I don't like Labor Day. My dislike has nothing to do with the unofficial ending of summer. By the time September rolls around, my sandals are worn out and ugly, and my shorts are stained and tattered. I'm ready for the cooler weather of autumn and the cold of winter. Despite the revelry of family picnics and fun, Labor Day marks two sad anniversaries for our family.
My Pop died near the Labor Day holiday. I remember the last time I spoke to him as if it were yesterday. He was in the hospital, and I was returning to college. He promised me that he would be okay. This was the only promise I can remember him breaking. He died later that night.
I clearly remember the phone call announcing his death. It still seems surreal that he is no longer with us. I still feel his presence in my life. I suppose that this is the mark of a truly great individual.
Labor Day also marks the death of my step-brother Christopher. Chris was born with Cystic Fibrosis, and he was not expected to live into his teen years. My step-mother Jeanette was told that Chris would never live to drive a car, have a girlfriend, or graduate from high school. Basically, she was instructed to take her little baby boy home, to love him and to wait for him to die.
Chris was born to defy the odds. He outlived the doctors expectations, partly due to the medical advances during his lifetime, and partly due to the perseverance of his Mom. Jeanette believed in Chris, and this allowed him to believe in himself. Despite everything, Chris managed to maintain a sense of humor and a warm smile.
Chris was the recipient of a lung transplant when he was in his early twenties. We all celebrated when the surgery was a success. We cried when he was able to breathe without pain and thought it was truly a miracle. He was stoic and brave throughout the recovery. I remain inspired by his strength and resolve to not only survive, but to thrive.
I used to jokingly refer to Chris as the "Little Shit." This was not meant to be derogatory. He had a mischievous smile and a jokers wit. I never knew what he was doing, but he was always scheming his next prank or joke. Somehow, the nickname just fit.
To this day, Chris remains the only person who has been able to tease my father about his receding hairline. If I dared to joke with my Dad about being bald, my universe would have collapsed upon me. Somehow, Chris managed without raising an eyebrow. His giggle and smile made it impossible to be angry.
Despite the success of his transplant, a myriad of events occurred which conspired to cut his young life tragically short. His death rocked the foundation of our family. Chris was the ultimate survivor. He had defied the odds throughout his life. We were shocked when he passed away.
Looking into Jeanette's eyes at Christopher's funeral, I could see her heart break. She was strong, but the despair that she felt permeated the church. There remain no words to soothe that kind of anguish. Now that I am a Mom, I cannot even imagine facing such a loss.
I try to remember my Pop and Chris on Labor Day not by the voids that their losses have created, but by their lives. I have heard it said that the grief one feels after a death is equal only to the love and joy that the deceased brought into your life. I believe this to be true. I am blessed to have wonderful memories of my Pop and of Christopher. I miss them both.
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