How My Brother’s Death Prepared Me for Grad School

Contents

  1. Story Time: Goodbye Family Dinner
  2. The Thought of Leaving My Family
  3. My Brother’s Sudden Illness
    1. Diagnosis: Hemphagocytic Lymphohystiocytosis
    2. Nimo Wakes Up
    3. Nimo’s Death
  4. I miss my brother, but I don’t want him back.
    1. Inexplainable Peace
    2. “You’re In Denial”
    3. Heaven: I believe there is life after death.
  5. More Deaths in the Family
  6. Conclusion
    1. How did these deaths prep me for grad school?

Almost two weeks ago, I left my hometown for graduate school. This is the first time that I am going to be away from my family for a long period of time. In the past, when I traveled to another state or country, I was either traveling with a family member, or traveling to visit a family member. This time, I am without them.

STORY TIME: Goodbye Family Dinner

Sunday’s are usually the days that my family and I get together to have brunch at my grandmother’s house after 10:30 a.m. mass. At our family brunches, one can expect to find tons of laughter, bantering, mouth watering food, and a family set out on a mission to solve the world’s problems 😀

On special days like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, or birthdays, before blessing the food, the dining room would fall silent as my grandparents, in their native tongue, began to speak. At these times, they would express their gratitude for the lives of each family member present. Immediately following their expression of gratitude, they would pray blessings on their children, grandchildren, and the generations to come.

My grandparents on my mom’s side (2011)

Sunday, August 16th, was the last Sunday brunch I would have with my family before moving to another state (over 2000 miles away) for graduate school. When everyone took their seat at the dinner table, the room fell silent as my grandmother began to speak in Samoan. Only this time, she was sorrowfully expressing her gratitude for my life, and thanking God for me. Nearing the end of her speech, she tearfully switched to her broken English saying, “I keep you in my rosary Aloisia. Mamma miss you.” 

I stood up, walked over to my grandmother, kissed her on her forehead, and embraced her tightly saying, “I love you Mamma.” 

The Thought of Leaving My Family

For a few days after Sunday brunch on August 16th, I had been thinking about the moment I would be leaving my family. I asked myself, “What is the purpose of my leaving?” This internal questioning, or pondering, made me think of a two bible passages, but primarily the story of the rich young man. It says:

“…The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

matthew 19: 20-24
Photo by Alex Azabache on Pexels.com

I placed myself in the position of the rich young man. I consider myself to be rich because I am blessed to have been born into a family who loves me, and wants what’s best for me. I’ve always had a roof over my head, clothes to wear, and food to eat. I probably have more than I need in many respects. The question is, would I be willing to leave all the beautiful blessings I have been given, including my family, for God, Who is the supplier of all that I am blessed with?

“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

Matthew 10:37

I’d like to tell you a story about my little brother, Nimo.

My Brother’s Sudden Illness

In June of 2015, one of my little brothers, Nimo, who was 17 years old, 6”2, weighing in at 280 pounds, got very sick. On June 13th, my dad took him to the emergency room. The E.R. doctors in our little city said that his case looked severe, so they flew my brother to Sunrise Children’s Hospital in Las Vegas, Nevada.

He was immediately admitted into the Pediatric ICU. After being in the hospital for a few days, the doctors placed him under heavy sedation because they could not seem to control his fever amongst other things. On June 17th, my mom took to Facebook, asking people for prayers (excerpt below).

Diagnosis: Hemophagocytic Lymphohystiocytosis

About 9 days later, the Infectious Disease Specialist told my parents that my brother, on top of having Mononucleosis, was also diagnosed with Hemophagocytic Lymphohystiocytosis (HLH). In other words, some of the cells of my brother’s immune system were attacking/eating other cells in his body.

The solution? The doctors and nurses had to work to shut down every system in his body in order to build it back up with the help of many hospital machines, treatments, and medications.

Nimo Wakes Up

About one month later, my brother’s healthcare providers began to slowly pull him out of sedation. On July 26th, my mom wrote:

“Around 2 a.m. this morning, Deacon Patrick (my dad)…glanced over to see Nimo…awake, so he went over and talked with him. Deacon was happy to see his son’s eyes opened…Patrick said that both times he would take Nimo’s picture, he would smile for the camera. I was so happy this morning because that sounds just like Nimo. He is still not fully aware, but he can hear.”

To make a long story short, when my brother finally became fully alert and aware of his surroundings, he could not fathom what was happening to him. When he woke up, he could not move any part of his body; he was being fed through a G-tube; he had catheters for a bathroom; he had IV lines running from every section of his body, and because he was a big guy who was lying in one position for a long period of time, he had bed sores in between his legs (which were a little bigger than the size of softballs), on his feet, under his arms, and on the back of his head.

