Perhaps it is long past due for me to put into words the world I am living in. Perhaps.
It’s hard to know where to begin. My brother is dead and everything in my life is impacted by his death. Today I sat at Mercury Café and tried to think of things other than Sean… it didn’t work. I spent hundreds of hours at Mercury Café with Sean dreaming about the future, venting about the annoying nuances of our work with Jews for Jesus, planning new ventures, launching new ideas, talking about life. He was my brother but he also was my best friend, my coconspirator, my go to guy, my coworker, my accountability partner, and my sounding board. Sean was the reason I didn’t want to leave San Francisco… I wanted our kids to grow up together just like Sean and I grew up with our cousins.
Sean was involved in every area of my life. We worked together in the same office, we were part of the same community group and guys’ accountability group, we were part of the same church community, we had the same set of friends, we spent our free time together, and we were brothers. When Sean was diagnosed with cancer I felt a grief deeper than anything I had ever experienced, even deeper than the feeling of losing my first daughter. I literally had planned my life around staying close to my brother, walking down the road of vocational ministry together, changing the world together. The thought that Sean could die devastated me, so I did everything in my power to help him fight… To encourage him along the way, to keep his spirits up, to inspire him with greater vision for what his prolonged life could accomplish. I got Sean involved in more and more until there was nothing in my life that Sean wasn’t a part of… It was my way of holding on, of rejecting the thought that Sean could die.
And for a time it seemed that Sean’s journey was a journey through the valley of suffering toward many more years of life at the end of the valley. In April I asked Sean and Sarah to consider moving into the Jews for Jesus Hospitality House to take the leadership of the local ministry and community… The community that Rachelle and I had poured our blood, sweat, tears into…
When Sean went into the hospital the first time I was caught off guard… The oncologist hadn’t anticipated Sean’s cancer would continue to live even after his Chemo/Radiation. I thought Sean was in the recovery process when the doctors came in with sad faces and bad news… the cancer had spread. Metastasized.
I felt panic then… suffocating anxiety. I was supposed to begin seminary the next week… How could I go when Sean had received this news? But Sean talked me out of cancelling, and I went anyway. Of all the damned weeks for me to leave…
Sean met with his oncologist. But either Sean misunderstood what the oncologist was saying, or the oncologist F#@%$D it up… The oncologist never warned Sean about the risk of his rising calcium levels… A risk unique to squamous cell cancer that would force Sean back into the hospital just a few weeks later. I didn’t go to that appointment with Sean because I was in Portland when it happened.
The thought keeps running through my head… Would Sean have died if I had been at the appointment? Could I have stopped this? I’ll never know… because I was in Portland sitting in a classroom.
Sean died and I soldiered on. I wrote a speech for the memorial, then I turned that speech into a sermon. I took a few weeks off, then came back to the office so life could move on… but it didn’t.
I am haunted by Sean’s death… In every area of my life that I shared with Sean. At the office where we worked together, at my home where we hung out, at the Hospitality House where I helped Sean down the stairs for the last time, at church where I received the phone call that Sean was being intubated and that I needed to get to the hospital ASAP or I would miss speaking with him ever again, every time I drive around the city passed UCSF where he died, every time I sit at one of the many café’s where we met and talked, every time I turn on Facebook and see people posting old pictures of Sean, every time I go to the Jews for Jesus YouTube and hear Sean’s voice in videos he produced, every time I pick up the Western Seminary coursework that I never completed because of Sean’s death, every time I see a billboard for a movie we had talked about seeing together, every time I work on a project that Sean helped me on.
I used Sean’s life and death as an object lesson in a sermon I preached, and that’s when the anger started. Anger, not directed at anyone or anything in particular, just anger that Sean is gone. Sometimes it feels like violent rage, sometimes it feels like suffocation. My brother is dead and that won’t change. My kids will never grow up with his kids… our next child will never even know Sean except in stories.
The emptiness I feel because of Sean’s death makes San Francisco feel like a lonely place even when I am surrounded by friends. The panic of not having Sean to be my sounding board, my coconspirator, my “default” guy who I could talk to about anything…
I get up each morning and exercise… something I’d neglected since Sean was first diagnosed. The routine gets me out of bed in the morning, gets my day started. I drive into the office, but my mind is elsewhere… Sean is dead but my subconscious is still searching for a solution, a way to beat his cancer, a way to get him back. I remind myself that I will see Sean in the resurrection… that I will follow him to the grave, but that I will see him again in Jesus’ Kingdom. The worlds are true, but offer no comfort in the moment…
I walk. I don’t know where I’m going, but I keep walking because I need physical movement to prime the pump for mental and emotional movement. When I stop walking I can’t think straight. I try to snap out of my daze, but this all feels like a dream… A bad dream that has somehow become my reality.
I have moments of clarity, of productivity, but then I descend again into the mire. I don’t know what I want, I don’t know what I need, I don’t know how to move on except to keep getting up when my alarm goes off and go throughout the routine of my day.
People have confused me with my brother. He was the extrovert; I am not. He was the one who loved being the center of attention; I do not.
I am posting this on my blog as a step toward moving forward with my life. A way to express myself… A way to get the weight off my back. I wrote this to verbalize my thoughts and emotions.
I return home each evening to the smiling happy faces of my kids. They bring light into my life. I sit on the floor and enjoy their excitement as they use me for a human jungle gym. We eat dinner as a family and I appreciate my beautiful wife. Sometimes my parents and Annamarie, and Sarah come over and we try to laugh. Laughter seems to help… at least for me. I know we are all hurting in our own way.
Yesterday I closed the books on the last entrepreneurial project that Sean and I started together. SocialForNonprofits.com – a resource for non-profits on utilizing social media to further their causes… It was the project we wanted to launch as soon as Sean recovered. Now it only brings me pain.
This grief feels like a giant wave. I can’t see the top of it, I don’t know how long it will last, and I don’t know where it will leave me when the water recedes. I know it won’t kill me… I know I won’t drown. But, as I work to untangle my life from the broken thread that was my brother’s life, I know that I am changed.
I trust God that He will redeem this pain, that He will use it in my life and in the lives of others, but the knowledge doesn’t diminish the extent or duration of the pain… My brother is dead, and I don’t get him back.