While much of the world was mourning the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Friday, I was mourning the loss of my brother, Jason, who died at age 47 from stomach cancer.
They died 50 years apart on the exact same day.
While one was a beloved world leader and public figure and the other a private young man, they shared one major thing in common - that they wanted to make our world a better place. Even as a kid in his schoolwork my brother quoted JFK's "Nation of Immigrants" speech. My heart is broken at the loss of my brother but along the way he has taught me so much.
The things he learned in his life sometimes people never learn in their entire lifetimes. I'd like to believe his time on this earth was cut short not because cancer came knocking at his door but because he had learned everything we as human beings are meant to learn in this realm. I know wherever he is, he is going to continue his work healing the environment.
The lessons I have learned from him I would like to pass on in hopes that others will make a positive change in someone else's life.
Never Be Afraid of Change: My brother spent $100,000-plus going to college, then medical school and then started practicing optometry. As he got a few years into optometry, he decided he wasn't really passionate about it. Other than the charitable works he did visiting third world countries and providing medical care to those in need, he began to dislike the profession and just knew it wasn't his calling. His passion was the environment. So, with encouragement from his wife he "retired" from optometry and went back to school and obtained his master's degree in environmental science and later became a teacher at a community college. He went from making about $100,000 a year to maybe $20,000.... but he was 20,000 times happier.
Take Care of Mother Nature: Imagine not using a paper towel ever to wipe your hands or clean up a mess. My brother and his wife believed in not abusing our natural resources as he knew they are increasingly in short supply. They used cloth napkins, grew most of their own vegetables, composted everything they ate and never, ever wasted food.
Turn Your TV's and Computers Off! I have spent my entire career watching television. I have always loved the medium because I love stories and characters. My brother, however, hasn't owned a TV in over a decade. Instead, he chose to go out and travel the world and make his own stories. He read books, listened to the radio, played music, cooked, hiked, biked, kayaked and many other outdoor activities. He appreciated nature, the mountains, the ocean or just a simple creek. He knew nothing about social media. He kept in touch with friends by speaking to them on the telephone.
Soul Mates Do Exist: Never were two people more meant for each other than my brother and his wife. They were the shining example of what it means to be a couple. Before he met her, he dated and dumped like Chandler Bing. "Big head! Big head! Big head," I used to joke to him every time he would tell me about what was wrong with each girl (hopefully someone gets this "Friends" reference). Until he met his wife and knew instantaneously she was the one. They remained, as I used to joke to him, as "shmoopy" as they were when they met 11 years ago. Perhaps it's because they met doing a selfless act - volunteering with www.shouldertoshoulder.org, a program that helps bring medical aide and educate medical staff in Honduras.
Be Selfless, Not Selfish: Be it friends, family or strangers, so many people can use a helping hand and not just in times of tragedy or despair. A woman at the chemotherapy office where my brother went lost a sister to cancer. Every week since she has died, she stops by the cancer center to bring baked goods to the patients. My brother was a lover of music and played several instruments. The sicker he got, the less he could play. So his friends would stop by his house and play music for him for an hour or so. It's incredible the healing power of music. The one item I took with me from his house after he passed was his acoustic guitar, which I will pass on to my son, who at nearly 3 years old is obsessed with guitars. Perhaps one day you will see him on "The Voice" (Cycle 42 or something like that!) using it one day! Blake Shelton and Adam Levine will still be the coaches, gray hair and all, I bet.
Life Can Change In An Instant: We have all heard this one thousands of times during times of tragedy that don't befall on our own lives. Unfortunately, it's a lesson each person can only learn when it happens to them. Most of us live our lives as if the next day is guaranteed, but trust me it is not. I didn't get it either. I find myself now wanting to go back to every friend and/or co-worker who ever lost a loved one before their time and apologize and hug them for not comforting them more than I did. As a friend who lost her dad said to me the other day, "It's a club you don't understand until you arrive."
Money, Fame & Power Mean Nothing If You Don't Have Your Health: You can have all the money in the world, be the most powerful person at your job, sell millions of records or bring in huge box office dollars, but if cancer or some other terminal disease comes knocking at your door, it all means nothing. You are not invincible. No one is. I remember reading an article about Pierce Brosnan's daughter, Charlotte, who died of ovarian cancer at age 41. When she was diagnosed, he said he went crazy calling in every favor, finding her the very best doctors money could buy. Yet, despite all that, she still lost her battle with cancer. When my brother was diagnosed, I used every contact I have in the industry by calling every medical correspondent I know at NBC, ABC and CBS to make sure they put me in touch with the best doctors in Boston and NYC. They were the tops in the field and they made time for my brother, but they both told him the same thing the first doctor did. His cancer was incurable. The chemotherapy would only help for a little while. There were no clinical trials, no magic elixirs to heal him that any amount of money could buy.
Eat Simple/Live Simple: I've always been a healthy eater but my brother was the first person who woke me up to all the truly nasty things that get put into processed foods. He always ate organic and chose real food. He introduced me to a great book that pretty much says it all as simple as it can be called "Food Rules." He also shunned materialistic things and chose to surround himself in his home with mementos of his world travels rather than expensive things. He hardly ever bought new clothes, didn't replace things until they were broken beyond repair and still has the same car, my old car I gave him 10 years ago.
I never made it in time to say goodbye to my brother (despite rushing as fast as I could across the country with my parents to get to him) because although he was to be the first person in Vermont to use the newly passed Death with Dignity Act, he passed away in the night on his own. It's a cause he very much believed in, but I think ultimately this is how he wanted it... for his family not to see him when he was dying, but instead to remember him as he lived. The last time I saw him was a few weeks ago and he said to me "I don't want cancer to be the thing that defines me." It's not. What defines my brother was that he was an incredible human being whose legacy is that he made everyone around him want to be a better person.
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