What my brother’s death taught me about life

I’m teaching an art class to five students with learning disabilities. I’m teaching them that any color can be made from red, blue, and yellow. We are mixing paints. I am thinking of my childhood. I am thinking of my brother.

I am the youngest child — an answer to a prayer, my mother says. She wanted a girl. It only took three tries. Out of the three of us, Jeremy looked the most like my mother. His eyes were blue like hers. I read somewhere once that blind people tend to have blue eyes. Although he was blind, I’d like to think his eyes were blue, because of her.

Jeremy was the oldest. There were many complications when he was born. Lack of oxygen to the brain, being the biggest one. He was born with severe cerebral palsy, which left him unable to walk, he was also blind and epileptic.

When I was little I would watch my mother feed him through a stomach tube, while he laid on his red mat. I remember the look in her eyes as she strategically connected the clear tubes that gave my brother his nourishment; how her eyes never saw a crippled, handicapped son, even though mine saw just that when I looked at the plastic configuration. I was 4. My eyes saw a robot being charged like a battery. My mother’s eyes saw only love, love that rushed to him with urgency. That same urgency I saw four days before Christmas when my mother found his lips blue as the Wise Man’s coat in our nativity scene.

I’m thinking of my brother because his lips were blue when my mother checked on him four days before Christmas. I was sitting on the couch in my favorite red snoopy pajamas when she ran to the phone and dialed for my father. I was stirring my yellow cereal milk as I watched, not knowing what else I could do. Then, all of the primary colors left, all except for red.

My mother’s red bloodshot eyes. Red screams. The red phone falling to the floor with its pendulum swing of the chord. The swoosh of red it left as it swung, and how that’s all I heard after my mother called 911. The red sirens on the ambulance.  Everything red. My eyes saw the color in touch, taste, smell, and sound. It all happened so quickly, I don’t even remember the EMTs coming in, but I do remember them leaving. Jeremy was strapped to a stretcher. The men in white suits rushed him out, my mother was running with them. When they reached our door, she lifted me up, swept back my hair and told me to kiss my brother goodbye. The world wasn’t red anymore, it was blue. Blue lips that I kissed, the first kiss I remember, my last moment with my brother.

The chaos stilled as if God himself came down to stop the world’s goings on just for my goodbye. A blue, serene kiss. It took me months to really understand what happened to Jeremy. I’m sure I asked about him, and I’m sure that only added to my parent’s pain.

I’ve been told, they had to move me to another room at the funeral because I was playing with the handles of the casket. I didn’t get it. I didn’t know that death meant he wouldn’t come back home. I didn’t know he wouldn’t be there for Christmas. I didn’t know that we would take vacations around Christmas time every year after, so that my parents wouldn’t have to be reminded of the horrible day. I didn’t know that his disability would lead to me work with students with disabilities. I didn’t know that this vivid memory of his last day would come back to me time and again in the oddest of circumstances — like when teaching primary colors.

When I think about my brother, I realize what an integral part of my life he was and is. It’s as if everything later in my life stemmed from this moment, this day. His life and death puts things in perspective, they make me realize how some things matter and some things don’t. They make me really understand the meaning of effect.

Angela Abbott is an Indiana girl with a heart for the south. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in creative writing and a Master’s degree in English teaching. When she’s not encouraging her students to change the world, she’s eating too much sushi, singing covers at open mic nights, or devouring a good film. Her poetry can be seen in Atticus Review.

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