Everyone who knew my brother knew that he was not the kind of person to just pass through your life. He touched everyone he met. Connor was one of the best people I’ve ever met – you just got the feeling that he cared deeply for everyone he spent time with. He was also stronger than I could ever hope to be and whether he knew it or not, he taught me how to be a man.
My parents divorced when I was very young and I was an only child for the first 9 years of my life. Any only child can tell you that it is a mixed bag. There is a great amount of attention on you at all times but also a feeling that you are missing something. I prayed for a sibling a lot as a child; someone to play with, share things with, someone to grow up with. My dad met my stepmom – I really lucked out and got an amazing stepmom – and a new family began. Connor was born on October 30, 1991. Answered prayers for a lot of people.
Connor had a lot of health problems in his life. A lung disease caused him to wear oxygen most days. Looking back, I can’t remember one time that he ever complained. He loved to play. We made accommodations for him – he was all-time pitcher or QB when he ran out of breath, we would play HORSE instead of halfcourt basketball, we spent time playing video games together. The only thing we cared about was that we were playing together. I remember one game we used to play in the living room a lot when he was 8 or 9 years old. He loved watching football and I played, but obviously we couldn’t tackle each other. So we made a game of “Goal Line Stand”. Basically I would run left or right and he would throw my stepmom’s yoga ball under me and flip me over. Man, I can still remember him laughing until he cried every time I flipped over.
Connor moved to Michigan in 2005 with my dad, stepmom, and two other siblings. We did our best to stay in touch as much as possible. The internet and social media helped out with that. He continued doing the things he loved. Connor was an avid fisherman and could outfish me every day of the week. Even though he had trouble breathing, he would go camping eventually earning his Eagle Scout. He also learned to play the saxophone and played throughout high school. There wasn’t a whole lot that he couldn’t do once he set his mind to it.
Connor was the smartest guy in the room. I always admired that about him. At five years old he already knew the parts of the brain and what they did. At 9, I vividly remember him explaining the physics of flight to me. The guy loved airplanes and military history. In between trips to the hospital, he made time to graduate in the National Honor Society and get accepted to Notre Dame. Despite undergoing a double lung transplant, he continued on with his classes at high school and ND. I’ve had the honor of meeting a few of his friends that he made during his years in South Bend and they are all great people. He always knew how to surround himself with the best.
The last time we saw each other was one of the proudest days of his life. Throughout all of his adversity, he had completed the requirements to graduate from the school of his dreams. The day after Thanksgiving, 2013, the Provost of ND personally drove to Michigan to deliver his BS degree in Biochemistry. A lot of our family was able to make the drive from Texas to spend it with him. He had plans to go on to Medical School after ND – he was going to cure diseases, I have no doubt.
Connor died on December 20, 2013. It feels so long ago and just like yesterday at the same time. It’s strange the way siblings are connected. I felt something getting ready for work that morning. Something felt wrong, missing. I couldn’t explain it but when I got the call, I understood what that feeling was. From 1200 miles away, we were still connected.
I’ve been thinking about Connor a lot this week. Today is the second time I haven’t been able to call and tell him happy birthday. I know that he would hate me being sad. In fact, I have no doubt. Last year I told this story to my family. Early in the week, I was dreaming and in the dream I was laying in bed having a sad about Connor being gone. (Connor would have hated that btw). The wind blew the curtains in and I thought that it was Connor – you know that feeling that someone is there with you – then the wind whipped the curtain back and it snapped like a towel in the showers. It scared the hell out of me. Yep, that’s definitely Connor!
The day before his birthday I was at work. The ladies across the hall were listening to a classic rock station for some reason that day. They usually listen to the pop station. Her radio randomly turned up really loud just in time for the first line of “Joy To the World” by Three Dog Night. It scared her so bad that she turned it off. I remember dad used to sing that song to Connor all the time when he was little – of course changing the first line to “Connor Michael was a bullfrog!” He loved that.
Grieving is a weird thing and everyone handles these situations differently. True to my personality I think I shut down emotionally. It seems easier that way. I skipped straight over Anger, Denial, and Bargaining & went directly to Depression. I’m working on that Acceptance step. I think we all are.
My brother had a mantra. “It is what it is” he would say. Deal with it and move on. He was always making everyone around him better whether he knew it or not.
Anyway – this is my long way of saying happy birthday and enjoy it up there. I miss you every day.
I love you brother. Breathe easy.
* If you haven’t already, please consider being an organ donor. I thank the family that donated the lungs to Connor every day. That gesture gave us a few extra years with my brother. *