I Killed My Brother

“Hallelujah! He didn’t die from cancer, God healed him over that… just liked we believed,” said one of the parishioners from the church I grew up in.

I hated when they said that. As if dying from heart and kidney failure was a better thing because at least when they prayed for his Leukemia to go away, God had answered them about that. God was all, “Hey, I’ll totally heal him from cancer but heart and kidney failure because of cancer treatments?…. get outta here!? I can’t do that TOO.” I hated their version of God.

I still do.

When I am in the most in pain, I am in pain about this. I eat and eat and cry about this.

I got the call from my mom, “Jasmine, he has gone into a coma. We are life-flighting him home to St. Francis. He wanted to be home before he died. He signed a DNR.” He was 18 and since he was no longer considered a juvenile my brother took his heath and future into his own hands. Shortly after signing his orders he had to go into medically induced coma. There was too much pain. He had graft versus host from the experimental transplant and his kidneys, liver, and heart were failing.

Praise God he didn’t have cancer…right?

So when they flew him to Tulsa I came home from school immediately. I was in undergrad and still trying to be a normal person, in spite of that fact that the brother (that I had spent most of my childhood raising and looking after) was in Memphis at St. Jude Cancer Research Hospital. Paige, my sister, and I packed up and headed to Tulsa. The hour drive was quiet. I knew what I’d find. I knew what I’d be asked to do. I had always been the mother, even to my mother, and I was afraid.

I walked up to my brother’s bed. His funny and kind doctor, Doctor Kirkpatrick was there. He explained, “Isaiah is not well, Jasmine. Isaiah’s liver is failing, his kidneys aren’t functioning, and his heart is beating only by the medicine we are keeping on his heart.” The doctor said, “he flatlined in the helicopter on the way over, and we resuscitated him.”

“What?!” I asked, “he told me he signed a DNR.” My mom looked down at the floor, “Jazz”, she sputtered, “I couldn’t let him go like that.” So here we were, surrounding Isaiah and listening to what we needed to do. Even though he had made that clear before he closed his eyes for the last time.

His skin was yellow and bloated looking. The toxins were filling up his body. His beautiful strong hands were swollen and his fingers wouldn’t bend. An effect of the medicine he was on was that he would open and close his eyes. When they were open they bulged out of their sockets, yellow and cloudy. He wasn’t urinating and they were feeding him through a tube. His skin was spotchy from all the radiation treatment and Graft Versus Host Disease.  I slept next to him during the day, I sang to him, I held his hand.

Isaiah before he died. He gained weight from the steroids and lost his skin pigment

A day or two later, I can’t remember, Isaiah’ doctor consulted with us in a room off the side of the cancer ward. “Truly this is near impossible for me to say, but I need to tell you that Isaiah is not going to improve. His major organs have failed, he isn’t a candidate for a kidney transplant, and his heart won’t beat without these drugs.” He looked into all of our eyes, “I will keep him on life support for as long as you want… I think, though, that knowing Isaiah we need to consider what kind of quality of life he wanted.”

People came and went in a flurry. Friends. church family, biological family,  and almost all of Isaiah’s graduating high school class. Lydia, Isaiah’s once kind of girlfriend/crush, brought us food. Finally Garrett, Mom, Paige, and I gathered in Isaiah’s room. After another seizure we had to make a decision. My mom looked at me, “Jasmine. I can’t tell them to do it. I can’t say it. I don’t want to be responsible for that decision…he is my son…” she melted into a shaking, crying, heaving, mess. They all looked to me.  Paige sat quietly and thoughtful, per her usual form. “Jazz”, she said, “Mom… we know he didn’t want to be like this. He isn’t even alive, they said his brain isn’t functioning. You have to do something Mom.” Mom melted again. It was like she dematerialized into a watery puddle. Rocking back and forth with tissue shoved to her face she repeated, “I can’t. I can’t. Jasmine you have to do it.”

I felt buried between layers of pain and difficulty. I needed, Isaiah needed, a mother. She couldn’t do that, though. She had never really known how to be a mother. I opened my bag and grabbed The Book of Common Prayer that I kept under my pillow at school.

I had stolen it from the Office of Christian Formation Prayer Room at John Brown University. I still have it, and when I don’t have words- I pray the ones in the book.

I turned to the section that had prayer and response for dying people. I pushed the nurse call button.

“I would like you to turn his heart drip off, please.” The nurse didn’t even look at my mom, she was one of the nurses that started this journey with us. She had been with Isaiah and Dr. Kirkpatrick from the beginning. She knew that everyone always looked to me make the decisions. She punched the command into Isaiah’s locked IV drip, took the wires off of him and left us in peace.

I kept my finger marked in the space in the book. A Prayer for Dying People. We all quietly watched for the next couple of hours as his heart rate slowly slowly slowly dropped… until it was nothing. When the line was finally flat I began to read the call and response. I read the priest’s line and my family called out the response of the congregation. We prayed for Isaiah, we kissed him, and laid next to him- finally free from all those cords, pumps, and trappings. We said goodbye. I was the mother and I was the priest.

