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When My Brother Died
By Jenece Amella

Sitting at the kitchen table, facing the sliding glass door that leads to my backyard, I close my eyes and take a deep breath, exhaling steadily. I am peaceful and relaxed. I hear distant, outside noises; my neighbor is mowing his lawn, and I can smell the fresh cut grass as it sneaks through the window above my kitchen sink. It picks up the aroma of the freshly cut flowers that stand in a clear vase on the window sill. I inhale with pleasure. The birds are engaged in excited conversation outside, and I wonder what they are discussing. In the next room, my clothes are tumbling softly in the dryer. This reminds me of my summers as a kid, before my brother died.

I remember a safe place in my house as a child. A place where Mom was a mother, a friend and a teacher. She was home for us in the summer months. She planned special activities for everyday of the week. She swam with us at the pool, ate popcorn with us at the movies and watched us as we rode the kiddy rides at the amusement park. On the days that we were home, she let us help out with cleaning, and then she would make the most awesome peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When we were finished eating, she would send us out to play with the neighborhood kids.

I was the youngest of four. My brother, John, was the eldest. Janel followed by just eighteen months. Four years later, Julie came. My mother has often told me about the day she went in for a checkup eight months after Julie was born. The doctor suggested she not have any more kids. That very night she went home and planned her scheme on my father. I arrived nine months later.

Since I am the youngest, I was picked on the most and excluded from all of the big kids' games. One day I felt completely bombarded by the other kids. I was so upset that the tears blurred my vision and weighed me down so much that I couldn't pick up my feet. I ended up stubbing both of my big toes, which only made matters worse, and my whining fumed into wailing. When I stumbled into the house bleeding and gasping through my tears, panic and pain, my mother stopped what she was doing, ran over to me and dropped to her knees.

I tried to explain, but the gasps kept interfering. Mom finally gathered me up in her arms and took me to the bathroom where she cleaned me up. She ate ice cream with me on the backyard porch and let me be her helper with the ironing. Finally, I fell asleep on the couch with one of my father's shirts spread over my lap like a blanket. Everything was always better when Mom was around.

In January of the year I turned five, my father received a promotion that caused us to relocate to Germany. One morning in the middle of that summer, my brother, John, fell ill, and he and my mother were taken away by a helicopter. My sister, Julie, and I stood outside in the front yard as we watched the helicopter take off like a mysterious spaceship – destination unknown.

Johnny had been born with a brain tumor, and when he was twelve, the doctors gave him only six months to live. He outlived the doctors' estimate long enough to make what seemed like twenty million visits to the hospital where he received chemotherapy. He lived long enough for my mother to teach him how to write with his left hand when he could no longer use his paralyzed right hand. He lived long enough to allow my mother to sit by his hospital bed and pray with him and sing to him. He lived long enough for Mom to plan his thirteenth birthday party at the hospital. He lived long enough to be a brother and a son. What he didn't outlive was the day he turned thirteen. The day he died, our hearts were filled with both sadness and relief. Sadness, because we would miss him terribly, but relief because he wouldn't suffer any longer, and we would soon have our mother back.

But Mom came and went. In September of that same year, she was bedridden with pneumonia. Visiting times were infrequent, and when we were able to visit her, we had to stand outside the door and could only look into her room. I could tell she wanted desperately to touch and hold us, because her eyes would light up and she would try to sit up, but she was too weak. I don't remember how long she was absent, but it felt like forever. My poor father had never had to be the primary caregiver before, and we had breakfast for dinner on several occasions. Thank God, friends and family would stop by to give love, support and food, but nothing could take the place of my mother.

When Mom finally reappeared, she wasn't quite the same. Her eyes were dull and her soul seemed to weep. She managed to hide most of her feelings from us, but sometimes I would hear her sobbing in her bedroom. This went on for several months. As I look back now on those difficult days, I remember my mother as pale and beautiful and helpless.

I see her wearing black. She sits on the floor with her legs curled to one side, allowing her weight to fall on her supporting arm. Her head hangs low. My father approaches her. He stands above her and holds out his hand. She looks up at him with tears in her eyes and slowly brings her hand to his. He helps her to her feet, and as they stand facing one another, my father wipes away her tears. He kisses her; they embrace. Gently, my father leads her into the hallway and down the stairs where we have been waiting for her return. My father is a step ahead of her, in case she loses her balance. As she steps onto the top step, she grips the railing. She is focused on staying in control, but from time to time she glances up to notice our anxious faces.

As she tries to speed up, she bravely loosens her grip on the railing. Her head begins lifting and her posture straightens. My father calmly holds her hand and waits for her to catch up. Her final step is the hardest. She hesitates and looks intently at each of us. Her shoulders rise as she takes a deep breath. Finally, as she steps closer, we come forward to meet her. Her arms wrap around us, and her grip is strong. Her heartbeat echoes throughout her entire body.

I inhale her and melt as her hand rests on my head. She lowers herself to kiss me. She is here – right now. I have my mother back!

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