“I’m like James Bond with all the scars.”
We all laughed and I hoped with my entire being that his sense of humour meant that things were changing, that they were going to get better. But I was young and naive, and didn’t quite understand the magnitude of what was happening. Here we were, friends and family, all sitting around a hospital bed in a palliative care ward. Turns out, this is one of the last things I ever heard my older brother say.
He had been sick for quite a while by this point, at least two or three years. Osteoclastoma. A giant cell tumour on the femur bone which is normally very rare but non-cancerous. Only two percent become cancerous, and he was one of the unlucky three percent of that two percent where it metastasises to the lungs.
My brother was older than me, almost exactly 10 years. I idolised him. In my eyes, he was the best big brother on the planet. He would always play with me and we had funny nicknames for each other. I used to go watch his footy games and embarrass him when I would run onto the field after the game. I am sure I drove him and my older sister crazy when I wanted to listen to Beauty and the Beast on cassette tape on long trips but he always let me. He would bury me in sand at the beach and help me collect shells.
I thought he was so cool. I started to watch football because he did and he would take me along to games with him. He bought me fast food because I wasn’t allowed to eat it at home. A large portion of my musical taste to this day is based on what he used to listen to, and what I remember listening to with him.
Then he grew up, the same as I was growing up, and one day he hurt his knee snowboarding. Turns out it wasn’t a normal injury, and he got sick. We watched him go through surgery to remove the tumour. I thought that after that we’d all go back to normal. But he was getting sicker, not better and I couldn’t quite understand why. He was taking different types of medicine and doing chemo and radiotherapy. When you take medicine, you get better, right?
It all happened so fast after that. The next thing I knew we were at the hospital because he had just had his leg amputated. Of course, I thought that it was horrible, but at least if there is no leg, then there’s no cancer, right?
The day before he died my younger brother and I were told to come home from school early. We knew something was wrong but we didn’t know what; so we both curled up in our parents bed until Mum came home to tell us we were going to the hospital. Everyone was there – his girlfriend, his friends and our family, including our nephew who was only a couple of weeks old. Still not fully comprehending what was going to happen, I spent most of the day playing games and texting my friends. I was starting to get used to hospitals. I was fourteen and just thought he was sick. Maybe this is because throughout the entire ordeal he acted as if he had a cold, not a life threatening illness. And sick people get better, right?
Shortly after 7pm on the Friday the 16th of March 2007, my brother passed away, surrounded by our family and his friends. He was only twenty-four. My life hasn’t been the same since that exact moment. Ten years ago, I lost my older brother, my hero. I was so young when it happened that I didn’t understand. I knew he was never coming back but I had no idea what effect this would have on my life.
I went to school on Monday. I told my friends and teachers what happened calmly and rationally. My netball coach ran up to me and gave me a massive hug and asked if I was okay. I was uncomfortable and angry. Of course I was alright, this thing happened and there’s nothing I can do to change it!
I’ve always understood the absoluteness of death. What I didn’t expect was my feelings and how they would sway almost every single decision I made from this point in my life onwards. The music I listened to, the boys I dated, the sports I played… all of these things a direct reflection of the gap in my life I was desperately trying to fill.
Today, 10 years later, I am still slowly coming to terms with this loss. I still can’t listen to certain songs without getting teary, or even think about some of my happy childhood memories. Whenever I’m sad I re-watch Beauty and the Beast and it reminds me of that cassette tape. It was hard to even write this because it’s something I rarely speak about to anyone. Many of my closest friends don’t even know about this huge part of my life.
I am now older than he will ever be and that is terrifying to me. I’ve outgrown and outlived my older brother which is something that shouldn’t happen. At least not at twenty-five.
What I take most from his legacy is his strength. There is no way I am as strong as he was. Being the same age, I cannot comprehend the emotions he must have gone through facing chemotherapy, amputation and then looking death in the face. He always looked at every shitty card he was dealt with humour and resilience.
I miss him fiercely. I think that I can remember his tone of voice and his demeanour but the truth is, it’s so fuzzy and I’m not sure that what I do remember is 100% my memory of him or if my brain filling in the gaps. That one second in time ten years ago has had more of an impact than anything else that has happened to me in my twenty-five-year existence. Writing this is incredibly difficult for me to do, but therapeutic. I don’t like to share something so incredibly personal. I write this because not talking about loss is not conducive to healing. My own quarter life crisis stems so much from this moment, even though it was ten years ago. Grief follows you around for a lifetime, but allowing yourself to feel is the only way to heal.