To my darling brother,
Whom I have known for fifty years today,
A message that is on my heart to share with you,
On your special birthday far away …
I am not sure how to write this, nor how to best begin, and so am going to pretend that we are in the same part of the world and this is my speech for you, as if standing before you, amongst a crowd of well-wishers. I wonder how many know how lucky we are to have you with us still?
When I woke this morning, unusually early at 5.50am, I immediately knew that today was your birthday and the enormity of this realisation hit me like a boat paddle across the head. Thoughts flooded my mind, memories of our childhood – sweet, adventurous, challenging and complex all at once – and tears tumbled out as I recalled how we so nearly lost you. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you did not die … and that you survived each additional time that you heroically diced with death …
The fact that you are here today is, to me, nothing short of a miracle. Does anyone else know this, I wonder?
It was such a long time ago, and yet even today I cannot bear the smell of chemotherapy. I recall as if it were moments ago, visiting you in your hospital ward, climbing up onto your bed, and you handing me your beloved ‘real rabbit skin’ koala bear … which I took back to my convent boarding school with me, stuck my head into every single night, and cried into as if my heart would break.
You had no hair, your leukaemia treatment had been fierce and your battle was being lost … only one in ten children were able to survive back then, if that, and you were fast fading away. The smell of chemotherapy was powerful in the hospital, and it followed me powerfully everywhere, captured in the fur of the little koala bear. My pain at our separation was unbearable; our broken family disintegrating before my eyes, and the thought of losing you too was inutterably painful. I could not understand what all the words meant which described your health challenge and treatments, nor why I had to lose you, but I knew that I would not be able to go on if you went away forever. With my fervent little girl prayers, I prayed my heart out to the God that I knew and trusted, and I begged him to let you live … I can’t remember what I offered in return, but I begged for my brother not to leave me.
I was in a convent for two years from the age of seven, separated from you from when you became ill aged five, and cannot remember how long the treatment went on for, but every day was like forever. I know that we were hardly ever able to see one another in that time, and much about each other’s life then has been lost to both of us, but I remember the relief when I heard that you would live. You were dying. The doctors had done all that they could to save you. It was just a matter of time … and then one night, bruised and completely spent, you suddenly (miraculously) turned the corner, and your body began to heal. To this day, I believe that God granted the miracle so fervently sought, and that you were supernaturally healed. You were not strong physically, although clearly your spirit was phenomenal, and we had to take the utmost care with you … by then your and my childhood rough ‘n tumbles together had completely ceased. Your body had to be protected, and we were taking no chances with it.
How you got from there, aged five, to where you are today with a beautiful family of your own, amazes me. I am in awe of what you have survived, thrived despite all challenges to do so, overcome and risen above. The thing that I find truly astounding is that, not only did you stare the demon in the face and overwhelm it, but you then went on to tease the darkness several more times, coming out on top each time. Do you remember how, not long after surviving cancer, you climbed up into and then tumbled out of a huge fig tree … hitting your head on the concrete ground below? How did you walk away from that? Fervent prayers again, I wonder?
Do you remember the time, in about 1973, when we went on an adventure to find out where a swarm of honeybees had built their nest? We climbed up a narrow metal rung ladder in the garage, up to an attic space above … I remember clearly telling you to walk along the rafters (how did I know that, aged ten?) … but you disobeyed, and promptly fell through the roof. Your arrival into the living room was so dramatic: not only had you blasted through the ceiling like a super hero, but your steering skills went slightly awry … you took the brass candlesticks with you, as you flew past the stone mantel piece, thrashing your skull before you crash-landed onto the stone-flagged floor below. Why did you do that, my brother? Why did you have to go and crack your head open yet again, and on the day that we were due to travel in a group to Ifafa Beach? Do you know that, while your body was being put back together in hospital, yet again, none of the adults would speak to me? Do you know that they all thought I must have been trying to extinguish you? If only they’d known. What a sad, lonely time that beach ‘holiday’ was … but, thank the Lord, once again you survived.
We had so many adventures … did so many things that most children would not dream possible … our escapades colourful and inventive. I remember watching you, a tiny boy aged ten, swimming across the Vaal River in flood, to collect a dassie or mongoose that had been offered to us, so that we had something to cook on our fire. Our little African friends thought you were Superman, I’m sure. How did you survive that, my brother? Where do you hide your cloak?
You were such a brilliant companion and you have been such a clown all our lives, that I would not trade you for all the world. The times when our joking banter would bemuse others, and your dry humour infuriate them, are so innumerable that I have lost count of all the jests. Perhaps if people had known about your ability to overcome beasts and dragons, as I did, they would have shown you more compassion, as well as much-deserved respect? You certainly have mine.
As I think back over just those few incidents in the fifty years that I have known you, my brother, I see how much I have been blessed to be a part of your life. I have known for a long time that you stand head and shoulders above the crowd. What I did not anticipate, aged fourteen and you aged twelve, was how quickly you’d fall head-over-heels in love with all the Bob Marley music I played. Having rocked to the Reggae beat consistently for several years, disinterested in any other beat whatsoever, you finally gave in and increased your music collection, and yet to this day you remain an avid, loyal and dedicated fan. Rastaman vibration, yeah.
Happy Birthday, my brother. You are a truly bright, shining star and you have been my one rock, one constant, for a full half a century, through treacherous seas, through thick and thin. Here’s to the next half, and may you continue to be blessed.
Congratulations on reaching this fabulous milestone …
No … more than that … THANK YOU.
I do not know what I would have done had you left me behind.
With love, positive beats and admiration,
Your sister always,