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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Happy Birthday, Baby Brother

02/05/11 Saturday Night

Dear John,

You should be 56 today instead of dead, and I miss you as much now as I did when you died in 2000. You should be here to see Walker growing into a man and the artist he wants to be. You would be proud that he is at The University of Georgia, your alma mater. You should see his work and be here to help him along his path to self-discovery. No one knows better than you how hard it is for a young man to grow up without a father.

You should be here to deal with those teen issues that Lisa faces with Wil. You should hear him play his oboe and the the French horn and the piano. He’s in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra as well as the All State Band. He’s driving!

You would be glad that I spent this afternoon at Zona Rosa. You, who wrote so completely from your heart, would be happy to see me working on doing that myself. You would like Rosemary.

It’s late and I’m spending the night with the Ducks, so I will finish this letter tomorrow. Now that everyone has settled in and I have the opportunity to write down my feelings, I’m too tired to do it. My eyes get so fatigued and my vision blurs after a long day. And yes, I know I am getting old.

Sunday Morning

Last night, after everyone got settled and the bird stopped squawking, I finally got to bed. I didn’t sleep well. Some personal problems that you don’t need to know about are eating away at me, but I will deal with them.

I keep thinking about the time we had together in Memphis during May, where we went three months before you died so you could have alternative treatment for your kidney cancer after the doctors said there was nothing left for them to do but call Hospice. I wish I had known about Hospice back then. I would have encouraged you to take advantage of it. Or maybe not. I didn’t believe you would actually die. I thought that if I wanted you to live, I could will you not to die. Denial is a great psychological defense mechanism, but you could have benefited from Hospice.

The doctor in Memphis put on you a diet that included calves’ brains, and I prepared them for you every morning, scrambling them into eggs. I even found a store where I could find them fresh instead of canned. You were the picture of determination as you forked every bite into your mouth. We went to a formulating pharmacy and bought all manner of supplements for you to take.

Those precious two weeks are so dear to me. We went to the Peabody Hotel twice to see their famous ducks march into the lobby while we had a drink. We went to see Erin Brockovich during its first run and both loved it. We strolled down to Beale street and rummaged through old record stores and both lamented the presence of a Hard Rock Cafe in the heart of Memphis. It just didn’t seem right, seeing it there in the middle of all that musical history.

You were so tired. I remember you being so very tired but determined to live. You napped often but always managed to drag yourself up to go and do something. The only thing we missed was going to Sun Records. I remember when you started to cough up blood and it scared me, the nurse, to death. The cancer was in your lungs and even in your heart, yet you kept going, pushing yourself to go to museums and movies.

We slept together in a king sized bed in one of those hotels that offers a continental breakfast and some sort of packaged supper every night. To save money, we mostly ate there. Those days will forever live in my heart, so scarred now with loss.

Just before Reggie arrived to spend the third week with you, Clint flew in to take me home, and the three of us went to Graceland. I remember how it wore you out, how determined you were to stay on your feet long enough to complete the tour. We even took time to shop for silly souvenirs.

You stayed in Memphis for one more week of treatment during which, you were basically heated up in an effort to kill some of the cancer cells. In late July, you and Lisa and the boys came to see us on Saint Simons. You were actually stronger after your treatments, and I believe they bought you some extra time. Three weeks before you died of pneumonia, you dragged your kayak down the dock and put it in the creek for what none of us knew would be your final ride in it. Determined and stubborn, you refused help from any of us, either getting the boat to the creek or hauling it back up the dock.

You died living, not dying, and for that I am grateful. My only regret is that, when Lisa called me at our friend’s house in North Carolina and told me you had pneumonia and were going on a ventilator, I didn’t leave that minute to be by your side. Since it was already 9:00 PM, and we were in the mountains, I decided to wait until morning. Lisa called me at 2:30 AM to say your heart had stopped beating.

You never admitted to me that you were dying. You talked to Mama and Paul and Lisa about it, but, in your way, you tried to protect me from it. I think you did the right thing. I would not have had believed you, anyway.

Happy Birthday, Baby Brother. Losing you was like losing a child. I don’t have to remind you that, when you were two months old and Daddy died, Mama gave you to me. As long as you lived, I always felt responsible for you and always did everything I could to make your life better. But I couldn’t save your life. I couldn’t make you live, no matter how hard I tried.

I love you, Claudia


© cj Schlottman

Copy editing by Addie Duck

5 comments:

Linda @ A La Carte said...

You have had some hard losses in your life dear friend. Memories are comforting but not everything. hugs, Linda

Sue said...

Losing a sibling must be heartbreaking, especially when you were so close.

Your beautiful letter is a tribute to him that touches my heart.

Hugs to you.

KeLLy aNN said...

well, 2000 sucked for every single living soul I know {mine was my dad and grandmother}


I thought that if I wanted you to live, I could will you not to die. <<<<<thank you, you finally put it into words for me!

Happy birthday, cj's brother!

Katie Gates said...

Although this describes a sad situation, it is written with tremendous love and beauty. I appreciate what you share here.

deborahjbarker said...

Hi Cj, your post struck a chord with me. I lost my baby brother in 1993 when he was only 31. We were the two youngest and the closest in our family. I wrote a similar letter to him some time after his death. I too felt as though I had always tried to protect him but had been powerless to help him this one last time.
His name was also John and he would have been 50 this year. He died from AIDS.
Thank you for sharing such a beautiful post. Debbie X