September is a bittersweet month for me. Living in New York I love the change of the seasons that September brings, transitioning from hot and sticky to nice and cool, but not cold, is always a pleasure. September is also my birth month so it gives me an excuse to celebrate my life. However, as I celebrate my own life my mind also goes to my baby brother, Jason, who died unexpectedly on September 10, 2012, just a month shy of his 29th birthday.
When my cell phone rang at 1 o clock that afternoon and I saw my Mom’s number on my phone screen I got an inexplicable eerie feeling. I had just talked to both my parents, who lived in Jamaica, earlier that morning so why was my Mom calling again?
I answered my phone, I recognized my Aunt’s voice. My Mom’s phone but not my Mom on the other end of the line, the eerie feeling grew and I pulled over, something told me I shouldn’t keep driving.
“Jason is dead.”
“What?” I was certain I hadn’t heard properly.
“Racquel, I’m so sorry! Your Mom just came home and found Jason dead.”
“What’d you mean by dead?” Suddenly, I didn’t know what the word meant and I was sure my Aunt didn’t know what she was talking about. “Let me talk to Mommy please.” I refused to believe what I was hearing.” I started shouting. “Where is Mommy? Lemme talk to my mother!”
My mother came to the phone and she was belligerent with grief. I couldn’t understand much of what she was saying because what she was doing wasn’t even crying, she was howling. Howling in pain and disbelief.
What I do remember is that I hung up the phone and immediately called my father, who had just heard the news and was racing home from work. He instructed me to call my other brother, who lived on the other side of the World, and I did.
I drove straight to my son’s school, Blake was in the 4th grade at the time, I signed him out of school and while we drove home I was sighing so much, he kept asking me what was wrong but I had no idea how to tell him. Blake had only just gotten back from Jamaica the week before, where he used to spend all his Summers; and he was extremely close to his Uncle Jason.
In the days that followed; the autopsy report revealed that Jason was born with a heart condition called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, which led to his sudden death. Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy otherwise known as Cardiomegaly is a condition where one has an enlarged heart. Apparently, Jason was born with this genetic condition so as he got older, his heart grew and grew and grew and kept growing to the point where his heart got too big; so big that the heart could no longer work effectively or efficiently and one day it just stopped. Jason’s death was just as simple and uncomplicated as that. A simple death for a simple, uncomplicated life.
None of us knew that Jason had this heart condition because he was never sick. For the entire 28 years that he lived, he was physically healthy. My Mom does recall that in the weeks leading up to his sudden death he had complained a few times about being extremely tired. She would suggest that he get some more rest, that perhaps he was doing too much. Maybe he needed a vacation, some rest and relaxation; but his complaints were never serious enough to warrant a visit to the doctor.
The fact that Jason died of an enlarged heart is ironic because he really did have a big heart. He was one of the kindest, most compassionate people I knew. During his short life he gave and gave; of his time, his possessions, his love, his money; just about everything. Have you ever heard the saying “kind to a fault”? That was Jason! So incredibly kind and always doing for others without any expectation of anything in return and it was no big deal for him to inconvenience himself to make others comfortable. He was as affectionate as he was compassionate and I am not ashamed to say that of my mother’s 3 children he was the most loving.
This year on the Anniversary of Jason’s death I lit a candle in his honor, it’s not something I had ever done before, and I am not even sure why I did it but it’s just something I felt like doing. I lit the candle and what I did afterward was weird, at least for me it was – I spoke to him. Yes, I spoke to Jason as if he was seated right next to me. I was alone at home at the time and I thought to myself what if I heard a voice answer back. What would I do? Then I thought to myself I wouldn’t even be scared because Jason was so harmless in life he would certainly be harmless in death. Then I thought to myself why are we so afraid of the dead?
Jason didn’t respond as I spoke to him, not that I expected him to. Also, there were no signs that he heard me; the curtains didn’t mysteriously blow through a windless window, no chairs moved, or a radio or TV didn’t suddenly turn on by itself but I got a sense of inexplicable peace, almost as if he heard me. Yeah, weird…I know!
I don’t know what happens to people when they die, and I have no theory or beliefs on the subject but the sense of peace I felt from having a one-way conversation with my dead brother was one I have never really felt before and his memory have not left me for weeks thereafter.
I find myself thinking about him endlessly, thinking about the fact that he loved music and he used to blast Linkin Park all the time. One of his weekly rituals was to head out to a music store and pick up CDs. It was his thing, he wasn’t much of a singer and I’ve never seen him dance but he still loved his music.
He was also into astrology and had an unbelievable knack of remembering everyone’s birthday – everyone’s. You only needed to tell him your birthday once and he’d never ever forget it. He enjoyed analyzing someone’s personality based on their zodiac sign. It was just something he got a kick out of. When he passed away I couldn’t believe how many books I found on astrology as I cleaned out his bedroom.
Jason also enjoyed having conversations with people who were much older than him, he would sit and talk to my grandmother for hours. He visited with her regularly and she loved it. The young usually don’t have much patience for the elderly but Jason sure did.
It’s hard to believe that it has been 6 years since I last heard his voice, 6 years since he left us so unexpectedly. It’s so hard to come to terms with the fact that your own life actually moves on even when someone you love doesn’t exist anymore. It makes you wonder where they are and what exactly is going on with them? Sometimes memories of him come to me out of the blue and I smile.
Jason was a good kid. My only regret is that being 10 years older than he was, I didn’t spend as much time with him in his teenage years, as I would have liked to, I was out of the house and away at College when he was experiencing those awkward teenage years. When I was around I did try to be a good big sister though, and I only hope that in his last moments, as his entire life flashed before his eyes, he remembers me as such.
Jason: October 7, 1983 – September 10, 2012