Looking back through pictures of this time I see a young me lovingly holding her baby brother, the same way a little girl would hold her doll; and from these pictures I can deduce that I loved him, even then.
As I was only three years old when he arrived in my life, I cannot remember a time in my childhood where he was not present. Growing up side-by-side we played Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and Indians, and had a special deal that if he played Barbies with me, I'd play cars with him (a deal we promised not to share with our friends).
If I vacuumed he dusted; he was good at math, I was good at spelling. We engaged in the most terrible fights and name calling, yet how dare anyone else utter a slanderous word against either of us. Fiercely loyal as brother and sister we were. Memories are vast and include summers at the cottage, hanging out with our cousins, losing our father, watching our mother remarry; together we faced the label of 'broken home' that befell us.
I'm searching almost frantically in my mind for the specifics. Specific times or places and interactions that my brother and I had; the honest truth of the matter however is that when someone is as constant to you as the air that you breathe, you tend to take them for granted. You don't cherish each day you see each other, you don't make mental notes to store each little memory in your data bank for safe keeping; you assume. You assume that things will never change, I assumed that when I became an old lady I would still have my brother by my side. That is the way things are supposed to happen.
I never quite measured up to this brother of mine. I'm okay with that. Just for the record no body ever told me that I didn't measure up, it was just a feeling I've had for as long as I could remember. Instead of being sad about this, I was proud of him.
He was not perfect (although he'd argue that point), yet he had so many perfect qualities. He loved his mother; that sounds so simple yet it's so raw and true. He loved her, and he was her heart. Duncan would have done anything for her (and still does). We used to have this rivalry him and I; this thing where he would 'top' my 'mom pleasing' efforts. I would send a bouquet of flowers and he'd send a dozen long stemmed roses. His friends, his loyal and loving friends had been his since kindergarten - I'd moved on, made new friends. He'd look at himself in the mirror (even when sick) and avow how "good looking" he was - I would (and still do) look into the mirror only to find my flaws.
|Duncan with his Momma|
Duncan was a family man, not only did he love his mother but he cherished his siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. In many ways he even acted as a father figure to our younger siblings. Desperately wanting children of his own, he doted on my son; spoiling him rotten. I remember once he babysat my son (who was two years old at the time) when I'd come home for a visit. I laid down the 'no sugar' rule and could tell while I was still speaking that he thought I was a nut-case. While I was out he promptly bought a bag of Oreo's and fed my son only the middles; so much for no sugar. I could never stay mad at him though.
|Duncan with his best friend Aaron|
He loved his wife; Cherished her. They had grown up together for the most part and oddly enough even looked the same. I was always so happy that she was in his life, they were best friends, and she was always there for him.
|Dunc and his wife Ayron - Drew and Chelsey|
Duncan was the lover of dogs (Bobo, Dixie, Mary, Drew and Chelsey). He loved fast cars and skidoos, camping and the outdoors, sports and travelling. A typical guys-guy he was.
|Duncan and Drew|
I was nine months pregnant with my first child, it was November 1996. I received a phone call telling me that both of my brothers had been involved in a car accident. They were on their way to pick up a new skidoo when Duncan lost consciousness and drove off the road. My little brother Wesley who was twelve at the time, made sure he kept his foot on the brake to prevent a more serious accident. The details of the accident at first were vague, the underlying question of course was "Why did Duncan pass out?". In my head I decided it must have been that gas fumes; after all they'd just stopped for gas up the road and this was the only thing that made sense to me.
The tests came back - it wasn't gas fumes. Duncan had been diagnosed with a brain tumour.
I lied to myself for a very long time. Even after it was determined that his tumour was inoperable and that his cancer was terminal. For awhile it was easy to lie to myself for every time I would visit him he seemed like the same brother I'd always known.
Duncan had a wicked sense of humour, one that I struggled with. I struggled with it because the pain that I was feeling was buried so deep that I became very serious when I was around him; I was storing every little thing in that data bank I talked about earlier, it was hard work. He would holler to my mother "Ma, can you make me a sandwich?" and she'd reply "Make it yourself" (just a caveat here, if any of my mothers son's asks her to make them a sandwich she inevitably does), and without missing a beat he would shout back "but I'm dying!"
There was a long period of time where I was no longer sure how to act with my brother or how to treat him. I didn't want to love him too much because I thought (for some reason) that he would die sooner if I loved him too much. I didn't want to fight with him because I never wanted that to be our last interaction.
My brother once sent me an article written by a woman with a brain tumour. She was addressing her loved ones in the article, asking them to please treat her as they always had. That is what she NEEDED, that is what she CRAVED. The woman never finished the article, tragically she died in a car accident before she could complete it.
That really opened my eyes and drove the message home. I could die before he does; and he just needs me to be his sister.
My son an I planned to visit my brother over the Easter Break in April 2003. My mom called me in February or March and told me that Duncan hoped that we'd come and see him sooner. I think it may have been at that point that I stopped functioning normally. It was as though I were being forced to face something I'd refused to face. We planned our trip for March. My mother, Duncan and his wife Ayron met us at the airport. I was taken aback by his condition. People would tell me on the phone, but it's so much easier to ignore when you live thousands of miles away.
|Dunc and My son Ben -- March 2003|
Mom later told me that she was surprised he'd come to the airport, but he was determined; he always was. We even went out for dinner that night, something he'd stopped doing because my proud, strong, good looking brother was embarrassed to eat in public. Saying this today still hits me in the gut, he was never embarrassed to do anything. It was a lot for me to take in then, probably more than I was willing to admit.
