Thursday, December 20, 2007

His Brother

Since August -- when we first heard the news -- I've tried very hard to put it out of my mind-- determined to follow Joseph's lead.

"Mom," he'd say, "I'm just not gonna think about it until I have to."

This week, he had to.

"It's not fair! It's just not fair!" Joseph cries, tears streaming down his cheeks. "This is worse than getting diabetes!

"I know, Bud... I know... "

That's all I can say, over and over.

Because I'm crying too.

"Why does he have to leave? WHY?! I wish it were anybody else but him. ANYBODY!"

"Me too, Honey... me, too."

I hold him tight -- standing in the middle of the kitchen, his head buried in my shoulder -- overwhelmed by the magnitude of the loss my son is about to experience.

That little boy with the brilliant red hair and freckles who means so very much to all of us-- who, for seven years, has lived across the street, two doors down.

The boy we met on the very day we moved in.

Zachary was only 2 1/2 back then-- and for a whole year I couldn't understand a word he said.

But it was obvious from the beginning that he worshiped Joseph-- and that that feeling was mutual.

In fact, within months of our arrival, when I made the mistake of referring to Zachary as Joseph's "friend," my son was quick to correct me.

"No, Mom-- he's my brother."

I'll never forget how Zachary beamed at these words.

And how from then on, they were inseparable.

Zack has slept at our house countless times over the years-- and has come over to play almost daily.

And whenever it was time for him to go home, he'd always leave things behind.

A special new hat, a sweatshirt, action figures, his Nintendo DS...

As if this were his second home.

And really, it was.

When Joseph was diagnosed with diabetes, Zachary was devastated.

At only six-years-old, he learned about it all right along with Joseph.

I never saw him drink regular soda again.

And just last week...

.... when the boys came in from building their snow fort because Joseph felt low, Zack (as usual) loaded the test strip while Joseph washed his hands.

Then, as Joseph was about to prick his finger, Zack put a hand on his and said:

"Dude, your hands are all wet-- go dry them off first."

Damn it! Why does he have to go?

Last night, Zachary came by with his mom and two sisters. We'd planned one last sleepover for the boys before he and his family leave Friday morning for their new home.

Over 400 miles away.

"Oh, Sandra-- I'm so sorry, but it's just too much," his mom tells me the moment they walk in. "We've got other people to see before we leave. I just can't let him do a sleepover tonight."

I look over at Joseph and Zachary-- neither makes a sound in protest, but their red-rimmed eyes say it all.

"Are you sure we can't do this?" I ask, not wanting to put more pressure on this woman-- but suddenly realizing that she might not fully understand what this means to these boys.

"I'm sorry."

So we exchange Christmas gifts while the boys quietly make their way upstairs-- to Joseph's room.

Ten minutes later, I head up to tell them it's time.

Standing in the doorway, I look at the two boys sitting on the edge of Joseph's bed.

My son is crying-- while Zack just sits there open-mouthed, looking miserable.

I settle down between them, putting my arms around their shoulders.

"It's gonna be all right. You guys are gonna talk on the phone all the time. And we'll come visit, and you'll come back to visit, too."

Looking up, face drenched with tears, Joseph says quietly:

"It's not the same."

I rub his back, and then pull both boys in close-- no longer able to hold back my own tears.

"Zachary," I say, my voice catching, "you are like my other son... I love you... and I'm gonna miss you very much."

Then we all just hold onto each other.

A few minutes later, he's gone.

"What am I gonna do?" Joseph asks me.

"Honey, I know that no one will ever replace Zachary, but you've got a lot of other friends and- "

"I know, Mom. But they're not like him. We... we can just be together. We can be bored-- and it's okay. Because then we always find something, anything to do."

"I don't know what I'm gonna do without him."

"Mom, he's my little brother."


Christine-Megan said...

That bites.

Shannon said...

How incredibly sad. I had a best friend that I had to move away from, and my brother had one who moved away from him.

25+ years later, we still talk about our childhood best friends.

Jillian said...

I'm so sorry. I have a friend very similar to Zachary, we even call ourselves sisters. If she ever left I don't know what I would do with myself.
I have these friends who would no longer be seeing each other as often when we started high school, they started notebooks. They each would write in them for weeks and then switch. So there were different bits of each person's story in the seperate books, but the experience could be shared. They even added pictures and doodles. Maybe something similar to that would work for Joesph and Zachary.
It can't be too expensive to ship 2 notebooks every month, just an idea.

Anonymous said...


Sad, really, I kept in touch with my childhood best friends for maybe six months after we moved away when I was 12.

It was the worst thing in the world at the time. Definitely.

Nicole P said...

Man. This sucks.

My breath caught at the line "This is worse than getting diabetes." Because it tells us so much about Joseph - and how he values so the emotional bonds he forms - it made the rest of your story even more difficult for me to read without losing it.

Please tell Joseph I'm thinking of him.

Paige said...

Oh, Sandra. Bless his heart.

I think Jillian's idea is great. The boys could really run with something like that.

Bernard said...

Sandra (and Joseph)

I can't express how sorry I am that this happened. Words fail me.

Stellasmom said...

Oh, my heart aches. I too love Jillian's idea. But there's a high-tech version too: a webcam and they can talk free over the internet while seeing each other. It would help some.

k2 said...

OK Sandra - U got me to cry the first time I read your blog - Thank God you were brave enough to post your 80's haircuts or I would still be in tears. And your husband says u can't tell a joke!

It sucks when your best friend moves away. You tell Joseph that they will remain friends for ever and brothers for life. Technology, parents who will drive them, and week long visits will see to that.

Diabetes has given your son an even deeper sense of empathy, compassion, and insight. Those gifts will last him for life.

looking forward to reading your blog on a daily basis.
Kelly Kunik

Donna said...

Oh Sandra,
I am so sorry to hear this sad news. :(

I wish I could make it all better somehow. But all I can think of is to keep you all in my prayers.

Minnesota Nice said...

Sandra, what a precious lesson to value the friends that are currently in our lives and to make an extra effort to keep in touch with those far away. I am now inspired to call a friend in Tucson this weekend.........

Anonymous said...

Many Hugs to Joesph and Zachary

Lea said...

aw poor kids. I'm so sorry for them both. A good friend like that is a gift.

leslie said...

I'm so sorry. I read this and wept - it's taken me a few days to even be able to respond. The internet will make it easier - video chatting, email, etc. They'll both have to be 13 but when that happens they can use Facebook as well - my kids use that extensively to stay in touch with friends who are far away. I know it's years off for Zachary and I know it's not the same as just noodling around together but it will help.

Bernard said...


I hope that you all had a peaceful and blessed Christmas. And I wish you and your lovely family many blessings in 2008.

Jillian said...

Happy New Year Sandra! I hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday season, and even better 2008!

Anonymous said...

by the time i got to the end of reading this post... I was in tears! This reminds me of my brothers best friend. Who is now my brother is a part of our family in every way. He even came with me and my mom to my pump training.

Vera said...

Hey, I just found your blog and I'm reading through your blog posts of the last years like in a rush. You're doing a great job as a blogger and as a mom.

This entry just made me really cry. It's really sad, for a child, I remember from my own childhood, a friend moving away makes him as unreachable if he would die. *sob*
Also very dito with Nicoles comment.