctors and a nurse stood in front of me. The air was thick and heavy in that moment and reflected the gravity of what would unfold in that conversation.

“We want to make sure you understand what’s happening here…” one of the doctors started. “This is it. Things are not going to go well from here on out.”

A moment passed.

“Okay… I understand.” I said absent of emotion.

“We’re looking at somewhere around a week. We just want to make sure that you and your family understand what is coming…” he continued.

At that moment, the nurse lost her composure, held her face, and left the room. I watched her leave unfazed. I looked back at the doctor.

“Things will begin to slow down drastically, and soon he will lose all function. After that, it will be a day or two.”

“I… understand,” I said, almost defensively.

I got up and we left the room. As I stepped into the hallway, I looked for the nurse but she was nowhere in sight.

As I was walking back to Luke’s room, the only thing I could think of in that moment was what I was going to say to him. What had the doctor spoke to me about? What could I tell him that he would actually believe?

The room next door was loud again and now even more full of people laughing, happy, and celebrating. As I opened his door, I couldn’t help but observe the irony. On the other side of the wall, there were people celebrating the beginning of a new life. On our side of the wall, I had just walked back into my brother’s room with everything the doctors had just described to me: the end of a life.

“What did they say?” he asked.

I smiled softly.

“Meh, nothing much. They were just talking about if the fluids build up again, they’ll do some more tests. Nothing to worry about…” I said casually as I sat back down to watch Friends.

But in my head, my inner voice was trying to get something out, almost desperate to be heard and tell the truth. Somber, defeated, and weak, it spoke:

“Brother, you’re dying.”

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