A Brother's Love
by Michael R. Sanchez
(Los Fresnos, TX)
A Brother’s Love
In what might seem to be an unusual and counter intuitive juxtaposition of our roles in life, four of my life’s heroes are my own sons. My boys were raised terribly poor and did without a great many things in their life. They survived the divorce of their parents and nevertheless grew up to be strong intelligent well-adjusted men.
My sons are strong not just because they’re tough. My sons are strong because they are tough, but also sensitive and caring. Someone who is pure toughness, without the ability to be sensitive, is simply a ***hole. All four of my boys served in the United States military; and all of them did combat tours in Iraq. While their tours in Iraq tested their toughness… the test of their sensitivity was yet to come.
My four sons were but four of my five children. My five children were only six years apart from oldest to youngest. The youngest was my daughter Kaitlyn. While Kaitlyn was the undisputed princess of the family, she was nevertheless raised in a household steeped in testosterone. She kept up with her older brothers when they played and quickly emerged as the toughest of all my children. She had to be to play with four older brothers on anything close to even terms.
There is no love like that of a father’s love of his daughter, of that there can be no doubt. I learned that there is also no love quite like the love of an older brother to his younger sister. I was to learn this lesson the hard way.
On 19 July 2012, my third son Dustin (now 25 years old) called me on the phone. “Dad, I think Kaitlyn is in trouble” he said. He went on to explain that an investigator from the County Sheriff’s office had called him and told Dustin that he was conducting an investigation “regarding Kaitlyn”. Dustin said he was instructed by the investigator to stay at his apartment as a Police Officer was en route to his residence. This raised a big red flag for me. As a career police officer I knew what this meant. I got my wife of six years, Arijeta, and we left immediately for Dustin’s apartment, which was about 20 minutes away.
My experience told me that if Kaitlyn was in trouble, the Sheriff’s Department would not allow other PD to encroach on their investigation. There is only one instance where a department would delegate responsibility to another agency… death notification. As Arijeta and I drove to his house, I called Dustin and told him “Dustin… listen to me… you need to be prepared for the very real possibility that Kaitlyn is dead.” He told me that he realized that this might be a distinct possibility. I only hoped that I could beat the other Police to Dustin’s apartment.
I arrived at the same time as the other Police. One look on their faces and I knew. I had been there. At one point in my career, I had to tell a mother that her 18 year old son had died from a heroin overdose in San Antonio… and that he was never coming home. I saved them from having to find the words. “She’s dead… isn’t she?” The sergeant could only say yes. The two officers gave their condolences and left. I told Dustin to get his ****, that he was spending the night with my wife and me. I didn’t want him to be alone.
Dustin was in tears, but holding it together as we drove to my house in Los Fresnos. When we got there, the shock, grief and reality that his sister was dead hit Dustin like freight train. I have never seen someone so distraught and so broken hearted in my life. In a volcanic eruption of brotherly grief, Dustin fell apart. To see this 6’5” 350 pound tough young man utterly incapacitated by his love for his sister and the excruciating pain of his broken heart was heart wrenching. His pain could only pour out onto the ground because there was no one there who could understand what he was feeling. No one was there who truly understood the love of a brother.
Dealing with my own broken heart, I undertook the heartbreaking duty of notifying my sons, my father and Kaitlyn’s mother. My son Christopher, who lives in Alabama, was at a friend’s house when I called him. By the time he got home, he was so devastated by the news that it took him almost a half an hour before he could even tell his wife Meghan why he was crying. As the youngest son, Chris was the closest to Kaitlyn.
When I was a police officer, I remember telling the lady whose son had died “I’m a single father… I can imagine how you feel.” The truth is… you can’t imagine what it feels like to lose a child, until you have lived through it. Nor can you fully understand the love of an older brother, until you have witnessed the utter heartbreak my sons lived through.
I was overwhelmed by a myriad of difficult and heart breaking fatherly duties. My oldest son Joseph and his wife Becky accompanied Arijeta and I to the funeral home for the most difficult of all. Joseph had served four years in the Marine Corps and had also served a combat tour in Iraq. I know that Joseph offered to come because he wanted to support me. I was somewhat surprised by this. Although he was the oldest child and now 28 years old, Joseph had always been my most sensitive child. When my mother was developing her living will, we agreed that Joseph should not be the alternate guardian, so that duty fell to my second son, Kurtis. We were both afraid that making the decision to “pull the plug” might be too hard for Joseph, should the time for such a decision ever come. However, Joseph showed me unimaginable strength and fortitude on that day. He impressed me with a demonstration that he had tempered that sensitivity with real strength, and I was very proud of him and Becky. He and Becky stayed with Arijeta and me throughout the entire visit to the funeral home; from filling out papers to viewing Kaitlyn’s body. Seeing Kaitlyn’s body was all the more difficult due to the fact that she had died from a gunshot wound to the head. Who wants to see his daughter, or his sister, under those circumstances?
All four of my sons had served combat tours in Iraq. With each tour, the entire family would collectively hold its breath and steel itself to the possibility that one of them might get seriously injured or killed. None of us ever imagined that when the cold hand of tragedy struck our family, that it would strike Kaitlyn.
Kurtis came home from England, where he was stationed with the Air Force. Kurtis was in the Air Force Security Forces and had spent three years in Hi-Ops, a special operations unit that engaged in combat operations, rather than base security. Kurtis had done three combat tours in Iraq and one in Oman.
The Air Force had sent Kurtis home on emergency with remarkable speed, but they could only send him as far as Corpus Christi; which was about a two hour drive away. Joseph and Becky offered to accompany Arijeta and me on the long drive to pick Kurtis up at the airport.
At the Corpus Christi airport, I parked in the loading and unloading zone. Joseph and Becky agreed to stay with the car so Arijeta and I could go inside and fetch Kurtis. When his plane landed and he disembarked, Kurtis dropped his carry-on bag and hugged me. I could sense his worry about me in his embrace. His concern for whether or not I was holding it together; and his concern for my own broken heart were obvious and palpable. After Kurtis hugged Arijeta, I took his carry-on bag and we walked outside to one of the most sublime, ineffable, heart breaking and touching scenes I have ever witnessed.
As we exited the airport, Joseph got out of the car. Kurtis fast-walked to Joseph and they fell into a brotherly embrace. Both now are fully grown men over six feet tall. Both are strong, self-assured combat veterans in the process of conquering their own lives. Both are now completely disarmed and devastated by the loss of the little sister they doted on for so many years. Both are sharing something that only they can understand.
No words were spoken. None needed to be spoken. In that moment I could see each son completely lower his guard and bare the intense love each of them had for their baby sister. It was as if the memories of their childhood were flowing telepathically through their embrace. All the years of growing up with Kaitlyn, protecting her and worrying about her seemed to flow between them. They shared their pain and their grief in extraordinary detail… all without saying a word.
They stood hugging for several minutes. No one spoke. Both Kurtis and Joseph were pouring their hearts out to one another. They shared their memories of their childhood together with their brothers and Kaitlyn. They shared their devastation at having lost the precious pearl of our family… all in complete silence. They shared feelings, pain and emotions that only the other could fully understand.
It is only at moments such as this, that one can possibly understand or comprehend the love of a brother.