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  • Writer's picture Gabrielle Elise Jimenez

Eighteen Days

He had such a good day, or so it seemed. So many little moments of improvement and heightened hope that he might really pull through this. But unfortunately, at 9:38pm the hospital called to say that my brother took a turn for the worse and they wanted us, his daughter and I, to get there as soon as possible. I was in my pajamas about to go to bed, and feeling a sense of hope from the day, as all things seemed to be looking good for him. This news threw me off, I think I was in shock. My Niece and I put our jackets and hats on and ran as fast as we could to the hospital. The 32-degree weather burned my throat, making it difficult to breathe. My heart was racing so fast, and my legs felt like they might not hold me up. When we got to the ICU doors, we walked down the hall towards the room he had been in for eighteen days and saw the team of people doing everything possible to keep him alive.

I wanted to scream "STOP," because I knew he was already gone, but I needed to wait for his daughter to accept that everything possible had been done. I finally asked them to stop what they were doing, and we went into his room to be with him until he took his last breath. He wanted to live, he chose FULL CODE, but it is not the kindest nor a compassionate way to die, and my heart aches for him (and for us) because of that. We held his hands until he took his last breath, each of us telling him he was not going to do this alone, making sure the last words he heard were, "I love you."

My brother and I hadn't talked in a while prior to the day he was airlifted to the trauma center in Montana. I wish I could change that. But the minute I heard the news he was in the ICU, the only place I wanted to be, was with him. I spent ten days in Montana, every single one of them spent in the hospital. His daughter and I shared a room, and took turns being with him. Some days were scary, and we felt like any minute he would leave us, but there were also days of improvement lined with hope that he would get through this. Every day our family came together to support one another, regardless of how far apart we were across the globe. I sent daily updates, sometimes 3-4 as things changed that frequently. The day he said my name and told me he loved me will always be my favorite day. Saying goodbye to him will probably be my worst. But I was there for him, we were ALL there for him, and that matters to me, and I told him every day that I loved him, so I know he took that with him.

After he took his last breath, after we thanked the entire ICU team, and after we gathered his things, we prepared to leave. His daughter and I walked out of his room, and down the hallways of the hospital... the same floors we walked a million times, and when the doors opened to the outside, we both realized we would not be walking through them again.

Every night before I went to bed, I called the hospital for an update. Every night I asked the nurse to tell him we love him, goodnight, and we'd see him the next day. On the night that he died, about two hours earlier, I called and asked the nurse to pass on the message, he said he would. And then we got the call. At 5:30 the next morning, not having slept well, I woke up in a panic, "what if he never got that last message from us?" I called the ICU nurses desk hoping the nurse was still there. He was. He expressed his sympathies, which I could tell were sincere, and asked how he could help me. I asked him if he passed on my message the night before. He said he had... I needed to know that.

Brendan (although I call him Ben) was the kind of guy that found joy in the simplest of things. He laughed easily and often and he cried easily too. He was sensitive and sweet but could also be a butthead. When his daughter was in girl scouts, he took over the cookie sales and I can remember every year at cookie time, I would find him sitting in their garage surrounded by boxes and boxes of cookies. He went to everything she did in school and celebrated all her accomplishments with so much pride. He was a guy who loved a fedora and wore it every chance he could. I'd say he was a pretty slick dresser when he wanted to be. He loved working with our sister at the RV park. He had met someone who made him and his heart smile. He made mistakes, don't we all, but he leaves with us so many memories that make us smile. He was a good guy, and he will be missed by so many. I don’t think I realized just how many lives he touched until I witnessed the outpouring of love and support that we all received during this time.

Eighteen days is a very long time. He fought as hard as he possibly could to hang on and I think I respect him even more for that. He wanted to live... at whatever cost that might be... he wanted to live. Which makes me think he loved his life and that comforts me. I already miss you brother... and I will be forever thankful I shared your last days with you.

I will take from this experience a better understanding of what someone needs when navigating the uncertainties of life and death. I will remind people often to let their loved ones know what their wishes are way before something happens. I will take what I learned from this experience to help others navigate anticipatory loss, death, and grief in a way that is more helpful than I had done before, because I see it from such a different perspective now. I will learn to let things go, no longer holding grudges or anger hostage inside my heart, and I will live each day better. I will be better. I will do better. I will remind YOU to do better.

And now I will take care of me because I know the importance of self-care, but also because my body is telling me it is time. I am physically and emotionally drained, I am sad, and I am grieving this loss in a very big way. But I find comfort in my heart knowing he knows I was there, and that I love him.

Rest peacefully Ben, and please... find our sister Laura and have some serious fun together.

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