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How My Son Reminds Me That His Brother’s Short Life Mattered

We’d been transferred from the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) to a little four-bed ward for sick children whose lives depended on breathing machines. Our family had lived in the hospital for 11 months, and we were one step closer to taking Evan home where he would be able to die in the arms of those closest to him.

“Kids like Evan usually don’t live past the age of 2,” was the agreed diagnosis by the staff.

Noah, Evan’s big brother, had just turned 5, and the University of Michigan’s C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital was kind enough to let us celebrate his birthday in the family resource center on the top floor. Since we had graduated from the PICU we were able to see some of the other sick-but-somewhat-stable kids up and moving about.

“Hey guys my name is Mike. Is it OK if I come in?”

Mike looked to be about 7 years old, and a nurse was toting him around the fifth floor. He was pretty much bandaged from head to toe on the right side, and we learned later his mom was in jail for pouring scalding water all over him. For some unknown reason he wanted to visit our particular ward that day. The room was neatly packed with four kids on ventilators, two nurses, one respiratory therapist and four matching machines pulsing to the sound of life.

Mike seemed to know his way around, and the staff was trying to fill in as his only family. I could tell he had been there awhile and seemed to be a seasoned veteran.

Within a few days we got used to Mike stopping by and soon discovered Noah and I could go to his room and take him for a lap around the floor in his wheelchair — that is, after we stood by and coached him during his daily bandage change. I guess we were his reward if he could get through the excruciating pain of having the encrusted gauze ripped form his tender skin.

Noah seemed to really like Mike, often challenging him to a race. I would push Mike, and Noah would run like crazy. We would start at the busy nurse’s station. Noah would take off to the right, and Mike and I would go to the left. The fifth floor was lined with square-shaped rooms. Whoever tagged the desk first was the winner. It’s kind of funny as I think back now because many times we never finished the race. You see, many of Evan’s doctors would see Noah running and would often stop him for a high five and a little chat.

One day I sat with Evan in my arms, making sure I was carful not to pull any wire or hoses from his body. I watched through the door as Mike and Noah exchanged jokes out in the hall. In that moment it was like looking through a special window. The window allowed me to take a peak at what the future may look like for Noah. Noah would surely be a great big brother, and no matter how sick or disabled someone may be I was confident he would protect them and honor them as any other human being.

This past year, Noah finished the eighth grade and is now 14 years old. About a month ago we received a letter in the mail about a community Rising Star Award. At the banquet we discovered he was nominated by his English teacher. The award was for local children overcoming adversity. Noah said later on the ride home, “I guess I got this because of Evan.” My wife, Penni, and I both nodded.

The following week at the middle school graduation, his name was called again for the Royal Oak Middle School Caring Award. The principle said, “Noah is always willing to help the other kids around him and often heard saying, ‘One day I will be a doctor and will find a cure for the disease that took my brother three years ago.’”

At the graduation while sitting back that special window opened again, just like when I watched him and Mike all those years ago. I couldn’t be prouder of Noah. Even though the pain of losing a son and a brother will never go away, I’m comforted by knowing Evan’s life did matter, and Noah is the proof of that.

window-and-noah-and-evan Just this last week, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital had their first ever Sibling Award ceremony inspired by the story above. And as you may have guessed it is called “The Windows Award.” The tag line is “Viewing siblings through the framework of our Mott kids.” I made three windows for the occasion, and a photographer took pictures with the kids looking through the frames.

This was just another way to remind me Evan’s life did and still does have meaning — an inspiration I need and something for all the brothers and sisters like Noah to help keep them succeeding even with in the most difficult times of their young lives.

This post originally appeared on Different Dream.

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