What My Dying Brother Taught Me About Living Well
It’s never too late to be who you might have been – George Eliot
This phrase often rings in my mind.
Am I where I had hoped to be by now? In many ways, I’m beyond my hopes and dreams. In others, my dreams have shifted and reshaped to fit the life path I was blessed with.
And I’m okay with that.
Why? Because in every moment of every day, we face decisions.
With each choice we make, we are creating the reality of who we are.
It has been in the daily choices I’ve made that shaped the life I live; a life I absolutely love. Many of these decisions have been influenced by the most important people in my life. Though the biggest shift came when I was coached, mentored, supported and pushed to be someone greater than I could have imagined for myself.
Many of us are completely fine remaining as we are, in our current state, not wishing to change, to reinvent, or to recreate ourselves
Some of us want more.
My message, this message, is for the brave souls who want more. Brave, because facing the truth, becoming aware, and making a choice to change requires pure bravery.
With a bow to bravery, I’d like to tell a story of one who was truly brave.
Two years ago, I lost my brother and best friend to cancer.
Just 15 months before he took his last breath, he found out he had tracheal cancer – a rare, smokers’ cancer. My brother never smoked.
For months he battled, undergoing invasive and major surgery to remove cancer from his trachea, resulting in relocating all his upper cavity organs. He came through it like a champ! He then underwent consistent radiation, that exhausted him. But he persevered.
And yet, just a couple of months later, he received the diagnosis that his cancer was Stage 4 Terminal.
I still remember where I was when he called to tell me. I was in a parking garage at the San Jose Airport, returning a rental car. With tears streaming down my face, the rental car attendant gently said to me, "everything will be okay." I thanked this kind man as I walked away, steeped in my pain and grief.
I was living in San Jose at the time but was determined to move back home to be near my brother. I refused to miss time with him. Several miracles and mercies ensued, making this possible. My boss immediately approved my "temporary" move to Utah to work as a remote employee.
Soon after, my company announced they were merging with another, freeing up much of my time, as the project I was responsible for creating would need to be redone once the merger was complete. This allowed me time to spend with my brother – taking him to doctor’s appointments, accompanying him to radiation. I was even able to plan for and join my brother and his wife on a trip to Europe – one of his greatest wishes. The time I spent with him provided invaluable memories. I am eternally grateful for that.
Beyond the memories made, I also gained invaluable insight into how one should live their life.
When one knows they are dying, their perspective shifts dramatically. The way they live is dramatically different than most.
How my brother lived the last few months of his life taught me much. He taught me how to live well. He taught me how to feel proud when crossing the finish line, knowing I did, said, and accomplished all I could and should have. He taught this to me through three main lessons.
#1 Speak, unapologetically
During his last months, the way he talked to me, to everyone, shifted. He was no longer apologetic for what he felt or thought. He didn’t bite his tongue or hold back on what needed to be said, good or bad. He was genuine and honest in his conversations. The closer he got to the end, the deeper his words and the meaning behind them. He was clear. He was consistent. He was vulnerable.
What I learned is we should always say what needs to be said. There are times when moments may pass us by, lost forever. We fail to speak up due to fear – fear of being hurt or rejected or denied, perhaps even that our vulnerability won't be matched. However, we regret those missed opportunities, always.
Take inventory of your words. What words need yet to be spoken? Who needs to know you love them? Who needs to hear 'I'm sorry'? Who needs your forgiveness? Even when another's ear doesn't hear words, the vibrations and energy behind them is powerful. Start by speaking the words out loud to yourself, eventually graduating to speaking them to those who need them most.
#2 You can do anything
"You can do anything" is a phrase I can clearly hear in my mind, spoken by my brother in his raspy, post-surgery voice. It's a phrase he often said to me. Perhaps it holds more significant meaning, knowing he believed in me, right up until the day he took his last breath.
We may not always have someone physically present to cheer us on, day by day. But we do hold the capacity for greatness. Every single one of us is on this earth for a purpose. Every single one of us has significant meaning and value. Do you know yours?
My brother often shared his vision of my greatness with me. This has been something I reflect on and use as fuel to move forward on days that seem difficult or challenging; on days when I feel like I'm failing. Since his death, I've learned I have that capacity within me; he was simply a mirror to reflect that truth back to me.
Harnessing my greatness, my gifts to truly do anything is one of his greatest legacies.
#3 Love is all that matters
My brother was a great example of love. His life wasn’t easy. It was filled with many challenges, but despite them, he didn’t hold back his love, especially as his time became short on this earth. He freely forgave. He let go of grudges and hate. He chose to love. He made love seem so simple. And it is.
He wasn't perfect, none of us are. Yet, he made a choice, over and over again, to love. He pushed aside pride, hurt, wrongdoings, abuse, faults, and mistakes, …and he loved.
Lessons to lead well
When I reflect on the last few months with my brother, I am in awe of all he taught me.
With a nod to his complete pride in who I was and his trust and faith in my ability to become something more, I have strived to live every day with his lessons in mind – speak unapologetically, I can do anything and love is all that matters.
These three lessons are foundational for leading well in our lives, no matter how old we are, no matter how late in the year, no matter the challenges in our lives, no matter.
When we lead well in our own life, we may lead others well. We cannot expect others to follow when we can’t or won’t follow ourselves.
I challenge you to take inventory of your life. Are you leading yourself well? Have you spoken the words that need to be said? Do you believe you can do anything? Have you leaned into the truth that love is all that matters?
If not, make a change.. It’s never too late to be who you might have been.