A year ago tonight at the time I'm writing Brandon was still in this world, but not for much longer, and I'm not sure whether he was still of this world. His breathing changed and somehow he no longer seemed there with us.
All day family and friends had been in and out to say good-by. He'd been anointed early in the morning by a Jesuit priest/friend whose copious use of oil gave us all a wonderful excuse to massage Brandon's hands and feet. Later he received the Sacrament of the Sick when his parish priest stopped by. Everyone who needed to tell him what he meant to them and how they'd miss him had had an opportunity to do so. His wife, siblings and I took turns swabbing his radiation-dry mouth. Many memories were shared 52 weeks ago today, resulting in many laughs and many tears.
For several hours before the change in his breathing, he didn't seem to be conscious yet he'd occasionally remind us he was still with us. Until his breathing changed... I'm not sure how long it went on. An hour? Two? Then he took a strange deep breath. A hitch and a very long pause before he exhaled. There was an unnaturally long pause before he repeated it.
Christina was at his left side and I was on his right. His father, sisters and brothers were around the bed. All of us had a hand on him, but Christina's was placed over his heart.
One more breath in. Then nothing. It was about 11:45 p.m. Saturday night, June 2, 2012 that Brandon's body stopped working. Christina looked at him and said, "Thank you, babe, for letting me be the one to feel your last heartbeat." I looked up and told him we'd be all right. (What a lie.) That he should look for the light. I said I hoped he'd go for a run with his friend Morgan, who had died in their sophomore year of high school and for whom Brandon's daughter is named, and his beloved golden retriever Lex.
I thought I was holding it together fairly well. I think I did for about 30 seconds. Then I fell on my baby's body, threaded my arm under his shoulders, and noises came from my mouth that I didn't know I was capable of making. I think someone had to pry me off so a resident could "pronounce" him. She suggested we clear the room. That was probably a good thing to ask, as it pissed me off. "Why should we leave the room?" I asked. "We already know he died. Nothing you do can make it worse." How glad we were that we stayed. Otherwise, we'd never have seen the beautiful brandy-gold of his eyes again.
In spite of the emotional pain, there was also a sense that he was at last free - that his spirit somehow leapt from his cancer-ridden body. Two weeks later I attended Mass on Father's Day with my son Joe(y) at St. John Neumann's Church in St. Charles, IL. I'd been to Mass there before but I'd always sat in the center facing the altar. This time we found a pew to the side, and I was struck by the crucifix for it depicted Jesus leaping from his cross just as I'd felt Brandon had leapt from his two weeks earlier.
Not long afterward a Maryknoll priest/friend sent me a prayer card. The prayer didn't strike me but the picture on the other side certainly did. For there one sees the back of a man as he is being embraced by Jesus upon his arrival at the gate of heaven, and the back of that man looks exactly like Brandon - same color hair, same shape of the head, same build. I keep that card in my wallet, so I can look at that picture often.
Brandon, you were born in great love, you left us in even greater love, and we feel confident that you were greeted by the greatest Love. But, oh, how I miss you. How I miss you...