Everything changed, literally, in a heartbeat. The text message, innocuous though it was, set off alarm bells as soon as I read it. My nephew rarely texted me, let alone in the middle of a work day, with a request to call him as soon as possible. My life as I had always known it would never be the same.
When I reached my nephew, my worst fears were realized. My 54-year-old brother (and only sibling) was in the intensive care unit after suffering a stroke. There was nothing to presage this Ė he was in excellent health, didnít smoke, watched his diet, exercised, saw his doctor. He stressed a lot, owned his own business and worried too much, but that was about it for bad behavior. I couldnít believe what I was hearing. My sister-in-law got on the phone, said my brother was now conscious, moving his extremities and able to speak, but the situation was serious.
Stunned, I told my supervisor what had happened, grabbed my things and ran to my car. I stifled sobs as I drove to the hospital and did my best not to think the worst. After we lost our father, and later our mother, I came to realize that my brother was the only person left who shared all of the life I had lived, as I alone shared all of his.
As children, we were close. As teenagers, we had different friends, different interests and a general indifference to each other. As adults, we were close once again as we both married, raised families and suffered the loss of our parents. We became the true grown-ups and our long-ago childhood became memories that only the two of us could remember.
We shared times good and bad. Such as the year we bought a mouse to give our Mom on Motherís Day (in a container on her breakfast tray, which fortunately for everyone never happened). Our double Bar and Bat Mitzvah, which went off without a hitch, confounding the cantor who initially declared ďhe canít read and she canít sing.Ē
We shared the past that shaped us. As an adult, I came to understand the man formed from the boy. Our relationship lost the contentiousness that had on occasion existed. We were proud of each otherís accomplishments, no longer in competition for the favor of a mother or father. We recognized the importance of family, regardless of any differences.
Our family gatherings are small but riotous. My brother has two sons, as do I. All are grown now. The boisterous nature of our family has been bequeathed. I assumed that we had many years ahead of us to enjoy together.
This illusion vanished on that awful day. My sons and nephews understood for the first time how quickly, irrevocably, life can change. That life could be lost without warning, reason or rhyme. Fortunately, this has not been the case for my brother. Always the luckiest one in the family, he dodged a lot of bullets that day. He wasnít driving, or on a ladder as his work occasionally requires. His distress was witnessed by someone and help was summoned quickly. The physical damage was minimal and his recovery remarkable.
Most importantly, his doctor persevered until the cause of his stroke was found. A minor procedure resolved the problem and his health is no longer in jeopardy. The fact that I still have my brother is a reminder of something often taken for granted even though, deep down, we all know the clock is ticking. The recognition that every day is a gift.