Wednesday, March 12, 2008

20 Years


20 years ago today, my brother, Sean, died of cancer. I never really knew him because I wasn't even 3 years old when he passed away. But I love him and I know he's in heaven watching down on me everyday.
A few years ago, I took an English Composition class at Georgia State. One paper we had to write was a reflective paper. I chose to write about Sean. I have kept that paper since I wrote it and I would like to share it. It's a bit long, but I think it's worth the time.
A Fairy Princess
I always dreaded the end of the English semester in high school. It meant that it was time to write the personal essay. Each time I wanted desperately to write about my deceased brother, Sean, but I never could think of how to start my essay or what I should tell my audience about my brother. Because of the way my parents described him to me, I had him on a pedestal. They always talked about how much he loved me and wanted me by his side when he was in the hospital. Whenever he played Atari, he would sit me in his lap. Nothing I wrote ever seemed enough for him. My papers did not do him the justice he deserved from me. If it did, it made me too emotional and tears covered my paper by the time I was finished with the rough draft, so I would pick a different topic. One time I wrote about telling my best friend’s parents that she was experimenting with illegal drugs. Another time I wrote about my first date with my current boyfriend. The topics were interesting for me, and I had no problem writing them; however, I did not have the distance that I needed to write a good, solid essay. I had the distance I needed to write about Sean, but I was not emotionally ready.

A child’s first trip to Disney World is supposed to be the most magical moment in their childhood. I know at the time I went, it was the most magical moment. I was going to meet Mickey Mouse! Looking back, I would give anything for my first trip to have come in seventh grade when I went with my friend Valerie. If that had been my first trip, it would mean that my brother would still be here. I lived in Portland, Maine until I was eight, so the only reason my family was able to go to Disney World was that we went free; well, at the expense of losing my brother, Sean, to Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a serious form of cancer, just a couple of months later. The Maine Children’s Cancer Program had a special for families who were struggling with a cancer patient: if you used their services, they promised you a trip Disney World with all expenses covered. The only things families had to pay for were the souvenirs.
I still remember the plane ride to Florida. It was a small plane and seated only about a dozen people; being that I was only two, it was the biggest plane in the world. Sean continuously tried to see out the window, but I kept blocking his view. I wish now that I had let him since I have flown in a window seat several times since going to Disney World. Being so young, it was surprising for my parents that I was not fazed at all that I was thousands of feet in the air. I could see everything out the window. I felt that I was on top of the world. Unfortunately, the plane ride ended a couple hours later, and I was back on the ground.
When I saw Cinderella’s Castle in the distance, I got over the disappointment of being back on the ground. Instead of feeling as if I was on top of the world, I felt like a fairy princess, and that was an even better feeling. My mom pushed me in my stroller through the front gate of Disney World. Sean was by my side in his wheel chair that my dad was pushing. What I felt at that very moment was indescribable. So many emotions filled my head – I was at Disney World and this was where Mickey Mouse lived. I could not have been more excited!
I started to cry as my mom pushed me away from the castle. I cried, pointed, and screamed as loud as I could until my parents got the message – I would not go anywhere until I met Cinderella at Cinderella’s Castle. Against my brother’s wishes (he wanted to go to Thunder Mountain), our first stop became Cinderella’s Castle. She and her castle were so beautiful. I felt like I was in the movie with her as I was pushed through the stone halls.
The next characters I met were Chip and Dale. This was great for Sean because they were his favorite Disney characters. When we stopped to get something to eat, the two chipmunks were at the restaurant. I was as excited as Sean. So many times I sat with him in my grandparents’ living room and watched Chip ‘n’ Dale on TV. Now they were standing in front of us. When they got to the table where I was sitting with my family, I could hardly sit still. My mom finally gave up on trying to keep me seated, so I ran to Dale. He was my favorite of the two because he had a red nose and I had red hair. I gave him a huge hug, and he hugged me back. It was even better then when I met Cinderella. Sean and Shannon, my sister, ran to Chip because he was their favorite. When we sat back down at the table, my mom took pictures to remember the event.
Our next stop was the hotel where we would be staying for the next couple of days. We stayed there for the rest of the day so Sean could rest. Since I was only two, I did not understand why I could not go back to the park to meet more of my favorite Disney stars.
I soon forgot about my self-pity as my mom brought me down to the pool. I felt so big sitting on the side of the pool. My mom forgot to pack floaties for me so I sat there and she held me, but I did not mind. I was swimming without the use of air-filled plastic, and that meant that I was a big girl.
The next day was our trip to the Pirates of the Caribbean. I was so excited. Many times I had watched the Disney sing-a-long video with Sean that had “A Pirate’s Life for Me” on it, and now I was to see it in person. As soon as my little ears heard “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, a pirate’s life for me,” a smile came to my face and did not leave the entire time I was on the ride. My mom was surprised, as she thought most two year olds would be terrified of all the pirate paraphernalia. But not me. I was brave because Sean was holding my hand. I loved all the pirates with the black patches over their eyes and the parrots on their shoulders. It was so real to me. As the song played in the cave, Sean sang it in my ear. I was having the time of my life.

Reflecting back on my brother, I realize that none of the above memories is mine. My mother or my father, or even my sister, has told them all to me. No memories of my deceased brother are mine. For so many years I have been told different stories of Sean that I have come to believe that they are my own memories to share, even all the times I have said, “I remember sitting in Sean’s lap while he played Atari…” Those are not my memories.
I do have one vivid memory of Sean. It is not one I share very often, as it is not a happy memory. In my house in Maine, a short hallway consisted of three doors. Straight ahead was the door that led to the bedroom that I shared with my sister. On the right was the door to the closet where my mother stored her clothes. On the left was Sean’s bedroom that became mine after he died. I do not remember what time of day it was or what time of year it was, but I know the room was dark so Sean could sleep. I remember a small amount of light in the room that most likely came from the lamp that was next to his bed. The humidifier was in there, and it was on. I know because I remember the steam rising up in the air. Someone I did not know was sitting in a chair by the bed on which my brother slept. I am assuming that it was a nurse. The bed was right in front of the door so Sean could be reached easily if he needed assistance. I was standing outside in the hall. Although I know someone was there with me, I do not know who it was. Whether it was a neighbor, my sister, a parent, or a relative, I honestly could not tell you. I do not know if Sean was actually sleeping or if he had already passed on. I only have that very vivid picture painted in my mind to know that Sean Kenneth Regan was a real person who lived to be only seven years old.
For my own sake of wanting closure, I wish that he had already passed on. It sounds selfish and cruel, but he was so sick. Looking at pictures, he had no hair, he had gained so much weight from his chemotherapy treatments and medicines, and he was very pale. The doctors thought that he was going to pass away in the summer of 1987 but he did not until March of 1988. Living for eight more months made him even sicker. If I knew for a fact that Sean had already died, that would mean that I was with him when he took his last few breaths. If he really loved me as much as my parents have told me, then I would have the closure I need from that part of my life knowing that I was by his side when he passed on.

3 comments:

the howards said...

Caitlin, how beautiful. I can imagine how you must treasure those few moments you remember of Sean. I love you!
Courtney

Kim said...

This was a two hanky tribute. I don't know if you ever shared that paper with me and "The Sir". Like I told Shannon on her blog, I always think of JKP's song "No Empty Chairs" and want everyone at my family dinner table in heaven. Love you bunches.

MOM

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