Monday June 4, 1984
Ronald (Ron) Sdraulig - born January 9, 1963
Christmas 1972, Ron was 8 years old and Mom noticed a large goose egg sized lump on the right side of his neck. A frantic trip to the hospital emergency room and referral to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota lead to the diagnosis of Hodgkins Disease - cancer of the lymph nodes.
What followed were many periods of my Mom and brother not being home - they were in Rochester for treatments or check-ups. I was only 10 years old myself, so my sisters and I were not really aware of what Ron was going through. Or my Mom for that matter - as she suffered a nervous breakdown the following year and was hospitalized herself. There was a succession of care givers coming into the house. My grandparents, Aunt Lillian and Uncle Camillo, Anita Terlicher (family friend), and there were paid home-makers as well (Mrs. Hienz was one I recall) - there was, it seemed a revolving door or people who would come in and care for the three of us kids left at home. But we always knew that Mom was only a phone call away and would be coming home to us as soon as she could.
And I was none too happy about it! I remember running away from home for the first time when my Uncle Camillo tried to discipline me - I sat on a snowbank a block from home for a while before being convinced to return home. I guess I was feisty and angry...
But poor Ron, what he must have been going through! He and Mom got very close; having long talks sitting by his bedside and waiting in doctors' offices. I suppose this in part is why her death affected him so deeply. Besides, what sick child doesn't want his mothers' support and comfort?
And Ron continued to battle his disease after Mom died. Only then it was interminably long bus rides with our grandmother. And still, I didn't know what he was going through. Was he going to the Mayo Clinic for check-ups or because of recurrences of the cancer? I really don't know. He and I never talked about it and I was a self-absorbed teenager completely unaware. Today, I wish we had talked more and that I understood his pain. But I was an angry person and didn't really see what was going on beyond the framework of my personal world.
Thankfully, when I moved out of the house when I was 18, Ron and I had the opportunity to become closer. I didn't stay in Thunder Bay, so our visits were not very frequent. I loved when he came to stay with me. He often came to Toronto for treatments and check-ups at Princess Margaret Hospital, he asked me not to visit him and we didn't talk about his cancer.
1983, just after our cousin Lina got married - Ron and I had a huge fight. And with Lina mediating I learned why my brother was so angry with me. He knew he was going to die and was scared for me. I don't think I was exactly stable mentally and still very angry at the world and the cards I had been dealt. Ron was afraid of what would happen to my mental and emotional state because I would truly be alone! He wanted to know that I would be okay and not living as a hermit with a house full of dogs. My past relationships had not been very good choices on my part.
In May of 1984, I was between jobs and Ron called to say that he was in the hospital. Uncharacteristically he was anxious for me to visit, so I made arrangements for my Aunt Maria to care for my dog while I went to Thunder Bay to see him. I stayed for a month. Visiting him, searching for anything Root Beer flavoured that he was craving. I bought him popsicles by the dozen and pop. I found root beer Life Savers and he loved those. I went on hunts for music that he wanted and I sat by his bed and we listened. I entertained visitors while he just enjoyed having people around. He didn't talk too much and sometimes he even slept while friends and family where there. My grandmother spent most nights in the "family room", but Ron didn't like that and asked me not to stay. We already broke all the visiting hours' rules with the nurses and doctors approval.
Ron had become very spiritual and spent a considerable amount of time speaking with a priest that our "surrogate parents" Bobbi and Gord Law put him in touch with. Ron held onto a prayer card of "Footprints," it became very special to him and it never left his hand.
I never believed that Ron would not come out of the hospital. Then one day, while the nurse was adjusting the sheets on his bed, I saw that his once muscular leg looked barely strong enough to hold him up! He covered his leg quickly and we pretended it never happened and I continued to delude myself into believing that he would pull through this medical set back as well.
On Friday June 1st, I got word from home that my house had sold. It was the final chapter of a relationship that I finally got wise enough to end. I flew back to Toronto to sign the deal and get some paperwork together that would finalize the deal. On Saturday the second I got a call from the hospital that Ron had spent a bad night and had taken a turn for the worse - I flew back to Thunder Bay immediately with our cousin Lina. When we got to the hospital, Ron seemed in pretty good spirits, enjoying the fact that the nurses didn't believe him when he told them I had gone to Toronto for one night. Sunday evening, Lina's dad (Uncle Armando) flew in from Toronto to join us at the hospital.
That night, one of the nurses asked if I wanted to spend the night (as they had done many times before). This time, Ron agreed with the suggestion. So Lina and I went into a vacant room across the hall. In the wee hours of the morning, a nurse awakened us by saying that "Ron was going". I rushed across the hall, and strained to hear what he was saying. It was difficult because he was mumbling (almost incoherently). But I heard him say my name, "Gigi". I heard him say "broken leg". I thought he was having flashbacks of his life. Through tears, I told him repeatedly that I loved him and then he was gone. I had watched him take his last breath.
I wasn't aware of anyone else in the room, but when I looked up the room was filled with anguished cries from aunts and uncles, my grandparents and other family and friends - I don't know who called them or when they arrived. We were moved from his room. I was numb. I remember nothing until I was standing in a room at the funeral home picking out the casket for my brother.
The doctor said that officially Ron died of heart failure but he believed that Ron had given up and refused to fight the disease anymore. He said that Ron could have lived for another 10 years and by then the advances in medicine would have given him another 10 years. It's hard to fight for that long though, now I understand that.
I learned a lot about my brother after he passed away. People came up to me and shared stories and insights. They were ready to talk and I was ready to listen. Ron missed our Mom terribly and didn't see much hope for his future. He lost several part-time jobs because he had to take so much time off for treatments and check-ups. Even McDonald's fired him for that reason. His grades suffered in high school and he didn't get a lot of compassion from his teachers for his truancy. He went to Lakehead University and lived in residence, not for the education but for the experience with his peers and it was probably one of the happiest times in his life.
I don't think that Ron's death in 1984 was a coincidence - I think it was my final test. Dad died in 1964, Mom (with our 2 sisters) in 1974. I wasn't the only one who had feelings of impending doom as 1984 came along, since everyone knows bad things happen in three's. I also believe that his dying after I sold my house was no coincidence either. The sale meant that I would be moving on with my life. And I did just that. I moved from Milton to Oakville, got another job and carried on with life. Not that it wasn't hard - I was hurt and I was bitter but I had to go on...that was what he wanted for me!
Today, it still hurts.
I like to think that I have a part of Ron here with me - my son is very much like Ron. Funny and sarcastic - a beautiful person. And my daughter has many of the qualities of my sisters, especially the youngest Linda.
Ron left behind:
- Elizabeth Gigi Sdraulig, sister age 22