Monday, November 21, 2011

Why I'm thankful this year ----> My Little Big Brother

2011 has been a whirlwind of ups and downs. Without question, the most difficult pill to swallow was the passing of my only brother, Bobby. A few days after Christmas 2010, we learned that he had a brain tumor that turned out to be cancerous. Something called a glioblastoma. It affected his mobility and coordination which would be difficult for anyone to watch but my brother played basketball all of his life so this was an humbling course of events. However, he never let it break his spirit.

In January, about a month after he was diagnosed and the same week he began chemotherapy, my sisters (Tonya and Racquel) and I took a road trip to visit our baby brother. He's older than Racquel and I, but because he's the only boy he's always been like our little brother. He's 19 years older than I. I just noticed that I'm talking about him like he's still here. In some ways he is.

Anyway, we went to see him while he was at John's Hopkin's (one of the best neurological and cardiology hospitals in the world). Seeing him in a wheel chair was difficult but watching his physical therapy and speech therapy sessions was even harder. Simply because he'd begun to regress to a child-like state. Slowly, but noticeably and he needed us.

He stayed in Maryland until June. Married with children but alone. My parents made their trips to Maryland as frequently as they could and eventually his doctors were disheartened with the lack of involvement with his immediate family (wife and grown children) because he needed to be taken care of. Almost completely immobile and on a host of debilitating medications, they sent him to us. His job chartered an ambulance to drive him from Maryland to North Carolina in June. Which was probably the best gift we could have ever received.

I remember the EMS truck pulling in to the drive way. I wasn't sure what to expect because I hadn't seen him since March. Two young men hopped out of the truck and opened the back of the truck and wheeled my little big brother out on a stretcher. He was extremely swollen from the steroids but his hair had started to grow back a little since his first cycle of chemo had been completed. They sat him on the sofa and asked me to sign to indicate that they'd delivered our precious package safely. I thanked them and they headed back to Baltimore. "What's up, Ash!" He said and extended his arms to embrace me. He always attempted to stand to hug us but didn't have the control in his limbs. At 6'7" that's a whole lot of man to support. I pushed him back on the sofa and embraced him, asked him how he was feeling, and he said he was hungry (as usual).

That month seemed like years and I'm so grateful. He knew he didn't have long but he didn't want us to know. Every day he wanted to do something. "I can't sit in the house. I want to go to Sam's! Let's have dinner at Moe's tonight, Ma! Let's go get some steaks and throw them on the grill!" My mother would set the steaks on the kitchen table and let him season them from his chair. We never wanted to strip him of all of his independence and he always loved to cook.

We'd made plans to have a HUGE family Fourth of July cookout. It fell on a Sunday this year. It's so surreal how short life is and how precious it is. That Friday morning he called a few times, wanting to go out to breakfast and to Sam's to get all the food he wanted to have for our barbeque. By this time, my parents had found him an apartment around the corner from their home. They were basically living with him but he wanted to have his own place. I remember he called about three times back to back. The fourth time, his son called and said he was unconscious and from that point the world started to move in slow motion. In about ten minutes time (between the third and the fourth phone call) our lives changed in an instant. As they wheeled him out of the apartment and into the truck, my mother whispered, "I love you, Yorkie," in his ear and tear ran down the side of his face. Even though he was unresponsive, that was the last sign of life we were given.

About an hour passed. My dad left in the ambulance with my brother's lifeless body while we all stayed behind. After the longest hour of my life, we all caravanned and made our way to the hospital. We hadn't heard from daddy and were getting anxious. He'd left the hospital to meet us at home. He didn't want to tell us over the phone. By the time we all realized where he was, we were at the hospital, daddy got back there a few minutes after us and told us all in the lobby of Wake Medical Center's Emergency facility.

It's hard to say his passing was sudden because he knew all along he didn't have much longer with us but it was sudden for us because we had just started feeling like a complete unit again. He always lived so far away from us (Minnesota, Texas, Wisconsin, Detroit, Spain, Turkey) and it felt like once we got him back he was taken almost immediately. At least that's how it felt.

This week we celebrate why we're thankful. We sit around and we eat and rejoice about who we have in our lives and how we appreciate them. Thanksgiving was my brother's absolute favorite holiday and I'm thankful that heaven gave my parents, my sisters, and I the opportunity to care for and love my brother in his last hours, and that he knew we loved him. He never had to look for us. He needed us but we needed him just as much. And as his days slipped away, I'm so thankful that God gave us his last breath.

A few weeks after he passed, I went to the hospital to get his medical records. I read through it and it said, "Immediate family at his bedside". Those few words will always mean the world to me because we were given that last moment. And not just this Thanksgiving but for every one that I'm afforded the opportunity to see.

All I ask of those that read this, is to take inventory of the people in your life. The ones that matter, the ones that need you and that you need, the ones you take for granted, and the ones you couldn't imagine being without and if you can't think of one thing to be thankful for.... Be thankful for that....

Happy Thanksgiving!


LD said...

Ashley your message was so moving and powerful. It brought me to tears. Thank you so much for sharing. I am especially thankful to have had the opportunity to meet the phenomenal family that Bob so often spoke of despite the tragic circumstances.

Although Bob kept me abreast of his hospital visits and what was happening with him, he never really let me know how sick he actually was. He was always laughing and joking on the phone, discussing future travel plans and MSU's Homecoming. On the night before he passed, he left me a voice message saying he was fine and he was just calling to check on me. That's how caring and considerate he was. Although he said he would call back the next day, I called him back immediately that same night, but his phone went to voice mail. I've played his voice message every day since his death. My deepest regret is that I didnt get to visit him before he passed. Vince and I made plans to visit him over the summer. I told him that would give him some time to get adjusted to his routine in North Carolina. He said, "Sure, you all can come and visit any time!" I am grateful that his FAMILY was by his bedside to the very end. He loved his family so much and talked about his sisters all the time.

Not a day goes by that I don't think of my dear and closest friend whom I've know since we were 19. My heart is still so very heavy but there is joy in knowing that he has no more pain, sorrow or strife. RIP my dear sweet Bob. I will honor your memory forever.

Ashley M. said...

Thanks, Ladonna! Bobby talked about you so much and loved you and Vince dearly. You guys are family for sure :-)

Moongirl said...

I am very grateful for FB because otherwise I might not know about the passing and the last days of life of Bobby McCann as it is beautifully recounted here. Bobby was the big brother to my daughter and all the little kiddies that his mother provided home day care for. Those kids loved Bobby, this gentle giant. We were all so happy when he excelled at basketball and went professional. It was a proud moment for the whole town of Morristown, NJ. I have not lived in Morristown for 20 years, however I am moved to tears as I read this account and remember how wonderful the familywas to my daughter, Cecely.To Joanne, Louis,Raquel and Tonya and their entire family my sincere condolences in your tremendous loss. Dollie Carroll Rogers Spivey (Mother of Cecely Rogers)

Ashley M. said...

Thank you for your kind words. I'm the youngest of the four of us Ashley and the author of this blog (I think a lot of people forget that there was a third girl). We really appreciate your fond memories of our brother. Thank you and I'll share your thoughts with my family.