A gift

Have you ever received a surprise gift? One you would have never expected? One that caught you so off-guard you were stunned, speechless or overcome with emotion?

I’ll tell you about the time I got just that.  But first, some background information…

After the onset of a rare illness, my little brother, Jason had total and complete short-term memory loss. He could remember things, places and people from his past but he could not retain any new memories. At times, this was incredibly sad and hard to deal with because it was confusing and frustrating for Jason. It also required lots and lots of patience because we often found ourselves saying the same thing over and over, explaining things again and again, and repeating exact conversations many, many times.

Also, during this time, he, like many victims of memory loss, unintentionally fabricated experiences to fill in the gaps in his memory. This is called confabulation. In other words, he made up stories because he couldn’t remember what was really going on. It was a challenge to learn to play along to keep him calm and not make him feel confused.

However, fortunately, during this period of time when laughter was harder to find than an honest politician, there were lighthearted, even entertaining moments that resulted from my brother’s memory loss issues.

One such moment was when I was making one of my regular, daily visits to see Jason at the Holmes County Home where he was a resident. When I walked into the room, there was a bingo game in progress. Jason didn’t notice me right away because he was heavily concentrating on his bingo card as the letters and numbers were being called. I walked up to him and laid my hand on his shoulder. He squinted up at me – one eye open the other one closed – with his ball cap pulled tightly down over his forehead. He was surprised to see me and said, “What are you doing here?” I replied, “I stopped in to see you.” Jason then said, “How did you know I was in Las Vegas.” To which I responded, “I always know where you are; someone has to keep an eye on you.” He was so happy that I had found him in Vegas and that we could hang out.

Another time that we were able to find some smiles was, ironically, when Michael Jackson passed away. I’m sure you remember, this was big news and on every TV channel. My wife and I were watching the news with my brother. Once a commercial break was over and the news of Jackson’s death resumed, Jason was shocked (as we all were when we heard this news for the first time). He exclaimed, “Damn! MICHAEL JACKSON IS DEAD?!?” Bobbie and I would tell him “Yes”, talk about it a little about it and go back to watching the news. A few minutes later the broadcast would break for another set of commercials. When the news came back on and the topic was, once again, the death of Michael Jackson, my brother would be shocked by the news and would exclaim, (you guessed it) “Damn, MICHAEL JACKSON IS DEAD?!?” We would tell him “Yes’, talk about it a little and go back to watching the news. This went on and on and on. After the first couple of times, Bobbie and I would just look at each other and smile.

During this this time period, my brother never physically left Holmes County, but in his mind many exciting things happened. He became the governor of Alabama, attended a Marine Corps Ball, and set up base camp. He spent the day fishing along a river bank, spending time with his kids (who live in Louisiana) or had been working at DuPont all day. Most of Jason’s days were good days – in his mind. A blessing of his memory loss was that he wasn’t spending his days sitting around and contemplating his illness and how it had ravaged him both physically and mentally. It brought us such comfort knowing that he was not retaining any bad memories but instead making up good ones.

Now that you better understand the situation, let me tell you about the gift.

One day, after visiting with Jason it was time for me to leave. We hugged, kissed and said “I love you, Bro.” Then I walked away. In five minutes or less, he wouldn’t remember that I had even been there.  But this day was different. When I was approximately 12 feet away from him with my back turned, walking away, he called out, “Chad! Thank you for taking such good care of me.”

Those words that stopped me dead in my tracks. Like a deer surprised by the thundering sound of a shotgun blast from an unseen hunter who just missed his target.

Breathe.

Did my brother REALLY just say that to me?  

What?

How did he know? He has no short term memory; he doesn’t even remember he’s sick or where he is or what day it is. For months, I had visited him every single day but he never remembered any of it. He had no clue that I was involved in his care because he hadn’t made any new memories for a year or more. He didn’t know that I was his legal guardian, his payee and that I oversaw every aspect of his care. 

I quickly steadied myself, regained my wits and walked back to my brother. I said “You’re welcome, Jas, it’s the least I can do.” Again, we hugged, kissed and said “I love you, Bro.” Then I turned and walked away but this time I had tears in my eyes because for a moment I had my brother back. I was certain that somehow he knew how much I loved him and that I’d do anything for him. It was only for a moment but it was a gift.

Little Bro
Jason’s First Birthday. His big bother holding his hand. (1977)

I can’t think of a more special gift than the one my brother gave me that day. In the moment, he knew I was there for him. He knew I was taking good care of him and doing my best for him and he was thankful. I will never forget the moment.

We celebrate Christmas to recognize God’s ultimate gift to us: his Son, Jesus. Most of us celebrate by giving gifts to the people we love. Many of us use Santa to illustrate to our little ones the generosity and grace of God’s gift. Christmastime is when me most often talk about gifts, give gifts and receive them. But always keep your eyes and ears and your heart open for the special, little, unexpected gifts that are given to you.

 

By Jason
These are special words that Jason wrote about his big brother before he became ill. “My brother was my best friend and my life.”

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