Two things came into my mind regarding my documentation of these last five days.
One, it had to be perfect. The subject deserved nothing less. I’ve never been one to rashly flip open my journal and scribble down thoughts on an important event. I had to approach it the right way. After years of asking my older sister, “Will you just write the first sentence of the paper for me? I promise after that, I’ll be set!” I understood that I had to organize my thoughts, wrestle with the facts, and create an approach that felt natural. These things combined, could cause this small tribute to be a piece I’d cherish forever.
The second thing on my mind was whether or not I’d hide it in my journal or toss it into cyberspace. I’ve always felt uneasy when writing about my feelings in the midst of other people’s tragedies. It feels selfish. But after twelve years of journaling, I’ve come to see writing as therapy. And after reading a friend’s blog at 12:56 last night, I learned that reading others’ accounts of your same experiences can be equally remedial.
In this midst of administering my own healing, I hope that this could be similarly therapeutic to you, or that the testimony reflected and remembered here could spur you on towards something incredible.
We ran in the same crowd throughout junior high and high school, and while we never went to school together, the friendships of the families raised at Tomball Bible Church were the most cherished relationships of all.
The three years of high school I spent in Tomball were some of the sweetest times of my life. Friendships rooted in family, faith, and our unspoken bond of being brought up in the same town and church. The memories made with Caidee, Sarah, Brandon and Jordan are ones I’ve reflected on a lot these past five days. Their friendships meant, and still mean, the world to me.
While the memories I have with Brandon are innumerable, I have been recently overcome with a few specifics.
First, was a retreat Sarah, Jordan, Brandon and I were asked to go on in high school. I want to say it was in Houston and over a weekend, but the details escape me. We went to Olive Garden for lunch one day and Brandon, Sarah and I thought it would make sense to shove some free breadsticks in my purse for later. I have pictures from later that evening of the bottom of my purse filled with breadsticks and several pictures of Brandon doing standing back flips in the grass waiting to go back inside the conference.
Another is Thanksgiving Day my junior year in high school. We all met up at Brandon’s house and went four-wheeling, roasted marshmallows, and later went upstairs where Brandon played the guitar. I had recently learned of the possibility of my family moving to College Station and remember purposefully soaking up the time I was having with such incredible friends.
The memory that I feel like most accurately describes the Brandon I knew was late one night in Sarah’s driveway. I’m not sure how we ended up there, but it was just the three laying in her driveway staring at the stars as Brandon stated facts, asked us questions, and revealed his theories. I remember feeling completely inadequate to participate in the conversation, trying hard to keep up, knowing that what he was saying deserved thought and understanding.
Last are the times we had together at Texas A&M. That first semester of freshman year we kept up very well. I remember one night we stayed up so late talking in the Commons Lobby that banging on my locked dorm room door for what seemed like 30 minutes resulted in Brandon volunteering to sleep on his floor so I could have a bed.
Auguest 2009. I was in the Chi Omega house doing the monotonous and silly things sorority girls do during that time, so aptly named “work week” when my mom called.
Missed call. Voicemail. Text. “hey Hill, call me.” Missed call.
Grabbing it, I made my way from the back of the chapter room to the side door leading to the back staircase. Dodging girls sitting in Crazy Creek chairs, chanting girls’ names, braiding each other’s hair, and playing iPhone games.
“Mom, hey what’s up?” Calm. She probably was seeing if she could drop off a slew of diet lemonade from Chick-Fil-A for all my roommates and me.
“Hill, I have some bad news."
I don’t remember exactly how she said it. I just remember sitting on the stairs hearing the words “Hodgkin’s Lymphoma”, Brandon’s name and feeling the need to feel something – anything – other than the shock that was taking me over.
Treatments began. Texts were sent. Prayers were prayed. Prayers were pled.
I was shocked when he stayed at A&M through treatments. Shocked when he transferred to Rice to be closer to treatments, but still wanting to stay in school. Shocked when I learned he was still exercising. Running the halls with his IV poll.
But that initial shock would fade after remembering that it was Brandon. Stubborn, willful, hardworking, brilliant and strong.
Fast-forward to December 2010. Caidee and Jordan married on December 19. Brandon’s absence due to failing lungs was felt the entire weekend. Special tributes and prayers were said throughout the rehearsal dinner and wedding ceremony.
What a special time and place to be praying for a miracle. There was neither lack of celebration for the newlyweds, or lack of gut wrenching, honest, pleads to God to save a life with the tiniest chance of survival. What an incredible time.
Days later, our prayers were answered and Brandon was responding, smiling, and giving his nurses as much trouble as he could. What a blessing it was to step off the elevator of Methodist Hospital and learn that his intubation tube had been removed just moments before.
He had just fallen asleep when I got there, so I wasn’t able to talk to him. But notes were left, prayers were prayed and the atmosphere was encouraging.
Thursday, January 6 Caring Bridge informed me that due to his recently collapsed lung, he chose to be made comfortable and would soon pass away.
I can’t really explain how I felt. As sensitive a person as I am, I didn’t cry. I just laid in bed with a feeling in my stomach and chest I knew I’d never felt before. I think my initial thought was genuine shock, rather than a pain and sadness.
I honestly didn’t think Brandon was going to die. It wasn’t naivety – after growing up spending Christmas with strangers on the Bone Marrow Transplant floor and a mother directing a non-profit for these patients, I knew the risks and treatments associated with cancer. It wasn’t a blindness in my faith, that God simply wouldn’t allow such a thing to happen – not a month goes by that my mom doesn’t inform me of another young, fighter-of-a-child passing away after a rough round of chemo, a bone marrow transplant that just “didn’t take”, or a body so torn up and worn down from the drugs being pumped in to their body it was just too much.
I can’t explain why I didn’t think he was going to die because I don’t know. In a recent note I wrote him, I expressed my excitement for the testimony he was building in that ICU room to use later down the road. I never figured that his testimony would be told by his family members and close friends days later at his memorial service.
They described him just like I described that late night on Sarah’s driveway. Constantly searching for answers. Wanting to understand the depths of his faith. Not accepting answers that almost every Christian takes as fact, but looking at and dissecting it from all angles. And not simply analyzing, but going so far as to try and prove that god doesn’t exist.
I remember the times we would have these deep conversations and his questions and observations really scaring me. I didn’t want to think about the what-ifs. Brandon’s methods caused me to examine my faith like nobody ever had before. And yesterday’s reflections of his search for the truth motivated me to search for the things that I am so often tempted to ignore.
Brandon’s search for God’s existence was reconciled days before he passed away when he made peace with his Heavenly Father. His return to faith was captured so perfectly in a story his mom told yesterday, describing his love for the piano and the hymn Come Thou Fount –
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here's my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.
With such incredible stories and deep focus on Brandon’s search for faith, a sigh a relief and sense of true celebration came over the room when the last person got on stage to speak. Immediately declaring his sense that we were in the presence of the Almighty King and standing on holy ground, he spoke of the true pain Brandon’s family, and all of us would feel during those quiet times.
Tears streamed down and literal shouts of celebration were heard when he stated: “The god he strove so hard to deny, he is now delighting in.” What a peace we may now rest in.
Love and miss you already, B-rad.