Tuesday, May 06, 2008

you'll never get those 3 hours back, but you won't get another shot, either

On Saturday we watched as my brother graduated from college.

A few months ago, he told us that he didn't want to walk in the ceremony, that it wasn't a big deal and it's not like he'll get anything other than the empty certificate holder anyway. Plus, it'd be an all-school graduation and likely last several hours. After a lot of persuading, I convinced him to suck it up and get fitted for that cap and gown because my parents deserved to see him up there. And though he grumbled the entire way and took his cap off as soon as he sat back down, he went through with it. 

We made the drive and got dressed up and filed into the auditorium. Most people sitting around us were leafing through the pamphlets and chattering (however there was an extremely frazzled mom with no grasp on her loud children, who rested their feet on our shoulders, drowned out the speakers and repeatedly hurled shredded programs at H's head). I was looking around at everything from the jumbotron to the blond-wood bass in the band and suddenly I was crying. 

I don't know what prompted it. I wasn't thinking about anything in particular, but the tears kept rolling and I couldn't do anything to stop them. All these years of my brother struggling just to make it through another day, let alone the rigors of earning a diploma—it really is quite an accomplishment. And it definitely wasn't easy. Several semesters were missed for surgery, recovery and complications, and dozens of credit units didn't transfer from school to school. A lesser man might have called it quits a long time ago. 

I looked over at my mom, who was in the same state. All she could do was smile through her tears. Later she said she had been picturing that first surgery, when my brother's tiny three-month-old body was covered in tubes and encased in an incubator, and how she hadn't known then if she should even hope to see this day. I held her hand; that's all I've ever really had to offer.
 
Five years ago, my then-boss' sister (who also worked at our company) had been diagnosed with lung cancer, despite never having smoked a cigarette in her life. The sister was one of those people who make your day better just by the way they say hello. My boss was just as wonderful: She was fair and kind and considerate and kicked ass at her job. And we worked hard because we didn't want to let her down. I loved that boss. She taught me so much, not just about our craft, but about what it really means to supervise people so they can grow. She gave me the feedback that pushed me toward a job I had hoped to snag someday but worried I wasn't good enough for. And she was a genuinely awesome person.

I knew my boss was having a really tough time seeing her sister in so much pain. And while there's not a lot that you can say to comfort people at times like that, I know a little about how it is. My boss said that hearing about my brother made her feel a little better—especially when I told her that the doctors had said we'd be lucky if he made it to age 20 and that we had just toasted his 21st birthday.

Unfortunately, my boss' sister didn't make it. Even more tragic, my boss herself was diagnosed with cancer last year. When I found out, I got her a card that just said "Shit." (She got a kick out of that.) When I was putting it into our office's Outgoing Mail pile, a senior person picked it up and approached me kind of menacingly. I thought I violated some policy about sending personal mail from the office, but it turned out that he was my boss' brother-in-law. He offered to hand-deliver the card because she'd been coming to his house to recover after every round of chemo.

Even though she had been doing really well, things took a turn for the worst and my boss passed away early Sunday morning, as we were getting done celebrating brother's graduation in Alabama. Losing her has hit everyone hard: I've gotten calls from people I haven't seen in years, and I will probably see more at the memorial on Thursday. It's terrible that it'll take a death to bring us all back together again. But it is a testament to how much this woman is loved and how I didn't have to go far before I bumped into someone else who is blessed to have known her. 

If I had gotten to see my boss before she died, I would have told her that not only did my brother finally graduate after seven years, but he'll be turning 26 in September and continues to raise hell every single day. I think it would have made her happy to hear. 

It pays to celebrate what you've got, while you still have it.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I Cor 15:51-55

mjaSeattle said...

Well said...

I'm so happy for your brother's success, but sad for your loss...

The Casual Perfectionist said...

Congratulations to your brother, and I'm so sorry for your loss. :(

Syar said...

Congratulations and condolences. Wish those two didn't have to go hand in hand.

SupaCoo said...

Beautifully written. My heart goes out to you in joy and in sorrow.

Madelyn said...

You sure know how to make a girl cry...I couldn't even get through it.

weebug said...

I don't know what to say. I am sorry about your boss and your boss's sister. Cancer sucks. On the other hand I am elated about your brother!

Xteener said...

What an emotional time for you. I am so sorry for your loss.

Congratulations to your brother and all of his success.

Guyana-Gyal said...

And now you've gone and made me cry.

You're right, celebrate every day as much as possible. I re-discovered this when I came back home and it seemed that life here was soooo booooring.

Tell your brother congratulations on not just graduating but for surviving and everything else.

My brother emailed me about a woman in his office who died of cancer too, he said the entire office was sad.

jinius said...

this was beautiful. it's funny how life interweaves these wonderful moments with something tragic. i guess the underlying message is to enjoy what you have. which is why im so glad i read this today of all days. and i love the last line to this.

im sure your boss would have loved this entry.

Anne said...

I finally read back far enough to find this treasure here on your blog. It left me sitting here with tears streaming down my face, reminded of the hole that awesome boss' death has left in the lives of everyone who knew her. Thank you for sharing a little bit of the Queen with the rest of the world.