The “Perfect Death” (adult sibling grief)

by Emily Paquette

It seems almost like an oxymoron of some sort speaking of death and the word perfect in the same sentence. But it’s also interesting how uncomfortable death makes people, and how uncomfortable many people become when the death of someone is brought up. I know this first hand since my brother passed away. At first, people will try consoling you by saying things like: he’s in a better place, at least he isn’t suffering anymore, you’ll have so much more time on your hands now, it was God’s will, etc. Some of these, to some, may sound offensive, and I will tell you, they really are. My brother was born with multiple disabilities, endured over 18 operations, and was not expected to live more than 24 hours. He, however, defied the odds and lived a very full 20 years.

Whenever people saw him, their first impressions often were of pity. He was in a wheelchair, had some facial anomalies, breathed through a tracheal tube in his neck, suffered from scoliosis and kyphosis, had very poor fine motor skills, ate through a G-tube in his stomach due to issues with swallowing and processing food, as well as other difficulties he often encountered on daily basis. However, despite all of this, and despite it seeming like he would be miserable and/or not even know he was miserable, he was very bright, and was ALWAYS smiling. Over the course of his life, we made probably about 20 trips to Disney World (his favorite place). He advocated for special needs in Washington DC, was part of various other special needs groups that tried to spread further awareness, traveled up and down the East coast and even made some trips to Canada and Texas. Bryant, my brother, was a fighter, and had a certain glow to him that is impossible to describe, it was one of those “you would have had to have met him” or at least seen pictures or videos to better understand.

Bryant passed away in his sleep in March of 2009. My parents had always expected him to pass away due to some type of medical issue since even the common cold affected him ten times as worse as you or me. I remember waking up to my parents screaming, and knowing without seeing or hearing a confirmation what was happening. My parents opted not to do an autopsy due to the many operations Bryant had to go through over the course of his life. My mother recalls that he looked so peaceful, and when they found him, it appeared there hadn’t been a struggle of any sort. The doctors, as well as Bryant’s lifelong pediatrician, believe that it may have been heart related, possibly an arrhythmia.

Whatever happened to Bryant, all we know is he went to bed after having a particularly good day with his tutor and nurse, and went to bed happy after watching his movies. Even before this had happened, I had occasionally thought of how I wanted to die. I thought that going in my sleep would probably be the ideal way. It’d be peaceful, (or so I’d hope), and wouldn’t be a long drawn out thing for my family and friends.

Before dying, I want to accomplish so much. It scares me that I won’t be able to; whether it is due to lack of money, work, prior attachments, etc. I get nervous that I have some grandiose goals in my mind that are just too far out of reach to ever be fulfilled. I want to travel the United States before traveling outside of it. I’ve only seen the East coast, and there is so much more out there that I want to experience. I want to see the Midwest, and travel up and down the West coast. [Addendum: Recently, Emily has been to California to attend The Compassionate Friends conference and Nevada visiting the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas]. I want to get married in Disney World, and stay at the Grand Floridian before heading off on a luxurious cruise. I want to graduate college and possibly pursue my Masters and get a job that I actually enjoy. I want a beach house somewhere, maybe in California, maybe in Cape Cod. I want to have time to spend with my husband exclusively, creating our own life and our own normal. Maybe somewhere down the line I’d like to have children, and I would hope to be able to raise them as my parents raised me. I want to somehow make a difference, whether it is big or small. I want to write a novel that will one day become a huge success and maybe even a feature film. I want to travel all over Europe and Australia. And I want to keep my brother’s legacy alive.

Similarly to my brother’s situation, I’d like to have had a nice fulfilling day, able to see the most important people to me, and just being happy. I’m not sure what age I would like to be, probably somewhere in my 80s if my health is still decent. Living to an exceedingly old age is not attractive to me. I want to live a full, happy, adventurous life surrounded by the people I love. But dying alone or close to it does not appeal to me. That’s why living into my 100s or even 90s just doesn’t seem appealing, plus by then health would be declining extremely fast.

As cheesy, cliché, and naive as it may or may not sound, I’d like to die with my significant other. I’m sure most everybody is familiar with the book, The Notebook, and how Ally and Noah both drift off together peacefully. To me, that would be the “perfect death.” Growing old enough to see my children and grandchildren, and also still being with the one I love. I don’t think it matters where it happens, I guess at home would be ideal. The place I grew to love and be most comfortable with. The place where laughter, tears of sadness and joy had taken place, where spills and accidents occurred, where gatherings and parties had taken place, where I went to escape the chaos that often surrounds us in this world.

As I said, death is something that is a part of every one of our lives whether we want to accept it or think about it or not. Eventually, everybody is going to die, but that’s the whole point of living. Trying to do things in the moment and trying to love everybody as much as possible and just be happy. My brother taught me that. He taught me to smile despite the things that are going wrong, and to not dwell on little things that may seem big at the time. He also taught me to be more considerate of others who have lost someone. I know now how painful it is, and how scary it is to think of that person being forgotten. It’s alright to talk about death and people we’ve lost, it’s a part of life and a part of trying to not forget or move on, but to at least find a new way of living without that person around. The saying “time heals all wounds”, I feel, is false. Nothing can heal the hole in my heart, or the hearts of my parents, that was left when Bryant died. But by talking about him, planning new trips to Disney, and keeping his spirit alive, we can start to create a new kind of normal.

About the Author: Emily Paquette is a 21-year-old college student (Psychology major). She works with special needs students and with her local recreation center after school program. She is hoping to go into teaching when she completes her degree.

Emily wrote this piece for a college essay on the “Perfect Death”. She is a frequent guest writer on her Mother’s blog with other essays she’s written on the death of Bryant and how his life has been something she treasures.

Read her mother’s article, Take Him Home and Love Him