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It’s Canadian Thanksgiving. A couple weeks after the death of my brother, a couple days after his memorial, and the point at which I had decided to make myself resume a normal life (normal for me, anyway). I feel especially thankful today that even now I feel an enormous amount of gratitude. Here’s three categories that encompass so much:

Friends and Family

I couldn’t have made it through the last few months with my sanity (relatively) intact without the support of everyone around me. There were the few who I heard from nearly daily, allowing me to vent, be comforted, be distracted, or feel some normalcy. The many who let me know they were there for whatever I needed, or offered specific practical help, but didn’t overwhelm me with demands on my time and attention. The friends and family who gave me the means to stay in Edmonton, including catsitters and financial helpers. The boss who let me drop in and out so I didn’t have to sell kidneys to survive but could prioritize what I needed to in the moment. The people I hadn’t heard from in years or decades, or who I mainly — or only — know virtually who offered moral support. My mother, who was stronger than anyone should be expected to be.

I’m grateful for every one, but I have to tell the story of my oldest friend Teresa.

It started with an inelegant text out of the blue, from me in Vancouver to her in a distant suburb of Edmonton:

Hey – I probably shouldn’t do this in text but I can’t talk about it without bawling yet so … Steve has cancer, spread to his lungs, admitted to hospital and his phone is at 4%. I’m trying to order him a charger and have it delivered by cab to Misericordia today but am stymied by no one wanting to take a credit card over the phone. If I gave you details and sent you the $ electronically is there a possibility you could get to a Telus/Rogers/etc store and buy one and have it sent by cab there? I know it’s a huge favour and I can ask around if it won’t work for you …

Her instant reply:

Yes I can… I’ll go drop it off actually as I have to drive into the city to get one. On my way already.

And that, after not having seen my brother for maybe 15 years, started a journey that would see her be an emotional and practical support for him and for me. By dropping off the charger she was there when the doctor told him plainly but not unkindly that they could not treat for a cure but for comfort, and other later, terrible landmarks in his struggle. Instead of feeling like this virtual stranger was intruding on some of his most private moments, he was grateful for her calm, kind presence. She was there when he needed rides to appointments and radiation treatments and I was in London. She was there when he needed a laugh, making him a “rum cake for a liquid diet” that consisted of a flask with a ribbon and balloon. He asked for her during his last days, and she was there to hold his hand.

She was there for me when I was away and needed for my own sake to consider her my surrogate. She was there when I needed a place to stay and an ear to confide my fears and frustrations. She was there at the memorial when I needed to borrow her strength. She is still there for me.

Also, I’m pretty sure I never paid her back for that phone charger. I owe her. For so much.

Humour and an appreciation of the surreal

Steve and I shared a love of black humour to get through some difficult situations. While he lost that at times during the ups and many, many downs of the last few months, our last emotional words to each other started with him grasping my hand and apologizing for being a pain in the ass, at which we both laughed. So I think he’d find it pretty funny that he continued to be a pain in the ass just after his death.

While I left to tell our mother that he’d taken his last breath, Steve’s girlfriend, who had taken him in and cared for him so he could die at home, dealt with the logistics of the pronouncement and having the funeral home take him. Later, she texted me to ask me to go to the funeral home to do the paperwork. When I got to the place she specified and mentioned his name, I was greeted by blank stares. “No, he’s not here.”

My eloquent reply was along the lines of: “Um. What?”

We established that she had indeed phoned them, but only for information and not to pick him up. I scrolled through texts where she’d mentioned their name more than once as the place that had picked him up, confused and not able to process anything beyond “um, what?” Knowing she was distraught and needed someone else to take care of things at that moment, I didn’t want to bother her unless I had to. As I stood in their lobby and tried to get my brain to restart, the funeral home workers suggested she may have called another funeral home by accident.

So I phoned around, and waited for a positive callback, and while I was doing that … I was getting texts from the dead brother whose body I was searching for.

The girlfriend’s phone battery had died so she explained she was using his phone — but it was all so surreal, and I could imagine myself telling him the whole story and us having a good laugh about it. So I couldn’t help but laugh, hours after I felt like I’d never laugh again.

I credit him with instilling some of that sense of humour in me, and I’m grateful for it now more than ever.

My brother

I wrote about what he meant to me, and I can think about that as the huge loss it is. Or I can take comfort in what I gained — 42 years of the love we shared, the memories I have, and the legacy he left me. And right now, that’s what I’m feeling this holiday weekend, his memorial weekend: lucky to have had him in my life.