Today is a day I should be celebrating. I should be planning some raunchy, welcome to mid-life party to celebrate your big 4-0. Instead, I am haunted by the past 9 birthdays I haven’t been able to celebrate with you. When Jan. 14th rolls around, all I feel is sadness and anger. Anger that cancer is a thief who violently ripped my best friend from this life at just 31 years old and sadness that there will be no new memories. No matter how many times I rehash it – there’s no rhyme or reason. Your exit from this world still paralyzes me. And then there’s the guilt, the guilt that I still get to be here. Twelve years and dozens of cancer treatments later – and I am still on this side of the dirt, without you.
This week, I had my regularly scheduled oncology visit. Just the usual – a chemo toxicity check and an injection. From the time I pulled into the parking lot until I got home I felt you with me. It started when the “iPod God” chose the Verve’s “Freshman”- I can still hear the song blaring from the CD player in “The Locker Room” on McDonald street. Because damn boy you loved that song. Then you followed me right into my port draw, when I saw your friend Nurse Susan. Why Susan hasn’t drawn my port in many, many months but your birthday week, there she was. The gift of a familiar, compassionate face. Then the oncologist actually brought up my current chemo pill’s ability to protect from pancreatic cancer. She had forgotten that you, mom and dad all died from the wretched disease. And I felt so torn – on the one hand, what great news to know there are so many more options out there. And on the other hand, why, why couldn’t these options have existed in 2013? Why couldn’t we save you?
So, in this weird world where I don’t have you with me physically – you still come to me in the strangest ways. And when this happens I feel so damn grateful to feel you with me again. I just want to press “pause” on the memories and wrap my arms around them tightly, protecting them.
The other day a teacher asked me where my son got his sweet dance moves? I could feel tears welling up in my eyes – as I knew the answer was you, Uncle Joe. I couldn’t help but close my eyes and see you sitting at Jim’s place with a smile and rocking some “pull the chain” dance moves. And then there was a flash of the good ole “Hackett two step”. And the next thing I knew, tears were racing down my hot cheeks. And just like that, my heart was aching and I was crying and smiling at the same time. Crying because your absence still hurts and smiling because I got 31 years with my best friend. It’s still so hard to navigate this world without you. The world, it is so lonely without you.
So on this day – I am going to honor the sorrow and sadness I feel without you. And I am also going to celebrate the 31 years I did have with you. I am going to remember you LOUDLY. Because I don’t think there is anyone who could make me laugh like you did, make me dance like you did, make me sing the song louder like you did. You had a way of showing me all the little things to celebrate – that first bite of a kickass lasagna, the first notes of a song that lit your soul on fire, that hole in one on a bag board, that first jump off the bow of the pontoon in early summer – you my brother were all about the pleasure principal. God, I miss the excitement of sharing all these moments with you. But I feel so lucky to feel you with me when I do any of these things.
Your magic is still here all these years later. We haven’t forgotten you. You left your mark little brother. I see it in Jack’s dance moves and his ability to remain ridiculously “cool” in any situation, in Grace’s one-liners and the smirk that is straight from your face, in Emily’s witty comebacks – you are alive and well at Casa del Baer. Happy birthday little brother. Tonight – in honor of your 40th – we shall have cupcakes and dance our faces off.
“What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” –Helen Keller