Just finished brushing his teeth

Nimo’s Death

The last thing he remembered before being placed under heavy sedation, was that he was still able to walk, talk, eat, use the bathroom, move his fingers, and breathe ALL on his own. In other words, those very things, which I so often take for granted, my little brother had to learn all over again.

Nimo was in Sunrise Children’s Hospital from June 13, 2015 through April 12, 2016, which marked the day of his passing.

Although, he had made improvements throughout his hospital stay, his body grew tired, and it was time for him to go. Nonetheless, I cannot deny that during my brother’s time at the hospital, my family and I saw friendships form, relationships mend, hundreds turning to God in prayer, and miraculous things happen.

I miss my brother, but I don’t want him back.

Nimo was a “rich young man.” However, when he knew that his time to die, or rather, transition into life eternal life was coming, he pointed to his hospital board (he was back on a breathing machine before he passed, so he couldn’t talk) trying to get my mom and me to see the message that one of his nurses wrote, but we kept missing the mark.

We asked, “Is it this?” He shook his head, “No.” We asked again, “Is it that?” He frustratingly shook his head, “No.” Then finally my mom asked, is it…

“Don’t worry be happy”

And he shook his head in approval, rolled his eyes, and went back to sleep. Less than a week later, he passed away.

Inexplainable Peace

When my brother passed, I can say for myself that I had an inner peace that I cannot explain. I missed him, but I didn’t want him back. I knew that I loved him with all my heart, but I also knew that he was in a place that is absent of suspicion, addiction, anxiety, hatred, racism, jealousy, marital affairs, insecurity, violence, disease, and death. Why would I want him to come back to all of that?

You’re In Denial

In those times, several people had said to me, “It will hit. Maybe not right now because it’s still fresh, but it will hit.”

Of course, I know that these people meant well, but no matter how much I tried to explain and say, “No really. I’m at peace with my brother’s passing. I am okay.” They would express a thought that communicated, “She’s in denial.”

I was making fun of his hat haha ❤

Well…it’s been over 4 years since my brother passed, and the peace that I had on the day he passed away, has grown. Nothing “hit” me. I waited and had even wondered, “Is there something wrong with me? I miss my brother, but I don’t miss him the way people thought I would miss him. I still don’t want him to come back.”

Heaven: I believe there is life after death

I grew up believing that Heaven is real! I grew up believing that this life I am living right now, is temporary, which it is because one day I am going to die. One day, every person will be greeted by death, and will pass into a life, or a world that never ends. I grew up believing that, every person belongs to God, and will eventually be joined with Him if they so choose.

I was reminded of something that Jesus promised to anyone who wanted to follow Him:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

john 14:27

More Deaths in the Family

This passage continued to hold true. In 2018, my grandfather (pictured above) died. At the beginning of 2019, my Uncle, who was only in his 40’s, died in his sleep. In the middle of 2019, a childhood friend of mine passed away suddenly. This year, my little cousin, who was 16 years old, got sick and died within 3 days of his hospitalization.

Do I miss them? Of course, but my heart continues to be enveloped by an inexplainable peace; a “peace that the world cannot give.” I think it’s one of those things that, “You’ll know when you know.”

Conclusion

The deaths of my family members who were/are very close to me, as well as the death of my childhood friend, reminded me that every thing and person that I call or have called “mine” is ultimately a gift given to me by God on this side of Heaven.

Every person that I had the honor and privilege of loving, God loves MORE than I ever could. Why would I want to rip them away from an indescribable, uncontainable, unfathomable… love?

How did these deaths prep me for grad school?

The question still remains, “How did these deaths prepare me for leaving my family?”

The answer is, I am a wildly imperfect young woman, who wants to love God with all of her being. Although I love my family, my parents taught my siblings and I growing up, to “love God more than anything and anybody.” My parents love me and my siblings very much, but they also know that God will always love us more than they ever could. So they remind us often, “Remember the order of things is (1) God, (2) Family, (3) everything else.”

Graduate school is something that I knew in my heart that God was calling me to attend. I also knew that I had to have, in a sense, a sort of detachment from my family and an attachment to God in order to make a peaceful transition.

One of my fellow dorm mates bought some drinks, and made a meal to celebrate the completion of our 1st week of school!

I miss my family very much, but I also know that this is where I need to be at present. Similar to how I felt with the deaths of my loved ones, I have an inexplainable peace, and it helps to be surrounded by like-minded people who love their families, but at the same time, are working on growing in their love for God.

It’s beautiful to witness and to be a part of. My heart is full, and I pray that it continues to expand exponentially with love each and every day.

3 Thoughts

  1. I am I tears!! This so beautiful! I love you and your beautiful family, Sia .I remember so well praying and praying!! for Nimo! I remember hearing Death is not an ending! I Do believe it

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful Sia, thank you for sharing this. I needed this. . I’m struggling with the loss of Nico so much. Even more this year than last… You inspire me. ❤️🙏🏽

    Liked by 1 person

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