by Julie Knaak
The night before Shawn's passing, he had told my Dad, in between gasps, "today is my last day". He said the same thing to my mom in the morning. He was slowing ending his eight month battle with acute lyphoblastic leukemia. Up until that very last day, he wanted to fight with every strength of his being. Shawn never wanted to talk about his death, funeral, etc. Heck, he was 24! He should have been thinking about where to eat for dinner, not whether he could take more pain meds or whether he wanted cremation.
The day prior to his final acceptance, we had told him that although he had been without a white blood cell count for nearly three weeks, they finally came back and showed cancer. There were no more chemos to try, and his body certainly couldn't have weathered it. We were all sobbing except for Shawn- my stoic, strong "big" little brother. He nodded his head in acknowledgment of the statements being said, but that was all.
After hearing that he had told both Mom and Dad that that Thursday was his last day, Matt(the oldest) and I went in that morning, and he was really not too responsive. He had been that way for a few days because of the amount of morphine that was in his system- he just seemed extra tired. I remember one moment where two visitors(Grandma and Grandpa Arnold,I think) were on his right and I was on his left side. My leg was crossed and my foot accidentally hit the button that moved his bed up. His eyes flickered open as I apologized, then he settled back down to quietly rest. He was still having trouble breathing, but the morphine at that point was being pumped into his body regularly. So many people came that day, with his knowing comments to both Mom and Dad. I honestly didn't think it would be true- he'd been doing the same for quite a while, but he knew better, didn't he?
It's strange how the only time I felt I was able to hold his hand or say "I love you" was when he was sleeping. We were always so careful to not make him think we were saying goodbye or giving up on him. That day, I held his hand whenever I was near him. I read a magazine in my lap, with one hand holding his and never leaving its warm spot. When everyone left the room, I tearfully told him how much I adored him, and made some promises to him, told him I loved him, all before the next visitor came in to see him. I even kissed his now chilly forehead a few times.
In order to let others share alone time with him, I disappeared into the family room on the fourth floor. I pulled out one of the chairs into a little bed and laid on it- with my legs half hanging off of it. I fell asleep that way. I think we were all so exhausted that we could have slept anywhere. Next thing I know, Matt is waking me up and telling me to come. My husband and I rush into Shawn's room and I settle back down at his side.
He was unconscious at that point, and his shallow breaths had more and more space between them. He was not in pain, and it did not seem scary to him. There was definitely a strange air in the room- that expectant feeling that I still occasionally get.
Between every breath, we waited for the next one to come until one time it didn't. As three nurses moved in to check his heartbeat before declaring his death time, I sobbed from the depths of my soul for my younger brother who was no longer physically with us. The last nurse took off the oxygen mask that he was reliant on for the past four weeks, and I saw him. The face that no longer looked like the brother I loved with every fiber of my being. He was grey- his mouth was open, yet no smiles or jokes were coming out of it.
We were all instantly heartbroken. There are no words to describe what emptiness I felt. I couldn't breathe. My back was against the back of the chair, looking up at the ceiling, hyperventilating. My husband rushed to my side to hold me up, and I vaguely remember my mother sobbing, "my son... my son..." Once I regained enough composure to speak, my first phrase was, "Thank you."
Thank you, God, that Shawn's pain and suffering were finally over.
Thank you, Shawn, for showing us what true hope and faith are. Thank you for being my brother.
Thank you for being brave when the rest of us struggled with it.
Thank you for sharing 24 wonderful years with us and for being such a strong influence on all of us.
Although it may sound strange to say, Thank you, also, for knowing and telling us that your last day would be that April 14th. It allowed so many people to make sure that they came and visited that day. It allowed me the extreme honor of being at your side on that day.
Thank you for allowing US to love you and care for you. I would do it a million times over if it could've saved you. I hope you know that.
Ultimately though, it can be summed up into a short phrase that requires no explanation.
"Thank you, Shawn, for everything."
I love you and miss you every day. You will always be my younger brother and I will always be proud to be your big sister.
I love you, Shawnee. Always and forever.
Julie, Forever Shawn's sister.