Life is precious

This post is in memory of my cousin Alex…

Life is a funny thing. It is granted to us and then taken away at what seems like a drop of a hat. Two days ago was the 13th anniversary of my cousin Alex’s end to his long battle with cancer. Alex was, to say the least, the most amazing person I have ever known and I think about him every day of my life. I remember when he was first diagnosed..I got home from school and went to the kitchen. My mom was looking in the fridge and when she closed the door, I saw tears in her eyes. I knew Alex was sick but they had not figured out what was wrong, until that day. My mom looked to me and said, “Honey, Alex has cancer.” That moment is forever imprinted in my mind. I knew what cancer was but I had no idea the magnitude to which it affected everyone around it.

I remember when he was given a knight in shining armor by one of my family members. At that point in time, Lance Armstrong was crushing the cycling world (and everyone still liked him) after having beaten cancer, so we named the knight Lance. We joked about how Lance and Alex would fight those vicious cancer cells to protect Alex and kick cancer’s ass. His face lit up and we all had so much hope. Those were some of his good days but as he fell more ill, those good days became less frequent. I went over to visit him with my mom one day and his mom told me he was downstairs. Now one thing you must know is I looked up to Alex and I was always so excited to see him so I ran downstairs and saw him sitting on his bed with his head in his hands. I think he was crying. He looked up at me and said he had just been resting and was getting up to come hang out. I knew that wasn’t the case. He was in the middle of chemo and from what I know, it is a very unpleasant time.

But Alex never complained, at least not to me. In the short time he was on this earth (he was 22) he knew so much about life and its struggles. He was in pain but he always had a smile, even towards the end when he was really sick. Every time family got together, Alex was sure to be there with a huge toothy smile. I can still see it. They say that if you send out positive thoughts to the universe, the chances of them remaining true is much higher. As a collective whole, we sent out so many positive thoughts, feelings and emotions in the hope that it might help. I prayed for Alex to get well and at one point that praying seemed to be paying off.

But then cancer took one more swing. He was receiving care at Dana Farber in the ICU. I remember coming to Boston around Thanksgiving to visit Alex. I was so excited on the car ride down, but no one prepared me for what I was going to see. Life hit me really hard that day. When we got there, the nurses told us that Alex might look a little different. That was an understatement. Alex’s liver had started to fail which meant that he was jaundice; his eyes were yellow and puffy. When I walked in, he was staring at his brother while he held his hand and talked to him. Alex’s brother had been there for Alex through and through. When Alex was younger, he needed a kidney transplant and when he got cancer, they decided to do a bone marrow transplant. His brother is an amazing person and he doesn’t know it but I look up to him like I looked up to Alex but in many different ways. The love between them was so deep and you could see it as they stared into each other’s eyes. But Alex couldn’t say a word.

When it was my turn to talk to Alex, I grabbed his hand and he slowly turned his head to me. I thought I felt the squeeze of his hand, but maybe that was just my own hand squeezing his so tightly because I couldn’t believe what was happening and I did not want to let go. I told him I loved him and he was going to be fine. I would be fine. I held back the tears because I wanted to be strong for Alex but when I saw my big brother break down, I ran outside Alex’s room and did the same. The nurse tried to comfort us but we knew the reality.

Alex passed a week or two later (I honestly forget the timing because I don’t really want to remember, I only know the day of his passing). I was at a ski academy in Vermont and I remember getting an ominous feeling in my belly as my parents told me they were headed to Boston to see Alex. When my dad came to pick me up the next day from school, he said, “We went to Boston last night because they said Alex might not make it through the night. Sweetie, he passed before we got there.” The pain I felt in hearing that was as if someone had ripped my heart out and chopped it to little pieces. It hurt, a lot. My dad says that although it is hard, pain is a way for us to know we are alive and he is right.

Alex was a special person. The day of his funeral was the most beautiful day that we had seen in many weeks before and after. It was a particularly rainy, dreary time, but on that one day it was as if the heavens opened up for Alex. To this day, I wish I had told him more how much I looked up to him and how much he meant to me. I told him that day in the hospital but I wish I had said it more when I knew he could hear it. They say that although he could not speak, he definitely heard me. I hope they were right. Some people aren’t as lucky to at least be able to do that. I was given that opportunity, knowing I may not see him again.

I was not able to write about this until this morning because I simply could not gather my thoughts. We say this all the time, especially after something tragic happens, but make sure to hold onto your loved ones and tell them everyday how much they mean to you, how much you love them. I wish I had told Alex much earlier that he was an inspiration to me and to everyone. We all live on while those who lose the battle don’t. But then I stop to think, did they really lose their battle or did they win in because they go down fighting? The two are very different in my mind. You fight with all your might and it is not a loss but instead is a win because you gave everything you had. That to me, is a win. You win in your heart and in your soul.

And so I leave this post with something I wrote on my bus ride home from Vermont on Sunday because I was upset losing someone in my life:

And all of a sudden the pain slowly starts to cease. Accepting the situation and learning that pain is part of healing and moving on is of upmost importance to the survival of self. Pain lets you know you’re alive.

photo 1-6

Alex and I when I was just a baby. The piece of tape on the left holds a prayer bead that Geshe, our buddhist monk gave to all of us so that it might bring us some comfort. Thirteen years later and I still have it.

Alex, I miss you dearly.


3 thoughts on “Life is precious

  1. Dear Kara,

    I have kept the clipping of an April 14, 1985 newspaper article that is now yellow and creased from years in one of my bibles. It is an article by Elie Wiesel, “Why I Write: Making No Become Yes.” He begins the article with the simple question, “why do I write?” It is about the power and importance of bearing witness. Which you did with your, “Life is Precious.”

    I want to send you a copy of that clipping if you could give me your snail mail address, please.

    Lots of love,

    Aunt Sally

  2. Kara. Beautiful memory of one so special to all of us. Your words brought me to tears. I had the pleasure of knowing Alex and Steve from birth as I used to care for them when Sally needed some time. He was in our lives throughout his life and we grew to love him as you do. I remember the funeral and how beautiful it was. He is surely in a happy serene place and watching over you. I’m sure he knew how much you loved and admired him. Thank you for sharing.

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