On April 4th of this year, my brother turns 30. Or at least, he would have.
It was cancer. I was three. He was nearly seven.
My parents had to learn how to move on with their life.
My brothers had to grow up with hard questions.
And I had to learn why exactly things were now different.
“Where is heaven?” I used to ask. “Can we visit him?”
Try explaining to a three year old why Heaven isn’t the same as the London’s Children Hospital, and that there aren’t any visiting hours or car rides to get there.
One of the first things people ask is, Do you remember him?
I remember staying with relatives and babysitters.
I remember the hospital’s cafeteria, the elevators, and a package of gummy bears.
I remember the children’s ward with the kids and the toys and the hospital gowns.
I remember Toronto Blue Jay’s games and overbearing mascots.
I remember posing next to him in the armchair, with the neighbours’ newborn baby in his lap.
I remember sneaking glances at my cousins while the adults wore sad and serious faces.
… And I remember placing a flower on the box as it went down.
But I don’t remember him, as a person – his personality, his likes and his dislikes, his humour or his frustrations. And if it weren’t for my parent’s photo albums, I wouldn’t know what he looked like. I definitely wouldn’t be able to connect the young, smiling blond boy as the chubby-cheeked man-child with thin, dark hair.
But I’m told, that was him.
And I think that’s the hardest – not remembering. Because no matter how hard I try, I have nothing more to go on. Instead, I have a seven-year gap between myself and my next brother, with a childhood of independent games and other people’s memories.
But God, I’m grateful they shared those with me.
He loved marble cake.
He used to call instructions “constructions”.
He liked to play with his big wooden barn.
He too, was flat-footed.
That’s his picture on the wall that he drew of himself, and the lawn mower, and our old dog Sparky. He even wrote a caption describing it, bad spelling and all.
In my Bio 20 class, we had to interview someone who either had, or was affected by, a particular kind of disease. I didn’t even hesitate. I chose Leukemia for a reason, and one night, I sat down with my mom and asked her questions I’d never voiced before.
We both cried buckets. Even thinking about it makes me want to start sobbing all over again. And I learned a lot about my mom, and our family, and the little piece of our hearts that had been missing over the years – even if I can’t remember what it should have been.
I refuse to dwell on “What if’s” and “If only’s”… but I also choose not to ignore. My brother’s life and death is a part of how I grew up, and who I continue to be, and it most definitely affects the Faith I attempt to grow in each and every day. There are so very many questions I wish that I could have answers to… and right now, I can’t. But that doesn’t make my faith worthless or my heart empty. If anything, it makes me hold on that much stronger to the One that gave my family something to hope for, something to humanize our role in this incredibly complex creation.
No one ever said it would be easy. But after all, birthdays are about celebration and hope, looking back to see how far you’ve grown, and looking ahead to where you will be.
So, here’s to the parents that endured more pain than many imagine.
Here’s to the brothers who had to be “big” and act “grown up”.
Here’s to the doctors and the nurses and the aunts, uncles, and cousins, and neighbours who worked hard, encouraged, made jokes, babysat, and brought dinner.
Here’s to 23 years of trying to remember, and trying to understand.
…And here’s to the little boy who spent too many nights in a hospital, but now celebrates life in the best seat in the House.
Happy Birthday, Brother. We love you, and we miss you.
~ Shaun Andrew Kaastra: April 4, 1986 – March 27, 1993 ~
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16