One thing I have always admired and loved about those in my family is the strong connection and loyalty we have towards each other. Yes, we certainly get on each other’s nerves, as someone or other is usually making a dig at someone. However, if someone outside the family decides to come against one of our own, we will stand together in defense. Or if tragedy strikes, everyone comes together with love and support.
My oldest brother went to be with the Lord on April 11, 2018 at quite a young age. He was 22, only months away from his 23rd birthday. Raymond’s death came as quite a shock. Although he had undergone surgery a few years before for testicular cancer and underwent chemotherapy treatment, it was still a shock. After his treatments we thought he was okay, but we were mistaken. He had moved out to Colorado soon after those treatments two years ago and we only saw him at Christmastime. When he fell ill, he did not tell any of us back home until his friends called saying he had been rushed to the emergency room. This was a week before his death. We were later told that he had been unable to leave his bed or eat for a few weeks, but refused to go to the hospital. By the time his friends made him go, the cancer had spread everywhere. His doctors offered to start him on chemo treatments, but he refused. If he had accepted, he would have been dead in hours.
My parents drove out to get him and I thank God everyday that we were able to get him home where he would be comfortable and surrounded by praise and family. The day he died is a day that will forever remain cemented in my memory. I had left the house around 9:20 a.m. heading to school at Grand Rapids Community College. Before doing so, I peaked my head into my mom and dad’s room where Raymond was residing and said, “Bye Raymond, I’ll see you later, okay.” He responded with a weak, “Okay, bye, Lily.” I had just sat down to eat lunch with my best friend Audrey when I decided to check my phone. Instantly, I noticed that I had a missed call and text from my mom. She had texted me at 10:16 a.m. and looking back, I wish I had checked my phone much sooner. I am thankful that I checked it at all, sometimes when I’m at school, I don’t look at it for hours. The text read, “classes aren’t important today, you should come home… praising God with Raymond.” Reading this message shook me to the core. I called my mom right away. While it was ringing, I began to cry. I knew that for my mother to say that school wasn’t important, and I should be home with Raymond instead, was huge. Her response to my call was essentially the same as the text, however, hearing it said made it so much more difficult. I quickly packed up my things and headed to my car.
I am extremely surprised at how quickly I composed myself. I give credit to my upbringing. I know that if I had been called about Raymond being dead or if I had known for certain how bad his condition was, I would’ve lost my composure. I drove home as quickly as I could with praise music on. When I drove up, I just pulled up to my dad’s car, not bothering to park in the garage as I usually would, and I almost ran to the house. It was 11:25 a.m. When I entered the house, my grandma was on the phone. I put my things down, took off my boots, gave my grandma a hug and asked if I should just go right into the room. She nodded yes, and I did. I cannot convey how nervous and scared I felt. The room I entered was filled with the presence of the Lord, Phil Driscoll was playing and my mom and dad were singing praises to God. My older and only sister, Emily and younger brother, Paul, were rubbing Raymond’s feet and speaking in tongues as he was lying there struggling to breathe. In that moment, I had no clue what to do. All I could do was stare at the scene before me, trying to register what was happening, what was this new reality? Thankfully, Emily took my hand and placed it onto Raymond’s leg, this jolted me into action as I joined in the praise.
I didn’t want to believe it or think such a terrible thought that my brother was dying. My big brother, whom I had grown up with, the one who had fed my “Doctor Who” obsession, the one whose story ideas I had gushed about for as long as I can remember, my brother who was the director of the films the four of us had created, the only big brother I have. I watched him struggle for breath, his skin yellow, his frame frail, and begged him to breathe again. And each time he did, until he didn’t. I saw the last breath escape his mouth and wished for more. My grandma told him, “Raymond you can go, it’s okay.” And he did. The pain was over, and he was gone, beginning our pain. It was 11:45 a.m. The sadness I felt is something I never thought I would have to describe from my own perspective. The books I had planned to write were going to require me to dig around in other stories trying to assemble words that would do justice to the sorrow felt by my characters. I never knew I’d be able to provide it myself. I was holding on tight to Emily when it happened, and I continued to hold on as tightly as I possibly could. My dad gave all of his children a giant group hug, I know he was in the presence of the Lord because he was so composed, even laughing. The words he spoke just before Raymond went resound in my ears everyday, “Devil, you can’t take our joy! You lost!”
For weeks afterwards, we received multitudes of calls and pages of letters from people around the world whose lives were affected by Raymond. There were people from Ireland, England, France, etc. Many of whom he met at school in Colorado, but many others when he visited those countries on a mission trip. His life touched so many. He helped them through tough times and celebrated their victories, something I have always aspired to do. My brother’s death was most certainly the largest tragedy in my life, however, it caused me to grow and learn. I never realized that I could keep it together, that I could continue with exams the following week, that I wouldn’t fall apart. Now, whenever I think of things he was passionate about, I smile, a sad smile, but I also imagine what he’d say, or when I watch a movie that doesn’t have every little detail from the books. He would say, “Lily you can’t have everything in the movie, otherwise it would be way longer!”. I of course would argue, cause “I don’t care, I just want to see my treasured book as a movie, in all its glory!” Ah, the crazy days of debating who was better, Batman vs. Superman, Iron Man vs. Captain America. And of course the constant plea for him to write his books. But no, they had to be movies first and then “perhaps” be turned into books if he “felt like it.” I will always cherish these memories, the hours spent obsessing over what may be unimportant to others, but was essential to us. The days I spent sitting on his bed watching him play games, either sitting in silence or talking. The fun dance parties in his room with Toby Mac on full blast.
When I got my new job at WGVU, one of my first thoughts was how jealous Raymond would have been. He always wanted to be a movie director. He had directed our little homemade movies, writing scripts, acting out characters, filming and editing. We had so much fun running around our house and 10 acres with our old VHS camera. The silly videos that were conceptualized and made in one day have become treasured relics of times past. His ridiculous YouTube channel with videos of him criticising or praising movies, once something I mocked and wouldn’t watch, now something precious.
Even now it doesn’t seem real, but at the same time it seems very real. I don’t know how to explain the feeling, it’s just there. I guess it’s like whenever I see a picture or video of him, or just think of him, I just think “this couldn’t have happened to my brother.” But it did. How do I explain that? I can’t. All that can be done is to move on and live my best life. Forget about the small, petty, stupid things that make us angry or annoy us. Put them aside and enjoy my life, it’s the only one I have.