Seven weeks has now passed since the day of my brother’s death in May of 2015. The sequence of events on that final Friday and sense of loss continues to be very fresh and replayed each week in my mind. Viewing a beautiful sunrise reflecting through a light haze of clouds this morning over Big Bay Park in Whitefish Bay, I recalled preparing to leave with my daughter and mother for another visit. I had packed my Packer cheesehead to wear for Greg and made a minion packer poster with the fall game schedule to post in his room hoping to bring a smile on his face from his “crazy sister,” which he so commonly called me. One day while visiting with my daughter, he and I were bantering in his room. Needing to regain my calm, I proceeded to do a little yoga in his room with my feet up against the wall. While not able to get my brother to engage in it, he was happy to provide commentary. Morning rounds were occuring on the unit and the heart failure team conveniently strolled into the room. You can only imagine the additional remarks by the team. While I may have been a little humiliated at the moment being the target of jokes and humor laying on the floor, legs up the wall and sporting a cheesehead, I learned that a cheesehead works well to provide some support for this yoga pose~another very practical innovation that I might have to bring to the team to market.
Moving forward, after spending time thinking about Greg and reviewing the events of the day on May 22, I was compelled to create this collage. It is a compilation of words written down in the first weeks following his death. Pastel colors were chosen instead of my classic primary colors because all the light has not been let into my heart in the healing process. The words and the feelings continue to resurface every week as I cope with grief and loss and try to find a new place to hold my brother in my life. The fog of grief is still ever present and suspect a circle of all four seasons will be required before it really is lifted to the point that peace will find its way in my heart. Reflecting on the many deaths throughout my health care career and practical experience with my family, the words chosen do not appear all that unique to anyone who has suffered a loss of a close loved one. The personal stories, however, are very telling and expose the individual to the open wounds of grief and loss that need time to heal.
The road thus traveled has been full of unanswered questions, reaching out others to understand a very hidden topic of sibling grief, hours of reading, storytelling, hope, rallying, and certainly a painstaking plethora of tears shed. I am truly grateful for the many colleagues and friends who have selflessly given their time listening, hearing, and comforting. I am certain that the strength of so many dear and supportive health care friends and family (near and far) have kept me sane through this agonizing process. At this juncture, two of my favorite Kahlil Gibran quotes have inspired and helped me find a new bond between my brother and me.
“Love one another but make not a bond of love. Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”
“When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
Reading these words at face value, it seems fairly simple to imagine finding peace after the loss of my brother. After all, he was not expected to live beyond 2 years of age, had a full life, and was blessed with the love of many family and friends. It is not that easy to put into practice. That fateful day seven weeks ago today, an unexpected event of circumstances to a complicated health story of a great man. Although quite medically fragile at the time, my brother over and over proved resilience. Through 47 years, Greg has rallied, jumped hurdles, and in the end succeeded in overcoming battles in life. Through it all, he showed all close to him the value of patient persistence and carried out every milestone and achievement with great style. No one expected that would be the last day we had with him on earth. I expected another hurdle and detour that needed to be passed when I received notification about the night’s events. That fateful day, never in my heart of hearts had I anticipated saying my last words to my brother. While fortunate to be present physically in the events and conversations, it does not take away the pain, sorrow, and emptiness that remains. It is still very palpable, raw, and present in my daily life. The tears are becoming less present with time, but triggers remain that reopen those floodgates and am learning to work with them.
- One of my first triggers since his death was a dream the first night of his death. Once my father and aunt arrived in Rochester, we all migrated across to the hotel across the street that had become “our home away from home” when visiting Greg. My daughter took one bed, I took another, and my father a third. My mother and her best friend and sister took a second room to try and get some sleep. My father and aunt arrived late in the night around 11pm. It was very difficult to settle my mind, but we all knew that sleep was essential. The lights went out, and over time we all found a way to get some rest. I dreamt about my brother and his transition to heaven. He ascended in a spiral staircase that the stones were cracked and falling apart minute by minute. My brother Charley, Jeff, and I all tried to hang onto the falling staircase that had some broken railings to grab hold of and try to navigate the broken stairs. Using all our might, we were not able to catch up or stop Greg’s ascent. This vision is still as clear today as it was many weeks ago. I think back on it today as a way my mind was trying to come to grips with the reality that just happened.
- On the night of June 7th, I dreamt my brother was present in the distance across the field. He was finally outside the halls of Mayo Hospital and Clinics and free of all medical paraphernalia. He was standing and smiling at me. His color was good, strength was present in his tall solid stance, and blond hair was bleached out from the sun like it had been as a youth. I ran to him with a big smile, arms open wide ready to give him a hug, and sadly awoke with a startle when realizing that I completely through his silhouette and the experience was all a dream.
- A last example surfaced just last week. Grey’s Anatomy is a drama TV series that my husband and I have always enjoyed. With recent events, we had been very behind on our series. We were on the episode where Derek Shepherd died and Meredith Grey was signing the papers to remove the ventilator and all medical supports. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) dies after a tragic car accident on Grey’s Anatomy. Watch this scene http://abc.go.com/shows/greys-anatomy/video/most-recent/VDKA0_15x9mdb7 from Season 11, Episode 21: How to Save a Life to see the heartbreaking moment Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) says her final goodbye to her husband. I did not realize the nature of the story until we started to watch the episode. Once I did, paired with the anniversary of a six week anniversary of Greg’s death, a sudden jolt of overwhelming grief permeated. In the show, Meredith has 2 children and could not help but empathize with her and compare her to what my sister-in-law was going through with her family, my parents, my 2 living brothers, and myself. It was so devastating to see the visual cues of health care so present with a heightened emotional flare. It was suddenly like I was pulled back into Rochester, MN the day of my brother’s death and seeing all the medical paraphernalia and traumatizing view. The flood gates opened with a vengeance. Surely these moments will come and go in waves again at unexpected moments in time. For now, I have in essence “cut myself off” from any kind of medical show or movie that may trigger added sadness. It is my intention and hope to continue to allow time for self care, to be open to change in the grief and healing process, and to focus on keeping the stories alive and Greg’s legacy present. Some days are better than others, but for the most part, the fog is beginning to lift and a new way of living including my brother in my heart and soul will continue to become more present with continued clarity.
I leave you now with one of my brother’s last postings on social media that exemplifies his witty sibling humor and connectedness which brought our family together so many times through the years. You can see clearly that being in your fourth decade in life does not restrict sibling rivalry. Banter occurred regularly and usually Greg came up ahead of the rest. This post was the day before he received notice that a heart became available for him and an opportunity for new life. While my younger brother was not yet on this social media to reply, I am certain that out of all us “kids,” Greg Romenesko was the best, smartest, and nicest of our siblings.
Thank you for your time reading and learning about my amazing brother. He wasn’t here long enough but managed to shape a family, friends, and community for a better tomorrow and legacy will last forever.