As school started in late August, my 18 year old cousin Katie was required to submit a short, personal essay for her English Comp 101 class. She chose to write about our cousin Graham, who passed away from Lymphoma this past May. Katie’s essay is sweet and poignant and I’m positive that Graham absolutely loved it.
Growth and Loss, by Katie H.
Each year, my family visits Uncle Skip at his summer home on the Lake of the Ozarks. Skip is one of the most generous men I have ever met, and when he invited me and a few cousins on a trip to Disney World, I was not the least bit surprised. The first week of summer, Monica, Zack, Graham and I would spend in the warmth of Florida, riding rides and swimming in the pool of a Disney World Resort. I had already grown a close relationship with Monica and Zack in my childhood, but the large, twenty-year-old Graham intimidated me. Something about his tough look and ability to crush a human skull with his bare hands made me want to stay out of his way. After the plane ride and first night in our hotel, my feelings changed. Not only did every sentence from Graham’s mouth make me lose all my strength in laughter, but he gave me a sense of comfort. Walking around with him made me feel invincible, like no one could mess with me. After that summer, Graham lost his name in my mind as my big, scary cousin, but became a friend. Better yet, he became my big brother. After that summer, he was always the first to call me when I was feeling down. I paid him random visits, filled with jokes and laughter, and when I grew sick he brought me Quizno’s, ice cream, and his big bear hugs. Those big hugs of his could cure anything from mono to a broken heart.
One day, after a couple years of having my new big brother, my mother came home from the grocery store with a saddened expression and red, puffy eyes. She sat me down to tell me the news. "Graham just went to the doctor for a problem in his left eye. They found a cancerous tumor; he was diagnosed with lymphoma." I sat on the couch, feeling dazed and confused, as my eyes began to water. For what seemed like forever, I sat in disbelief. At every free moment over the next few months, I drove down to spend time with him. Every time I saw him, my fear grew. For a short period, I was afraid to speak to him at all, in fear that I’d have to say goodbye. My mother repeatedly reassured me that he would be fine. "Lymphoma is cured all the time." Still, I could hardly bear the thought of losing Graham.
On May 5, 2008 I sat at my computer desk, sending my best friend a myspace message, when my father slowly approached me. Perhaps it wasn’t the way he said it. I’m sure that there is no good way to tell a daughter bad news. Maybe he had no other choice but to come out and say it.
"Katie, the chemotherapy isn’t working. They have explored other options, but nothing is working. They say he won’t live to be twenty-four."
My heart nearly stopped. How could this happen to the kindest, most fun guy I know? It isn’t fair. Suddenly, my sadness turned to anger as I stormed out the front door to my car. Tears streaming down my face, I blasted my radio and drove off. I felt the world sinking around me. I wanted to call a friend, but I knew nothing could be said to make it better this time. I felt lost and alone. After an hour with nowhere to go, feeling completely numb, I went home to my bed and slept.
It was Wednesday, May 7th and I went to school as I always did. I picked up Mariah, went to my locker then, arrived to my English class. As I sat in my desk, I felt a chill creep up my spine as my teacher brought me a note.
"Katie H. Excused Absence. Your mother is waiting for you in the parking lot. You are already checked out."
I shakily grabbed my books and rushed out the door to my mom’s car. She was bawling her eyes out. I did not say a word. I knew what was happening and I knew where we were going. I felt my heart breaking inside me. I wanted to run away from the world – anything to avoid what I knew was coming. We arrived at the hospital and I ran to the familiar room. I had paid many visits to my "big brother" at the hospital. This time, I knew, would not be nearly as fun and relaxed. I walked to the bed to see big, strong Graham, lying nearly motionless. He was delirious; moaning and showing clear signs of undeniable pain, but at the same time, shouting out random phrases such as "Ah, the power of cheese!" and "Zack, you dirty boy." This gave us all a last glimpse at his incredible sense of humor. My aunt Judy looked up to see me standing over him in tears.
"Graham, Katie’s here to see you."
I slowly approached his bedside and took a hold of his hand. "Hey buddy!" His eyes were closed, and had been since I arrived, but he was still conscious. After hearing him mumble a few weak syllables, I felt a lump rise in my throat. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I looked towards my cousin, the one that showed me love when I felt alone, the one that cheered me up at my worst and made me laugh at my best, the one that would never let me down, but there he was, being let down. Hardly able to bear it any longer, I whispered, "I love you, Graham."
Weary and unaware of his surroundings, he mumbled, "I love you too."
At this, I stormed out of the room. I felt weaker than I ever had in my life. The one person that always gave me strength would be gone before I knew it. I spent the next ten hours at the hospital, visiting with friends and family, sharing memories, and occasionally stopping in his room of silence to watch him lie motionless. He lay unconscious now and all we could do is watch him breathe, feeling petrified every time he stopped. A few of those close to him walked to his side, held his hand, and whispered their goodbyes into his ear. For the longest time, I stood by and watched, thinking about every word I wanted him to hear before he was gone, and when my turn came I told him everything. From hilarious memories to the impact he had on my life, I thanked him and reminded him that for the rest of my life, he would always be in my heart. As I walked away, I grabbed a hold of his best friend, Josh, and we cried harder than either of us had before.
At 9:45 p.m., my uncle walked out of the door, looking for Graham’s siblings. No one said a word, but I knew exactly what had happened. My heart stopped beating and I felt numbness all throughout my body. I wanted so badly to break down and cry, but for some reason, I didn’t.
When my best friend, my cousin, my "big brother" passed away, I did not feel the sadness I expected. I did not feel hurt or empty, but full of joy and thankfulness. Through the last three years, I was lucky enough to grow close to one of the greatest people I’ve ever known. I did not feel that I was cheated out of a close friend, but fortunate to have known a person that gave me strength, inspiration, an endless smile, and that always reassured me that I never needed to be anything but myself. From the pain, I learned to appreciate my life and never let little things get me down. Although he is gone now, I am grateful to have had such an amazing person in my life.