Our entire family had just had a wonderful vacation in West Virginia with our aunt and uncle. My oldest brother flew to Indianapolis from California, my parents and youngest brother drove from Michigan, and my husband, son, and I drove from Chicago. We all met my middle brother and his wife in Indianapolis to drive together to WV for Labor Day weekend. Since all of us are all over, vacations together are sparse. On September 3rd we drove back to Indy and on the 4th we went to our perspective homes. It wasn't 24 hours later that we were back together again planning for a funeral.
My youngest brother, RJ, was a very healthy 20 year old. He loved life, his family, and Jesus and wasn't afraid to be different. He had high blood pressure, which runs in my dad's side of the family, but was advised that he was too young to be put on medication by my dad's doctor. Other than that, he had never been in the hospital before in his life. That summer, I guess he had experiences a series of small headaches - the kind anyone would get, as well as one inexplicable nose bleed. But everyone deals with this every once in a while. However, only about seven hours after driving home from Indy that day, he came upstairs with a severe headache. He told my mom that it was the worst headache he had ever felt before and thought it might be considered a migraine. Ten minutes later he was basically brain dead.
My mom is thankful she and my dad were both there during his last moments of life. They had just come home from two hours of errands and were gearing up to put everything away from the vacation. When RJ complained of a migraine, my mom asked if he had taken anything (two Tylenol), and then he declared that his brain was going numb. At that moment, they called the ambulance (finding out that the phones peculiarly didn't work - my dad had to search for where he had set his cell phone). He then said he couldn't control his body anymore, that he had to defecate, urinate, and vomit. He laid across the kitchen chair and everything began to come out all over. He then said that he felt he was going to have a seizure (he's never had one before, so how he knew we aren't sure). The last thing my mom asked him was how his headache was, to which he replied, "It's getting better." He then went into a seizure, his body went stiff, and his eyes rolled back. At that time, the ambulance finally arrived.
Apparently, he was responding a little in the ambulance, but after having one more seizure, he no longer responded to anything. As soon as he arrived at the hospital, he was immediately surrounded by a group of doctors, who after doing initial tests, told my parents that it didn't look good.
I had just finished unpacking my last bag from our awesome vacation when I got the phone call from my dad. Five hours later I received a call that my brother was brain dead and they were discussing organ donation. Even though it was near midnight, I couldn't sleep and said we'd be on our way. We drove the three and a half hours with our 14 month old son and spent the rest of the night and next day in the hospital. My middle brother and his wife immediately drove from Indy, and after my older brother just arrived back to CA, he had to book a flight to Michigan. My brother's girlfriend, who he had just talked with for two hours on the phone earlier that day, was able to book a decent bereavement fare through United (thank you)and arrived from Rochester, NY within eight hours after finding out. They had put my brother on life support, on which he remained until the organ donation process was completed. So at least we could say our final good-byes and "I love you's" to a warm body.
There are many things to be thankful for despite the tragedy. My brother had grown so much in the Lord the past few years of his life. His best friend died when he was a junior in high school from a motorcycle accident. This was hard on him, and helped him put his priorities straight in life. He knew what it was to focus on the forever after and to turn to Jesus for everything. He was going to be a junior at Cedarville University in Ohio a top honor student in mechanical engineering. He wanted to serve his LORD as a missionary overseas by serving others less fortunate than himself and to tell them about the life-saving love of Jesus. At least we know that he is in heaven, in a better place by far. We grieve, not for him, but for our temporary loss of future earthly memories together.
Secondly, my parents are thankful that the tragedy occurred while they were there so that they could know nothing else could have been done. It would have been worse to come home and find him dead on the floor. Thirdly, we're thankful for the wonderful vacation together as a family. We even got a family photo unprofessionally taken in the hills of West Virginia the day before his death. This was one of the best times, I felt, we have ever had as a family. I thank God that he gave it to us. Even though RJ's girlfriend was not able to go on the vacation with us, she was able to spend several small vacations with him throughout the summer and they were able to talk for two hours just before his death, ending their conversation with love-you's. They were planning on marrying a week after they graduated from college together.
Fourth, if he were to die so young, it couldn't have happened at a better time. As I had said earlier, we just spent the extended weekend together and my parents were there when it occurred. Also, if it had happened a day later, my older brother would have been off to Europe for a couple weeks and by the time he got back, my middle brother would be in Thailand for seven months. After that time, I would have had two small children to cart around, since my second is due around RJ's birthday, in February.
I believe God is sovereign. I don't know why he chose this time for RJ - to snatch his life away so young. But, everyone has to die. It's the one guarantee in life. If God chose this as a way to get other's attention, then we believe it is best. We ache still. There is pain in losing such a wonderful brother, son, boyfriend, and friend. But we hang on the truth that God will work everything for good for those that love Him. And if the message could be sent to others, death can strike at any moment. You can be careful to the nth degree; you could be healthier than anyone (seemingly), and within minutes be gone. There doesn't have to be a warning sign. There wasn't for my brother. He was twenty and gone in ten minutes. Are you prepared for eternity?
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