Do you ever get sad when you look at pictures from a long time ago? Recently, a friend posted some old class pictures from grade school. I noticed my brother in them. Second grade Jeff and third grade Jeff. I instantly became emotional. I really don’t know why that happens. Maybe because he looked so innocent and then endured such hardship later in life. I’m not sure.
I wish I knew why pictures affect me that way. I don’t know why I get so emotional. Something lost? Something missing? Wishing for more? Wishing for less? I don’t know.
My brother went through hell. I wonder why he had to. I’ve been lucky so far. Why not me? Why him? I have no idea. I always wonder how that works. He was the only boy in the family. Three sisters and Jeff. We are 13 months apart.
Growing up I looked up to him so much. I wanted to be like him. He was a good athlete. He played football and ran track. He had awesome quads. I remember going up the steps with him at the Prospect House. His legs were so defined. They looked so cool. I wanted to have definition in my legs like that. Maybe that was the beginning of my workout lifestyle. Luckily, we all got some good genes in that department.
But, isn’t that why sisters had brothers? We looked up to them. They were supposed to give us guidance. They were supposed to protect us and keep us in line. They were supposed to.
We weren’t close after we all left home. No reason. We just weren’t. But you can bet we were there for him when shit hit the fan with his health.
He almost died several times. He was diagnosed with a heart valve problem when we were in junior high. We were in the same grade and we graduated together. He was told that eventually he would need a heart valve replacement.
Fast forward to valve replacement. It was time. He was having a hard time breathing and doing day-to-day activities. So many things happened during that time. It was 2010.
He had surgery for the valve replacement on September 3rd. Things didn’t go according to plan and there were severe complications. He crashed on the table and they had to bring him back. Not a good sign for things to come. After the surgery he was recovering and then coded several days later. They went back in and replaced the valve again. He was in a medically-induced coma for quite a while. Complications were common for him. Finally on September 29th, he was discharged to a therapy place until October 12th.
In May of 2011, he ended up with an infection in the lining of his heart. Then on June 9th of that year he lifted a generator at work and had a cranial bleed from the blood thinners he was on. He ended up in surgery again. Everything was complicated with him. Nothing could be easy. Story of our lives. Same way growing up. Why should he change now?
I remember being at the hospital and in his room with his girlfriend, Linda. I felt God that day. I have to say that was the first time I really felt His presence. There was a pastor coming around to the rooms and praying for the patients. I recall he asked permission if he could, and Linda and I said sure. It was like the whole room lit up. I felt warm all over. I could feel Him so clearly and so strongly. It was the most comforting feeling I have ever experienced. I wasn’t sure it really happened. HE said Jeff would be okay. The pastor gave me a look. A look like, I know what just happened. Once the pastor left, I remember asking Linda if she felt that. She said she did. Jeff had more work to do. God was not done with him. He got out of the hospital June 20th back to Pierre for therapy.
Things were going good and then on October 7th, 2011, he passed out at a restaurant while eating with friends. He was taken to Rochester, MN, and had a 3rd valve replacement and bypass surgery. He was discharged on October 20th.
On October 29, 2011, he began to have seizures. He had a series of seizures through August of 2012. His last seizure was in May of 2013 and now they have been controlled with medication.
My brother is stronger now. My brother is a fighter. He always has been. I can’t imagine going through all that suffering and not wanting to give up. I remember clearly him being so mad at us when he had to go to the therapy place in Sioux Falls. He was sure we were leaving him and were never coming back to get him. It was extremely sad.
It truly is a miracle he survived. I often think about how I would have handled that situation. I know you can’t plan for things like that. You have to deal with them when they happen. There is no planning. There is no preparation. There is nothing.
I admire his strength. I admire him. I still look up to him.