And that night… I walked out of that room as a child, as a sister, who was responsible for making the call on if her brother lived or died. I carry so much “what if shame”. What if he could  have miraculously recovered? What if I killed my brother.

Isaiah before leukemia


    • Thank you Jeannie. I think that this chapter of the book has been the hardest for me to write. I think that this memoir will be a way I can honor him.

    • I know that was the hardest thing you have ever done, I should have been right there, supporting you but I wasn’t. I wasn’t at his celebration of life either. I am ashamed of myself for that and have agonized over it to this day. I wasn’t ready to celebrate his life, he was dead. I wasn’t ready to be around a bunch of happy people, I was sad. I wasn’t ready to be strong, I was weak. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, he was too young. No one can truly “relate” to you and your story about Isaiah, because they did not have a brother like you and a relationship like the two of you that only grew closer when he got sick. I can close my eyes and still see him grinning ear to ear, cutting up with Cassius, imitating characters from TV. Hard to believe he would be 25 tomorrow….. xoxoxoxo

      • Thanks for your honesty, Barb… It was a confusing and hard time for everyone.

  1. Jasmine,

    I know Isaiah is so very proud of you. You have a strength that I wish I had. I will be praying for you.

  2. I am so glad you wrote about this, Jasmine, and I am so so sorry. I am sure he loved you for your strength and counted on you to have it for him until his earthly end. Praying for you.

    • We were really really close and I felt like I raised him, so it was almost like pulling the plug on my own child.

  3. I just really want to hug you right now. I believe most of the world’s people would be thankful for one iota of your strength. I hope I have the right people around me, just like you, when my time comes.

  4. Jas,this is a wonderful and sad all at the same time . Love that you put all of this on a paper . He was an awesome younman and loved live and that weekwe gave him Louisiana was some god wanted him to have before he found out he was sick .Thats just what I feel because it seems tgat after we got home a few weeks went by and we found out why he was not feeling well . He really enjoyed cajun country and the food .

    • He REALLY loved his time with you all in Louisiana and would NOT stop talking about Boudain (sp?) sausage!

  5. wow, thanks for sharing that jasmine.
    happy birthday, isaiah.

  6. I have read this 3 times as Im bawling. Cuzn I didn’t even know u had that much on you. I didnt know it was all like that. I was only told what gma Avis knew. My heart breaks for the loss of a loved family member. For you and all u had to go thru. Isaiah is very much loved and missed by many people. Thank you for sharing now I understand certain things from when we was all kids. Love u jazz

  7. You are a strong, amazing woman. I’m sorry you always had to be. xox

  8. Heartwrenching and beautiful. I can’t imagine having to make that kind of decision, even now, much less then. I’m sure you know that you did the best you could in unbelievably bad circumstances, but I know that guilt can stay with you even (maybe especially) when it’s undeserved. I know that your faith has been an important thing to you, so I’m glad that it was there for you, at least as an act you could perform together. I’m sorry that the God your church showed you wasn’t one that was any use to you; I hope that your faith now is something that brings you real meaning and comfort.

    • KENDRA!!!!!! SO happy to see you here! Haven’t seen your pretty face in a long time!

      • It’s heartwarming to know I’m remembered. I’ve been falling behind on all aspects of life, including blogs (reading and writing). Feeling inspired to catch up, though, and enjoying getting to see what you’re doing!

        • Girl please! You are one of my all time favorite commenters! Happy you are back

  9. I’ve always wanted to know…but after reading this, Im mad at myself for being curious. I LOVE YOU JASMINE and Im so sorry…

    • Oh Bobbie! I’d be curious too! You knew him, loved him, and was pestered by him. It is okay want to know.

  10. I have no words for you. I do have the heart song of the child-mom and the broken heart. Those I can share with you. (({{{<3}}})))

    • Thanks Bet! There are a lot of us out there… the ones who had to raise ourselves and our mothers. It is a hard reality.

  11. What a beautiful boy he is. He lives in you, you know. :)

  12. Jasmine:
    These are the deaths that are the hardest, the young with so much potential. Thank you for sharing your heart, I am glad to understand a little more of your story. Such a burden to carry, so much responsibility at such an age. My brother also passed away, though he lived longer than we ever expected.

  13. Jasmine, thank you for sharing this story. Your brother would like his story told, I’m sure. We all want to be remembered. To tell a story like this takes courage. To live with it takes more courage. You have a lot of courage lady.
    I’m proud to know you. Your family will always need you, that lesson you have down, it is clear. Remember that asking for help can actually be harder. When you get to the place where you need help, please be sure to ask. You will get what you ask for. You are an amazing person. You represent your brother well. I know that he would be proud of you.

  14. oh, my sweet & lovely friend…my heart aches. aches for you. you are a brave, loving, extraordinary soul & i love you! i am so sorry. i wish i had any words other than these but i don’t. just love.

