'The Story of Shared Pain'
"You don't believe my words now,
But you'll come to it yourself...
Suffering is a great thing."
As another anniversary marked the 8th year of Evan's passing, I reflected on the deep sense of loss that has enveloped me since his passing... On 29th May 2007 he would have been 49.
On February 4th 1999 at 4:00pm I received a call that would change my life for ever... a call that most people dread, one that would throw the average person into a hysterical frenzy.
It was my mother and all she said was, "Wens, Evan is dead". My response equally composed was okay... Then there I sat frozen for what seemed like hours in time. Then I asked her where she was and she said, "I am at his flat, I came to visit him and found he had just died". The police had been called when she rang the bell repeatedly and got no response, especially as his elderly neighbour said she had heard him moving around a few hours ago and was convinced he was at home. The police suggested that the ambulance be called and then proceeded to force their entry into his flat.
They heard the water running in the kitchen and went there to find Evan "relaxed" on the floor ankles crossed one hand on his heart and the other raised as if swearing an oath of allegiance. My mother rushed to his side and cradled his head in her arms... The paramedics pronounced him dead even though his body was still warm. He must have died just a few hours before and had my mother got there earlier she might have seen her son alive. But here he lay, with no obvious sign of a struggle, relaxed, comfortable and peaceful... in death and at rest eternally.
For days before he passed, my mother had this strong urge to visit him but something else always came up and she postponed seeing him for another day until that fateful day and it then it was too late... The days that followed were a blur; all I remember was the steady flow of visitors. Family, friends, well wishers, all wanting to pay their respects and offer words of advice and comfort, encouragement and support. Evan was dead and all these people were comforting me. I found myself looking into their eyes and realizing that every person carries some pain in their life, some difficulty, some loss. And this can bring you together; it can connect and unite you and free you from self-circling. For weeks on end afterwards, I would visit his grave and cry... Passing the street where he lived brought back all sorts of memories in a way I hadn't expected it to, and I found myself struggling to accept my brother's death like never before.
As yet another year marks the anniversary of Evan's passing I reflect on that fateful week and realise just how much losing him has changed me from a tough carefree rebel to someone whose tears flow freely... Evan was the middle child in our family, very energetic and full of life. He loved his family though this was often difficult to tell because he was at best a pest and at worst a nuisance... "papa nsemoni (father of mischief)" was the name given him by our childhood nanny weary of his pranks and devilish ways - salt for sugar, chewing gum strategically placed on chairs... I have never known anyone who thrived on conflict so much that in times of peace he had to stir up war. "Hit me so I can hit you back!" was his infamous cry, and if you did not oblige he'd hit you anyway and blame you for not starting the fight when he asked you to!
Evan could tax the patience of a statue and when his torment of Val my older brother resulted in a sound thrashing he would turn his attentions to me his younger sister, often teasing me mercilessly for being a geeeeerl to the point where I allowed him to cut my long hair and rename me John! But there were also the good times when he taught me to catch grasshoppers and frogs, ride a bicycle and eat a prickly pear with disastrous consequences!
Evan was on the move from the moment he woke up and never stopped until he crashed out at night. Plotting scheming, drinking out crates of Sprite and carefully replacing the bottles with water - much as he loved Fanta, the clear bottle did not afford him the opportunity that the dark green bottle of Sprite did! Naturally as the person who loved Sprite I was the fall guy when my furious parent served up water to visiting guests! Interestingly my parents' friends were too polite to complain and the secret only came out when my father decided to break with tradition and chase his Rum with the clear stuff instead if his usual Rum and Black!
In our teenage years the relationship with Evan changed to Minder and Bodyguard, and Nobody but Nobody was allowed to speak to his sister… I have memories of being the only wall flower at teenage parties because no one dared to ask Cambie's sister to dance for fear of reprisals! "If you play with fire, you get burnt," was the threat he muttered if any boy came within smiling distance. How I resented him in those days, but on reflection I have him to thank for the strength of character I have developed and for being one of the boys...
As we grew older our relationship changed once again to Confident and Rock and then just when we were becoming equals I lost him... I came to realize that spring that when you are wounded, you have a choice: you can be bitter, angry and rebel - I certainly struggled with that; or you can accept it as a grace and as a gift, and if you do, it can have a redeeming effect in your life and in other people's lives.
