Welcome to When I’m Running! What follows is the story of the defining moment in my life.
In 2007 my brother and I were both in the process of figuring out what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives. I was in school to become a paralegal. My brother, Adam, decided he would join the Army, become a medic, then use his training to become a trauma nurse or doctor.
Adam had always loved military stuff, but he was also the type of person who loved people very deeply and I think a motivation to serve his “brothers” was equal to any motivation to further his medical career.
He entered basic training in the summer looking this this:
And graduated in late August looking this:
One of the reasons even the muscles in his head grew was because he was a smartass. I could make a list pages and pages long of stories where he was willing to get smoked—forced to do pushups or run extra—just to make people laugh. For instance, the soldiers were blindfolded, told to climb a high diving board with their rifles, walk to the edge and jump off pencil style. Adam did a head first swan dive.
My mom and dad and our older sister were able to travel to Missouri for his graduation, but I was a waitress and my school’s semester was still going on so I was proud from afar. Adam moved on to Ft. Sam Houston in Texas for ATF training.
In Texas his training was becoming more medically specialized and less grunt work and “embrace the suck”. During high school he was an average student, but now that his knowing what he was talking about would mean the difference to a wounded soldier he was ready to knuckle down. He sent us silly pictures of himself studying and THIS CLASSIC of him getting laughs using the infant CPR dummy.
On September 25, 2007 he started to feel ill. Adam went to his drill sergeant and told him he thought he should report to medical. The drill sergeant told him to suck it up and call his mommy. So that’s what Adam did…
In ATF you graduate with your class and if you need to miss class or training for “x” number of days it would be like starting over. Today I can say that the drill sergeant was simply trying motivate Adam to be strong enough to move towards his goals. However, my family is haunted by what might have been if he had received medical attention that night.
During the night Adam called my mom and dad and left a message for them saying he wasn’t feeling well and just wanted to say hi. He called my cell but I missed it. Luckily he reached my sister and her husband and they were able to cheer him up by quoting Hot Fuzz.
In the morning Adam was unable to move because of the pain from his headache and was vomiting. His bunkmate and a friend carried him to medical.
I had the day off of school and work and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to go hiking but I didn’t feel like going by myself. I like to think that my desire to be connected to others was a still small voice inside me warning me I might need to pick up the phone. Dad called and told me Adam was very sick. I asked, “Is he going to be ok?” Dad said, “We don’t know, they have him in a medically induced coma right now because of the pain. Can you come over here?”
I got in the car right away. I was shaking and in such a state of panic I had to put in a soothing CD and sing along to hold it together. Dad hugged me and we both broke down crying when I arrived. Mom was inside talking to Army medical personnel on the phone. I watched her jot down blood pressure numbers and ask medically specific questions. I was thankful for her experience as a respiratory therapist; if she could understand what was happening she could direct his care so that he would be better very soon.
Adam already had too much swelling for them to easily perform a spinal tap to confirm their suspicions of meningitis. The swelling around his brain was what was causing the horrific pain for which they had to sedate him. We drove to the local airport to get my parents on a flight down to be him as soon as possible. The fastest flight was into Dallas and the Army was sending a car to pick them up and drive them to Adam’s base which was closer to Houston. There was a more direct route later in the night and it was decided my sister, Katie, and I would take that one.
Once mom and dad were on their plane, all that was left for Katie and I was to wait. I decided to go home to pack my bag and take a shower. When I got back to my apartment I let my roommate know that he was very sick, and she asked, “Is he going to make it?” My face crumpled and I started to weep. The doctors were saying it would be a miracle if he was able to pull out because he had become septic and had already been resuscitated several times. I had to believe there was a chance. I took my time doing my hair thinking “It might be a while before I can shower again, so the better this looks now, the longer I can be at the hospital and not feel gross.” I packed my running shoes. I thought I might need to run to cope with the stress of sitting by his bed during his recovery. I worried about how I would pay my rent, but just kept thinking “As long as he makes it, the rest of this shit can blow up.”
Katie’s husband drove us to the airport in the wee hours of September 27. We took Adam’s guitar. There was a long line to check into the flight and I was getting impatient. It had been more than 12 hours of just wanting to be by his side. I was thinking “Why are all these people flying to Texas at 2 am?!” Probably because I wanted so badly to be with him, or maybe I knew, I leaned down and put my forehead on his guitar case and thought “I love you Adam”. About 5 minutes later we decided we needed to call mom and dad before we boarded the plane. They should have just arrived at the hospital.
Katie talked with them first. They told her he was gone. Then she passed the phone to me.
“Mom?” I said. Why did I ask it as a question? Who else could it have been? I was in denial. She said, “Yeah honey, it’s me. Honey, Adam’s gone. We were just with him and he passed.” As if it’s not bad enough to have to take a 2 am flight, all of the passengers waiting to board also had to witness my grief. I said over and over into the phone “No” and then just sat for several minutes keening. There was no way to be polite and to shield them from my pain.
I was broken.
Mom and Dad had been picked up by some men sent through the Army and then driven—fast—to the hospital. They arrived long after there was any hope of recovery. I will always be thankful for the LENGTHS the Army went to so that my brother didn’t have to die alone. In an organization which takes its members to a battlefield so far removed from their loved ones, you would think it would just be accepted that souls leave without comfort. I think they did it because it was clear Adam was fighting. He fought so hard to stay. My parents immediately grabbed his hand and told him they were there and that it was ok to go. Moments later he was gone.
He was a beautiful soul. I wish I could tell you how fiercely he is still loved by so many. By taking Adam from me so suddenly, life broke me. In the next days I withdrew. I would not have eaten. I remember being in such a deep fog that my Aunt had to ask me very nicely if I would eat a piece of pizza. She didn’t beg, but she did make it sound as if it meant a lot to her, so I did it. I didn’t do it for myself. She had to remind me to drink. I know that some who have suffered loss will see this as weak. It was. I was wholly unprepared for this. I don’t just mean because it was sudden. I mean, no one had taught me that life would be hard. I had been raised in a religious family so any adversity could be met and solved by prayer. Life could be put in “God’s hands”, and we would be safe. What safety was there when this could still happen?
Not only did my loss change who I was, it changed my whole view of the world. The world became a dark and dangerous place. The world was now a place I was unable to deal with.
When my loss was new, I was angry at the thought of having a 10 year anniversary. I was livid that I would have to feel like this for the rest of my life. I was certain that every day it would hurt the same as the first, and if it didn’t I was becoming soft, thinking that the world was a good place. The best I could hope for was a laugh here, or a good memory there.
In the last few years I feel I’ve learned a lot about myself and become curious about how my emotions affected my life. I’ve developed new coping skills and time has given me a better perspective. I want to write about my experience with grief—and with life—and share it here because I know there’s power in what I’ve learned and I want to share that with anyone who is going through what I’ve been through.