  15. Perhaps the XNA terminal wasn’t the best place to read this. I am crying for all that you went through then. I am crying for what tomorrow is. I am thinking of you. He was a good person and the way you cared for him is a testament to that. Our Isaiah will one day really know his namesake.

  16. My heart breaks for you. With you. You write your story do honesty and eloquently, I feel like any more words from me would sound sloppy and stupid, so I will be silent and just feel with you. *hugs*

  17. We lost a precious little grandson to graft-vs-host after treatment for AML. None of the illness and the grief makes any sense. This was not what I thought my daughter and husband’s life had in store for them and their child. But what does make sense is that God surrounded little Collin with amazing love, and Collin was happy. It sounds like your brother was surrounded by love also.

    • Thank you Carolyn. He was surrounded by love and grace! Sorry to hear about your loss.

  18. I’m so sorry. You are so brave. Because you had to be. You are a blessing.

    • Thanks! I am learning that I am a lot braver than I first thought.

  19. What a hard time for you.
    We had to make that decision for my mom and there are always thoughts of ‘did we wait too long?’

    • Shana, It is one of those decisions that you just can’t even try to imagine until you are there. Sorry you experienced that.

  20. Jasmine,
    I remember all of this like it was yesterday and I applaud you for being so strong to share it so openly with others. I was there when this happened and I remember how brave you were. I will always remember you like this, a strong loving amazing sister that stood up and honored her brothers life by helping him not suffer. I work in the medical field now and I see people everyday that don’t get better but they have no one to stand up and make the decision that enough is enough. I know that Isaiah needed you to do that for him and I do not believe that you killed your brother, you released him into the hands of God and into a place where there is no pain or suffering. I can only hope to join him there one day. I loved him dearly and I cared so much about you and your family. I carry these moments with me everyday and I still talk openly to Isaiah and believe that he has helped me get through some tough times. No, you didnt kill him because he is alive in every life that he touched. He was blessed to have a sister like you.

  21. I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my youngest brother 2 years ago when he was 20. I also spent much of his life being the one that raised him. His death was very sudden and unexpected, so I didn’t have to deal with making any medical decisions for him,but losing him was the hardest thing I have ever lived through. I literally prayed for days that God just take me instead. Even with 4 kids to take care of, I just wanted him back. He was so much better than I was. It’s taken me a long time to get to the place where I realize he is in so much of a better place than we are. WHen I think about the things my brother is seeing, hearing, experiencing and learning right now, I am just in awe. I can only imagine how amazing it must be. he’s made it. he’s arrived. He has no pain, no suffering. He doesn’t have to deal with all of our family pain and sometimes just the anguish of everyday living. Your brother is in the same place. He is free. there is no more pain, no more sickness, no more doubt. Just an unimaginable love and joy that our minds cannot even comprehend. You did not kill your brother. You set him free to finally LIVE! And I know someday you will see him again and he’ll thank you for it. ~HUGS~

  22. Gosh you made me cry just now. This post shows so much of your courage and your strength… and it brouoght back so many memories of losing loved ones. Sending you cyber hugs and warm thoughts because, well, everyone’s a hugger online.

    • Thanks Kai! My thoughts are with you as you are dealing with loss as well.

  23. I’m rarely speechless but am at a loss for words here. I hope this helps you to heal old wounds. And I know you did the right thing.

  24. Wow. I wish I had been more like you when I was younger because, for some, life is short and difficult. I was so self-absorbed and oblivious to other’s problems. You are amazing. I wish I had half your strength and wisdom.

    • Oh Holly… I was/ am so “mature” because life made me that way… we all grow at our own pace.

  25. So, I read a post and I think, “Wow. That girl is incredible.” And then I read another one and I go, “Whoa. She’s more amazing than I originally thought.” And then I read this post and say, “She is all sorts of beautiful and strong and 100% heart wrapped up in one person.” This post in all its heart-wrenching pain is amazingly beautiful – in the relationship you shared with your brother, with the weight of all this you’ve carried on your shoulders, for the strength of character you possess. Your life, your story, I’m completely in awe of it. Thank you for sharing so honestly and candidly. Sending prayers up for your comfort today as you remember him.

  26. Jasmine… thank you for sharing this with us. You are a brave woman with such a kind heart. What you did was done for your Brother as well as your Mom. They both needed rescuing for different reasons. *hugs*

  27. Wow, this was amazing to read. I am lucky that in my situation with my brother we sat down as a family and decided to turn off all the machines, but I was not the one who told the nurse. After we took him off the machines it took almost a week for him to pass. It was rough and I always wonder if I could have done anything differently. Thank you for sharing Jazz!

  28. You did not kill your brother. Illness killed your brother. You carried out his last wish.

    • Ann,

      In my head I do know that… but it is times when I miss him so much and start doing the what if game that I really struggle with the decision I made that night. I live in a community of highly religious people as well, and I always feel angry at the “miraculous healing” stories I always hear. It is a process, I suppose.

  29. You’re brother is honored and remembered by your beautiful words. XO

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