Essay by Stephanie Rooker - submitted as part of application to Oberlin College

Thursday, June 13, 1996: The day dawned without significance or distinction from any other day. That afternoon, as the summer sun rose higher in the sky and moved westward toward the rolling hills that line the lake behind my house, an event took place that changed my life forever. My 10-year-old brother, Jason, had an accident while playing and hanged himself from a locust tree in our front yard. My father discovered him; both my parents performed CPR and breathed life back into his motionless body. Even now it seems strange to tell of such a dire occurrence so matter-of-factly. I know of no other way to go about it, I suppose.

My brother emerged from a coma after three days, and even after that, he spent another week in the hospital. Finally, he was transferred to the University of Virginia Hospital's Kluge Children's Rehabilitation Center in Charlottesville, where he remained for about ten months. Jason was suffering from severe anoxic brain injury. He was unable to speak, control his limbs or bodily functions.

Upon his homecoming in April of 1997, our family, friends, and volunteers from our community began a rigorous physical therapy program with Jason to attempt to "re-pattern" his brain. Despite my brother's slow, sustained progress and our unceasing efforts, this trying time did not last. It was another seemingly inconsequential day when Jason passed away on Thursday, September 4, 1997, only five months after he had come home to us.

I cannot look upon this misfortune with resentment. I lost the normal life that I had been anticipating. I lost my little brother, there will always be an empty spot in my life where he once was. Nothing will ever be worthy of filling that place.

Yet, I shall never forget the memories that Jason left with me and I will always remember the lessons that he taught me. We must not take people for granted. Death is something all humans face; it is simply a matter of when and that "when" could come at any time. I will never forget the desperation and helplessness I felt when I realized how close death was to my brother after he was cut down from the tree. Nor will I forget the ridiculous antics my family and I performed, just to see his eyes light up and to hear his extraordinary laugh. I learned how much self-fulfillment one can derive from making someone else happy. I will always remember when I first recognized how it feels to love someone unconditionally. I will not forget how I sometimes watched Jason as he slept, he was so peaceful and beautiful. The morning he died, in the midst of all the chaos, I was suddenly overcome by a wave of relief and reassurance. I will not forget that either, because at that moment I began to realize that there was something larger than the world we know and I felt very connected to it.

Jason gave me things that I am thankful that I know how to accept. There is a reason for everything that happens. We must be patient and make the most of what we have in order to discover these reasons. Difficult as it was and still is, my life is ever enhanced by this experience.


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