Think about the most important person in your life. Now, imagine what it would be like to not see them, talk to them, hug them for 10 years. A decade.
That’s my reality today. Nearly 1/3 of my life. 10 years ago today, at 1:55pm, my then 14-year-old brother died in my arms. I was 16. I held on, quite literally, for dear life – my brother’s life, hugging him and trying to remember every last thing about him. His smell. His eyes. His freckles. Those famous curls. His smile. His sense of humor. His kind heart. His quiet intelligence. His ability to make others feel like the most important person in the world.
He had been through hell. In the 166 days since his diagnosis of Leukemia, he had nearly 50 surgical procedures, 4 strokes, and a brain aneurysm that forced him to be airlifted to Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia for emergency brain surgery. At any given time, he was on 20-40 medications. Andrew never came home post-diagnosis, atypical for childhood cancer treatment, and all but a week of his 167-day stay was in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
Our time together was unfairly short, but I have so many great memories with Andrew. Passing notes back and forth when our parents thought we were sleeping. Coming into school to find that he left a note and chocolate in my locker for Valentine’s Day. Him standing a few feet away and making a funny face as I did homework, just waiting for me to look up, smile, and see that he was holding a handwritten sign that said, “Hi Ali, Love you.” And the seemingly little things too, like watching TV together, having a catch, emailing or texting in school just because we thought of the other person…just being together.
I’m writing this from sunrise at “Andrew’s Bench” on the Ocean City, NJ boardwalk. The sun is hidden behind layers of clouds and it’s raining, but sunrise at the shore is time for me to get Andrew’s Bench to myself. He loved this beach, this boardwalk, and this town. His bench, with a plaque that says Live Like Andrew, Andrew McDonough 1992-2007, and the B+ logo, sits across from his favorite mini golf place, Congo Falls. I’m writing this from a memorial bench for my younger brother. That’s wrong. Few people are out this early, but those who are look over to see me sitting here with a B+ shirt on, the same logo that’s on the plaque and they give me a smile when they realize I must be connected to the person this bench memorializes. I’m calling Andrew’s cell phone, just to hear his voice on his voicemail. It’s raining, so my tears blend in. Maybe Heaven’s crying for us too today. A decade without my brother.
The strange thing about grief is that the calendar tells me it’s been 10 years since Andrew died. I know that. I’ll never forget this date. But my heart feels like it’s been an eternity since I’ve seen my brother and at the same time, the feelings and memories of July 14, 2007 are so real and raw that it feels like just yesterday.
While Andrew was in the hospital, we recorded things he’d say. Thank God for that because little did we know, it’s the last we’d hear his voice. I’ve replayed, over and over, the recordings on my phone of Andrew talking. Saying he loves us, asking for me to sit with him, saying my name. I miss it. I miss HIM. So much.
Nothing makes me prouder than to be called “Andrew’s Sister.” I have no idea what I want to do with the rest of my life, but the one thing that’s for certain is that I will never stop working to keep his memory alive. I will never stop sharing Andrew’s Story, so that his memory lives on. So that he’s not forgotten. So that he didn’t die in vain.
Today, 10 years since Andrew John McDonough passed away, please remember him and Live Like Andrew. Wear your B+ Gear. Tell an Andrew Story. Do something kind for someone. Show affection. Let us know what Andrew McDonough means to you or how he’s impacted your life.
I signed Andrew’s CaringBridge update on July 14, 2007, letting all of you know that he passed away, the following way and I will sign it this way again today and for years to come…
Extremely Proud to Be,