I remember this trip; but sometimes I wish it wasn't one of my last memories. We did a lot of things though; Duncan could hardly walk due in part to blood clots in his legs, and he'd put on a lot of weight due to the steroids he was taking, but he never stopped, he never quit.
I will admit publicly in this blog that I smoked a lot of 'marijuana' during this trip. Duncan had been smoking it for medicinal purposes and 'made' me have it too. I wasn't going to say no; and well it induced a lot of gut wrenching, belly laughs to the point sometimes I thought Duncan couldn't breathe.
Duncan still being vain was upset that most of his clothes no longer fit, and so I (armed with a recent bonus) and the rest of the family took him on a crazy, fun-filled shopping spree. I knew he loved it, and we did too.
I felt sick inside when our trip came to an end. I knew yet refused to believe this would be the last time. I will remember forever my brother sitting on the couch the day we were to leave. I wanted to hold him and tell him how much I loved him. I wanted to tell him not to be afraid; how much I needed him. I wanted to thank him for all of the years that he had been my loyal and loving brother and yet I sat. I said nothing. I could still not acknowledge what was happening. I thought surely if I didn't say all of those things then God would give me another chance to do so.
Pulling out of the driveway on our way to the airport my son, who never cried when we left (back then we went fairly often) cried and cried. It made me feel hysterical inside, I just wanted to yell at him and tell him to shut-up!! No I wasn't angry with my son, but I'd so convinced myself that if we just acted 'normal' everything would be okay; his incessant crying was poking holes in my theory and it made me terribly anxious.
My brother celebrated his 26th birthday on April 13, 2003. Although I wasn't there, I hear it was celebrated with all of his closest friends and family. It gave me hope frankly, made me feel that things would be okay.
|Duncans Birthday (with my sister Liz) 2003|
On April 19th, 2003 at about 6 a.m. I was woken by the phone ringing. It rang and rang; a terrible ring and I felt it to my core. I knew right then why my phone was ringing, yet I refused to answer it. It's amazing what happens to a person mentally and physically when they attempt to ignore reality. I did not fall back to sleep. No matter how much I willed myself to sleep I couldn't. At about 7 a.m. I got out of bed and stared at the phone. I'm not sure how long I sat there looking at it, but I eventually called my mother. My worst fears were confirmed; Duncan had slipped into a coma and had 8 to 13 hours left to live.
The rest is a garbled memory that is difficult to put into words. I'm not sure if I showered or even brushed my teeth. I packed a small bag (later discovering 1 pair of underwear, three pairs of pants and 1 shirt), I bought a pack of 'smokes' (I had recently quit) and sobbed and smoked my way to the airport. I only briefly remember bawling to the ticket agent that I needed to get to Ontario NOW; asking if they had any stand-by seats available (which they did). I remember sitting in the airport counting every minute, subtracting it from the 8-13 hour time frame I was given. I remember sitting on the plane beside a young 20 something who wouldn't stop talking to me (and to this day I can't recall a thing I said back to her). I remember getting picked up at the airport by my sister-in-laws sister, and seeing my own little sisters tired, swollen and frightened eyes in the back seat. I remember pulling up to their house (he'd asked to die at home) and running in to find 10 of his closest friends there. I remember this overwhelming and utter sense of dread that is born in the deepest part of your soul; one that takes the breath from you lungs. I whispered in his ear that I loved him and asked him to please watch over my son; to be his guardian angel.
I'm not sure how many hours went by, but everyone was there. It was about 2 a.m. and Duncan's breathing became laboured. I was sitting on the couch next to my mother and we got up to stand by him and hold his hand - and then in an instant that was it. Holding my breath, I waited for him to take another, but his breath never came.
On April 20, 2003 my life forever changed again; but not for the better. On April 20, 2003 I had my first panic attack. On April 20, 2003 I lost my entire identity. Who was I if he was not here?
I had ignored the fact that this was going to happen for so long that I'd not allowed myself to think of the emptiness he'd leave behind.
The next morning as we were discussing his death with a minister, three doves landed on my mothers deck. Strange it was to see three of them, and stranger still is the racket they were making; "Look at us" they seemed to say. It was hard not to look at them. My mother smiled a sad smile; she'd asked Dunc to send her Doves as a sign he'd arrived safely; and he had.
Duncan has visited me a few times since his death. I know this to be true. Four months after his death I was rushed to emergency with an ectopic pregnancy. He was there with me, in the recovery room. He was telling me things would be okay, he was holding my hand; too real it was not to be.
Duncan, I think of you every day. I still cannot believe you are not here. I know you hear me when I talk to you, and I hope you know how much I love you. I have not filled the void of your absence, and I'm not sure I ever will or want to. It's taken me many years to find myself again, and it's still a work in progress. I still see you in my dreams; hear you in my ears and feel your presence in my life.
Love Always your Sister.
(I do not want those reading this to think that I thought this was 'all about me'. It definitely was not. I've written it this way because losing a sibling is often 'passed over'. People grieve with you when you lose a parent, a grandparent, or god forbid a child; the loss of ones sibling however has an immense impact, one that's often over-looked).
"If I could save time in a bottle,
the first thing that I'd like to do;
is to spend every day 'till eternity
passes away just to spend them