Lessons from God

Lessons from God

From Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul

Lessons from God

One cannot get through life without pain . . . What we can do is choose how to use the pain life presents us.

Bernie S. Siegel, M.D.

There was a time in my childhood when I believed that God was punishing my family by making us watch my only brother die.

My brother Brad was a hemophiliac. If a person has hemophilia, his blood doesn’t clot in a normal way; so, if he gets a cut, it is very difficult to stop the bleeding. When too much blood is lost, he has to have his blood replenished to keep him going.

Even though Brad couldn’t be as active as other kids because of the hemophilia, we had many common interests and spent a lot of time together. Brad and I rode bikes with the neighborhood kids, and we spent most of our summers swimming in our pool. When we played football or baseball, Brad would throw the ball, and the rest of us would do all the rough playing. Brad picked out a puppy for me when I was seven, and I named her PeeWee. My brother, Brad, was my protector and my best friend.

When Brad was ten, he received blood from someone who didn’t realize, or was too selfish to admit, that he or she was carrying the AIDS virus.

I had just entered the sixth grade when my brother began to have serious symptoms, and was diagnosed with AIDS. He was a freshman in high school and had just turned fifteen. At that time, many people were not educated about how you “catch” AIDS and were very afraid of being around people who had it. My family worried about how people would act when they found out.

Our lives changed when Brad’s symptoms became obvious. I couldn’t have friends over to spend the night. Whenever I had a basketball game, only one, never both of my parents, could come to watch because someone had to stay with Brad. Often, my parents would need to be with Brad during the times he was hospitalized. Sometimes they were gone for a week at a time while I stayed at a neighbor’s or an aunt’s house. I never knew where I’d be from one day to the next.

Through all the sadness and confusion, I grew resentful about not being able to lead a normal life. My parents weren’t able to help me with my homework because they had to tend to Brad’s needs. I began having problems in school. The emotional part of slowly losing Brad, my best friend, made things even worse. I became very angry and needed to blame someone, so I turned my blame toward God.

It was a burden to keep his condition a secret, yet I knew how cruel kids could be. I didn’t want anyone to see my brother not looking at all like his former self, and lying in diapers. I wasn’t going to have him be the subject of their jokes at school. It wasn’t my brother’s fault that his twelve-year-old sister had to change his diapers or feed him through a tube.

The AIDS virus caused damage to Brad’s brain and destroyed the person that he had grown to be. Eventually, he became like a very young child again. Instead of listening to current music or talking about things that kids in junior high or high school would be interested in, he wanted us to read childhood books to him. He wanted me to help him color. I felt like I had lost my brother while he was still alive.

I remember the day that Brad died, just like it was yesterday. The old musty room was filled with recognizable faces. There was my brother’s worn-out body in the bed. The body was now empty, and the pain could no longer be felt. That was the end of my only brother’s life—two weeks before his eighteenth birthday.

Between 1980 and 1987, over 10,000 hemophiliacs like Brad received blood that was infected with the AIDS virus. Ninety percent of these severe hemophiliacs who were infected are either living with AIDS or have died from it. If the blood that they received had been tested before they gave it to them, their early deaths could have been avoided. As I see it, my brother was basically murdered.

The experimental drugs used to battle AIDS only made him worse. Even some of the doctors seemed to have a what’s-the-use attitude. Some of these things made losing him even more painful.

Since his passing, I’ve searched for some reason for his life and death. Although there may not be a complete answer to my question, I believe that there was a purpose. Brad taught us many things. He is still teaching people, even now, with the story of his life. I told his story to someone just the other day, and that person learned something.

Brad was a person who always fought for what he believed in. He taught his friends and family members not to give up. He never gave up, and he never gave in to his hemophilia. Although Brad was special because of it, he never wanted to be treated special. He would play basketball with the heart of Larry Bird, but the body of a hemophiliac. Those who watched him play for his elementary school team would see him limping up and down the court, trying his hardest.

Out of respect for his memory, we have not given up. My family and I have taken an active part in helping to make a difference in the way that people with hemophilia and AIDS are treated. We have been interviewed on the television program, 60 Minutes. We have gone to Washington D.C. twice, fighting for the Ricky Ray Bill to be passed by Congress. This bill would help families who have been through similar or worse situations. The bill was named for a boy who was taken out of school because he had AIDS. People who were afraid of AIDS and thought they could get it from him burned down his family’s home. The people didn’t understand that people can get AIDS from tainted blood donations.

My brother gave so much love and happiness to so many people while he was alive, that his death left us feeling empty and sad. Before he was infected with AIDS, my big brother, Brad, was my protector and the person I would tell all my secrets to. Brad can no longer protect me, or even talk to me, and I miss him every day.

Since Brad’s death I’ve come to realize that God was not punishing my family for anything. He simply had given us a gift of love—my brother, Brad—that had to be taken back. With these lessons from God, I can continue with my journey—this journey called life—with the hope that everyone with whom I share Brad’s story will learn exactly how precious life is.

Jennifer Rhea Cross

[EDITORS’ NOTE: If you would like information about hemophilia and/or AIDS, call the COMMITTEE OF TEN THOUSAND hotline at 800-488-2688.]

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