I’ve never spoken of this story before. Not to my mother, not to those closest to me, not anyone. This happened about 25 years ago and I still have nightmares about it. I decided to share on public media to let young people know that you can make a mistake and can’t come back from it. My brother, nearly 10 years older than me was a paraplegic and as such was in and out of hospitals for most of his life. He was confined to a wheelchair. I was just a kid so I thought nothing of it; it was just how our family was. One day when I was about 13 or 14 years old he came home from work and went right to bed. This wasn’t terribly unusual either. Later that evening my mother sent me to wake up my brother for dinner. I knocked on his door and called him to dinner; no answer. I opened the door. The room was dark and I heard my brother sleeping. I called him again to wake up for dinner, no answer again. I shrugged, closed the door and went up to dinner. My mother asked me about my brother and I told her he didn’t want dinner and we all left it at that.
The following morning was Saturday. I woke up and my brother was still asleep. I went into his room to find him covered in sticky sweat, his eyes wide open staring at the ceiling, and breathing in fast, short gasps. I ran up to get my mother, she came down, and tried to wake him, failed, and ran out to call 911. I sat in his room, bawling, and said the only thing I could think of, “Please don’t die. I’m sorry for everything bad I’ve ever said before.” I held his hand but he was unresponsive. The medics came and took him away to the hospital. The rest of the weekend was tense. I didn’t want to approach the subject with my mother who was clearly stressed out about it, so I tried my best to be the Man of the House for her. A few days later, my mother came to pick me up from school and she was with our priest. I didn’t or couldn’t put two and two together and just figured he was there for emotional support while my brother got better. When we got home my mother told me that my brother had died. We hugged. I didn’t cry. Much later I realized I was in shock.
To this day, what haunts me about the whole thing is, when I went to wake up my brother the night before his breathing was already affected. When I opened the door to call him to dinner I remember hearing his breathing come in fast, short gasps. It wasn’t as loud as it was the following morning but it was definitely there. I don’t know why I didn’t say anything then, but I can’t help but think my brother might still be alive or at least have lived longer — if I had told my mother the night before. I was just too wrapped up in whatever 14 year old bullshit I had going on to pay any attention to anyone other than myself. I picture my brother, conscious but unable to move, as I walked into his room, walked out, and didn’t help him. I picture him laying in bed, unable to move, as he heard us walking around and living our lives care-free just feet away from him outside his bedroom door. I picture him staring up at the ceiling throughout the night, unable to cry for help, as the rest of us slept soundly in our rooms. And then he died. I don’t even remember the last thing he ever said to me at all. My brother’s death is will haunt me the rest of my life.