Memorial Day, May 25, 2015
My brother didn't die in combat, but I consider him a casualty of war. Perhaps I shouldn't, but I do. Jamie was adopted into our family from the Philippines at 14. He had spent his entire life to that point in an orphanage. He had trouble adjusting to our family and life in the US. I remember the stories vaguely, but what I remember most is the laughter. It didn't really matter what was going on, Jamie could always make you laugh and unlike my sense of humor, his felt like he was giving you a gift. It's hard to explain, but even during his last days in hospice, he always had a joke and a smile for everyone he walked by and the nurses and the staff obviously adored him, as most people who came to know him would.
When my brother graduated form high school, my parents encouraged him to join the Army. My father and several of my other brothers were veterans. At that point, we were in a long stretch of relative peace where many joined the military to get some experience and perhaps funding for college without really thinking about the prospect of "war".
But then, Desert Storm happened and my brother happened to be in one of the units that was first in and last out. Even though the war itself was brief, with very few US casualties, seeing this kind of violent death for the first time really affected Jamie. I remember him briefly talking about it one night when we were having some sort of deep conversation about life. I was in college. My life had barely begun. But I could tell by the far away look in his eyes that he had lived so much in that short time.
Jamie would go on to serve in Somalia (he never talked about this; in fact I never knew about it until after his death) and then he eventually got out of the Army and settled down in Georgia.
Even though he left the Army, the Army never left him. We always knew that he sometimes drank too much, and I guess in the backs of our minds my family knew he was an alcoholic. Unfortunately we are not strangers to addiction. But Jamie was a functioning alcoholic. He could always hold down a job and support his family (which is a whole other story for a different day) and so I guess we became complacent about it because we had worse addictions to deal with in our family, or so we thought.
None of us knew how bad things were until it was too late. In July of 2012, my mom got a frantic call. Jamie was in the emergency room in critical condition. Liver failure. How had it gotten to this point without any of us knowing? He made it through that night, but the doctors gave him somewhere between a couple weeks to a year to live. Even though the prognosis was bleak, it just seemed impossible to me. And denial quickly swept in. If he could make it 6 months, maybe he could get on a transplant list and then maybe we could all fix the things that were so obviously broken and start over again.
But we couldn't.
We lost Jamie less than 2 months later. Father, son, brother, soldier.
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