At one point I saw it as an end to everything. When someone mentioned his name, I didn't see him; I saw his grave, and that was the end. I kept asking myself, 'Why did this have to happen to me? Why is it my brother who is dead?' One thing that helped me get through this was the albums my mother had compiled of each of us as children. As I looked through the pages of my album I suddenly realized just how much my brother loved me in his own special way .Throughout his short life he had shown me this by engaging me in anyway he could. Evan's confrontational, in your face manner was his own way of embracing me. I hated it then, but what I would give now for even 5 minutes of the Evan Francis Campbell treatment. Through it all I realize now that this was his way of staying connected and that he did! Even though Evan died relatively young - he was only 40 years old - my memories are very alive, and whilst time they say is a great healer, I nevertheless sometimes still struggle with the loss and the changes it has brought to my life.
From a human standpoint, such a death will only seem unfair, and without reason. My heart often cries out, 'Why? Why did I not have the chance to have my brother for a little bit longer?' I cannot escape that. In spite of all the tussles Evan and I were very close and a part of him still lives in me as I grow older, even if I am not aware of it.
It will be my joy, but also my pain. I will fight it, and run from it. But I realize now that I do not need to be afraid or defeated by it. This pain is a gift from God. The day that understanding comes to my heart, then, only will I find peace about my brother's death. I used think, 'I will never heal, this hurt will never go away', but I would never see it the way I do now - how could my brother's death be a gift?
But then one day a friend's sister died and as we sat together in tears, suddenly there was this connection between us that had never been there before, and I felt I could help her somehow. I could truly and sincerely say, "I feel your pain; I know what you are going through". That's when I saw what had been given to me: I could help other people by sharing their pain. After that, it seemed like everything I'd struggled with till then was lifted, and I was so much happier. Of course, it is still hard at times, but at least I've come to grips with what I am going to do with my life. I am going to take this experience and use it.
For those of you who grieve, I wish I could tell you that it will get easier next year, or the year after that, or the year after that. Unfortunately, I can tell you from my own experience that it may never get easier. But in time, the sadness will change to an understanding of the person your loved one was. There is a hole in your lives that will never be completely filled. And, that's probably the way things should be because, years from now, when you look into that hole you'll see the love, hope, and undying spirit that was your loved one. If you can grab hold of that love, hope, and spirit, and make it part of your lives, you can take comfort in the fact that a part of your loved one will live on in you.
Now with each passing, I grieve openly unashamed... no attempt to bite my lip, hold back my tears or appear composed; for why should I? I have come to that realization that the measure of my loss is the measure that I grieve! And as my mother says, pain is painful and tears, weeping, wailing are all perfectly natural expressions of grief!!!
Evan and I talked of the things we would do… the places we would go... Some things we did do, others we postponed until we run out of time. One of the things, a hot date, was when he would sit and greedily eat a whole jerk chicken I had specifically prepared for just him. Yes all for him! Evan was on a "See food diet" all his life... no fussy or faddish eater like other kids - sweet, savoury, vegetable or mineral. There was nothing he did not like, or refused! I have fond memories of the day he raided my mum's fridge and literally cleaned it out. My mother in exasperation asked him, “is there nothing you will not eat? You are just like a locust devouring any and everything in your path”. Evan's unrepentant response, "correction Mamaaa, I do not eat grass!!" When it came to "Nyam nyams" sharing was something he deliberately chose never to comprehend; if it was in front of him, it was his! This was the method to his madness and explained why my mother always ensured that Evan sat right next to her during family meals and serving himself was never an option she offered him!
As I closed his coffin and whispered my last good bye, I could hear his gruff voice, "Wens, this chicken is all mine, right? No one else right?" I made a new date... one day soon Evie.... One day soon... For the Sovereign Lord has promised that He will spread a banquet table before us on a day that will have no end...
I dedicate this to those of you who are fortunate to have your "Evan" still with you. Cherish them, love them and no matter what, never ever give up on them. Life is short and our days are numbered... and we can make plans, but do we really have tomorrow?
Each day we live is a gift, not a right!
For those of you whose "Evan" has gone ahead, hard as it is, cherish the memories and always remember to give thanks to God for the "Gift of Life".
In and through everything, we must always give thanks!