My Brother Taught Me That It’s Never Too Late

Don - Rosemount, Minnesota
Entered on June 9, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: change, family, legacy

I believe that it’s never too late to make positive changes in my life, and in the lives of those people I encounter every day. My brother, Dave, taught me this lesson.

September 11th has a new meaning for me. On that day, 2007, my brother, Dave, passed away. For me, the story of the last four years of his life has become my inspiration. Here it is.

On October 13, 2003, our family went through a dramatic change. On that day, my brother was involved in a serious car crash that left him as a respirator-dependent quadriplegic. The accident, and his life up to that point, were both very tragic. He lived alone. He had no immediate family other than his siblings (my older brother, my sister and me). He was a functional alcoholic. He worked by day, then went home to drink alone most nights. He talked only about himself, and saw himself as a victim. The crash happened on a Monday at 10:30 am. He was drinking, skipped work, and passed out at the wheel. Luckily, it was a single car accident.

That was the bad part. Here is the good part.

Before the accident, our family was not close. The accident forced the three of us to find a care facility that could handle his needs, and to work out a schedule of visiting and helping to care for Dave. But it also brought us together in a way that no other event could have. We spent more time with each other and our families in the past four years then in the previous 30 combined, and it reminded us of how important we were to each other.

But the most amazing transformation was in Dave. Here he was trapped in a body that no longer functioned. He had a machine breathing for him. He was fed through a tube in his stomach. But over that time he became my favorite person in the world. He could only communicate by mouthing the words. So we had to go slowly at first, with many repetitions. He always began a visit by asking me about my family. He wanted to know everything – how everyone was doing, what was happening in their lives, their plans, highlights, and accomplishments. Then, whenever anyone would come in the room, nurses, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, etc…, he would engage them in the same kind of conversation. When they would leave, he would tell me all about them and their families. I would hear about athletic accomplishments, dance recitals, weddings, and countless other details from the lives of people who had become like a second family to him. From every staff member we heard how much they appreciated Dave, and how much they looked forward to spending time with him. He would flirt with female staff. The ladies would often give him a peck on the forehead as they were leaving. If they forgot, he had a way of getting their attention. He would make a clicking noise with his tongue. Then when they turned to face him he would pucker his lips. They would make a dramatic apology for forgetting, give him his peck and be on their way. He connected with everyone he encountered, and they became his family too.

During the final months of his life, his overall health deteriorated, and he was hospitalized six times in five months. It became difficult for the good people at his care center to take care of him. His heart stopped beating early on the morning of Tuesday, 9/11/2007. His four-year ordeal was over, and he was at rest.

For me, those four years have become my guiding light, and they have taught me many valuable lessons. Among the most important are these:

• it’s never too late to re-connect with family and loved ones;

• it’s never too late to provide a genuine smile, a handshake, or a listening ear;

• and most importantly, it’s never too late to change.