August 1, 2000. That was the day my half-brother died. I’d never met him, but since I’d learned about him in 1982, his 5th grade photo always had a prominent place on my dresser (along with that of his younger brother, a half-brother I have met, though we don’t ‘do fractions’ very well… he’s my brother, and I’m “Hey, Sis.”). Those photos are still there. I remember looking at my e-mail at work for the last time that day, and seeing the message from my cousin. (I didn’t have a computer at home). She let me know that he was gone, and what we knew of the details at that time. He’d drowned. He was a competitive swimmer as a child, and I couldn’t make sense of it. I cried. I went up to the front office where the accounts person was still working. I told her what I’d found out, and just sat there, numb, for a few minutes. I stayed numb about much of his death for years.
My thoughts immediately went to my birthmother. She’d been through a lot in her life, and then her eldest son was gone. I wanted to write to her, but I didn’t want to seem like I was being opportunistic in getting in contact with her during an unimaginably painful time. I wanted her to know how much I was thinking about her, and that I wished I could do something. What, I’m wasn’t sure. But, I was horrified that she was having to go through the death of a child. He was closing in on 30 years old, but as a nurse, I’d seen many parents face the deaths of their much-older children, and it was always a kind of grief that is unmatched. But during that time, my bio-mom and I weren’t in contact. I heard about her through other biological relatives, but it was a complicated situation.
Then I thought about the ‘what ifs’. What if my bio-mom and I got back in contact, and the chance came about that I might meet my half-brothers? I’d never know that with A. What if I ended up with a relationship with my half-brothers, whatever it might be? I’d never have that with A. Had he known about me? I later found out that he had. But at the time of his death, all I knew was that possibility was gone in ever knowing A, face to face. My hopes of some sort of contact died that day. It’s not a tangible loss. It’s the loss of a dream.
In 2010, I ended up with leukemia. I was expected to do well, but in case things ended poorly, I wanted to let my bio-mom know what was going on, and not just find out I’d died, if that should happen. We hadn’t been on ‘bad terms’ by any means, it was just very complicated, and time was needed since our first contact by mail in 1982. She did want to reconnect in 2010 and had been trying to find me (my name is pretty nondescript, and I’d moved from the last place she knew I’d been), and we’ve had an incredible relationship since then.
While I still have trouble talking about him, she told me what happened to A. It was an incredibly hot day, and he’d gone out to the river to swim. What he didn’t know was that the dam upstream had been released the day before, and much colder water than usual was flowing down the river. When his body hit the water, that was so much colder than his core temperature, his heart just stopped. Done. Over. A life ended. From cold water on a hot day. He’d been used to going to the river. He knew about water safety, and was an incredibly strong swimmer. None of that mattered.
In some ways, that helped in easing some of the horrible images I had in my head of his last moments. It’s unlikely he struggled, or couldn’t get his breath. He didn’t fight underwater. He hadn’t suffered. He may have felt an odd chest sensation for a few moments, not really long enough to register anything, but then…nothing. That has been somewhat comforting, to know that he wouldn’t have felt pain or the panic of final minutes.
But I still cry. I have some CDs of his music sessions with friends, and it’s very hard to listen to them. I’ve managed to at least hear his voice on a few songs, and I’m so thankful I have those CDs. I’m sure I’ll get to the point that I can listen to them. But now, I still just cry when I think about the day I got that e-mail. I can talk to my birth mom and brother about A. I love hearing about when my two brothers were kids. I have a bunch of photos of all of them, which are treasures, and I’ve got some of my bio-mom, brother, and myself together, which I’m also so thankful to have. I think the three of us ‘kids’ could have been a nightmare together, in a good way 😉
When I see stories about drownings, I always think about A. When I see those looney ‘polar bear’ ice water swims in the winter, or jumps into ice water after saunas, I cringe. When I think about how easy it is for life to be done, I am thankful for the days I have, and wish with indescribable intensity that A had had ‘his share’ of time on earth. It took me about 12 years to be able to wash my face in the shower. I didn’t want to have to hold my breath in water when I thought my brother had drowned. (I finally got the bright idea to look down when I rinse my face, so there was no need to hold my breath… ). Even though I never knew A personally, he was a part of my life for the 18 years prior to his death, in the form of ‘what ifs’, trying to guess what he looked like , and those precious photos on my dresser. Now, I do have contact with my bio-mom and brother, and I’m so incredibly thankful for the relationships with them. They really are special parts of my life, and knowing them has helped me know myself better. I still think about A, though.
He’ll always be part of my life.