I arrived at Walter Reed shortly after Andy did on Sunday evening and fortunately, got to see him right away. Daniel came on Monday. We stayed there together on Tuesday and I was scheduled to leave for home on Wednesday morning very early, given that I would be driving the 700 mile trip straight through. I originally planned to say my goodbyes on Tuesday night and leave from the hotel before the sun came up on Wednesday morning, but when Wednesday morning came, I just had to see him one more time.
I stood quietly in the SICU, memorizing his face, holding back ugly tears, and rubbing the top of his head--he said that was the only place that did not hurt. We talked quietly for a few minutes despite the people moving around us doing their jobs, and then it really was time for me to go. What do you say in that moment? I had already said the "I love yous", the "I'm so proud of you" and "You will make it through this."
Andy's my youngest brother and he's been a cut-up since the day he was born. He does serious from time to time but not often and not for long stretches. Serious was all around us, in that room and in his life, but I was determined, serious wasn't gonna be the way I left it with him. More than anything, we needed a moment of light...of laughter, in the midst of everything. Serious needed to take a hike, just for a moment.
Lord, just give me a smile.
I stood up and gathered my things. I moved to the side of his bed and stretched up on my tip toes to reach him. I got right near his ear and said "Julian always says 'Moma, I love you majorly.' So Andy, I love you majorly."
He grinned a little--as much as he could. "I love you Lieutenant Colonel-ly, sister." he said. It must have been clear by the look on my face that I didn't immediately get his little joke and it was no small miracle that he noticed this. In true Andy fashion, he rolled his eyes because of course, there's nothing worse than having to explain your joke. "Lieutenant Colonel is the next rank higher than a Major." he said, as if this was a fact I should have known.
And then for just a moment, we both laughed. In the midst of absolutely nothing funny--most everything terrifying--there was a moment of laughter shared with my brother. That smirk is something I hold onto even though I'm pretty sure he doesn't even remember it. The drugs were heavy and the pain almost unbearable. He was in and out, back and forth...mostly out and that was probably a good thing.
I, on the other hand, was grateful beyond words but I knew in that moment that the damn was about to break and I had to get out of there, or risk being the sister who couldn't keep it together. I kissed him on the head and walked out the door. I made it to the car before the birrage of tears came and I cried all the way home to Tennessee.