‘It was 6 a.m. I froze. ‘That’s weird. She never calls this early.’ When I arrived, he kept holding his stomach. Mom’s ALWAYS know what’s wrong, but she couldn’t figure this one out.’

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“I still remember when my mom sat me down and told me I was having another brother. I had already had two and I remember feeling so angry. ‘I want a sister,’ I whined. Little did I know how much Noah would change my life.

On February 27, 1998, my brother was born.

Growing up, Noah was always a lot of fun. Our family was from New Hampshire, but we spent every summer in Maine, where Noah loved to watch my brother and I play video games. He’d just sit for hours, watching us explore the colorful digital lands of Crash Bandicoot, never getting bored. He watched Veggie Tales religiously. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that theme song!

Courtesy of Justina Gannon

Early on, we knew there was something special about him. Looking at baby pictures, you could see the lack of expressions on his face. Yet, no one thought too much of it for a while. We were too caught up in his amazing personality.

Courtesy of Justina Gannon

Everyone he met fell in love with him. He would always run up to you and give you the most amazing, loving hugs. If there was ever a competition for best hugs, he’d take home the gold trophy, hands down. Other times, he’d sneak up on you and give you a light little poke before running away, giggling. When he was excited, he’d flap his arms up and down in pure bliss.

Courtesy of Justina Gannon

During the summer of 2002, my brother was diagnosed with autism. He was four years old. My mother and step father felt heart broken and worried for his future. To me, he was still the same happy brother I knew and loved. I never saw him any different.

When I was 12 years old, I moved in with my dad in Massachusetts. My parents were separated and it was my own decision to make. Leaving behind my brothers was tremendously difficult, but I didn’t want my dad living alone. I missed them every single day.

When I returned to my mom’s house on the weekends, Noah would instantly run up to the door and give me one of his infamous hugs. It was the warmest feeling. As I got older, the visits got shorter and less frequent. At times, I would go months and eventually even years without visiting. This is something I regret to this day.

When I turned 18, I started spending more time at my mom’s house. I realized how badly I needed them in my life. When I wasn’t visiting, I would be on the phone with my mom. ‘Put Noah on, too,’ I’d say. He didn’t say much, just my name. But he didn’t have to. Just hearing his voice was enough for me.

One day, my brother lost his appetite and kept holding his stomach. He was non-verbal so he couldn’t tell us what bothered him like others could. When days passed and he kept holding his stomach, not wanting to eat, my mother brought him to the doctor. Mom’s always know what’s wrong with their babies, but she couldn’t figure this one out.

It was December 3, 2012 when I got the news that changed my life forever. ‘Noah has been diagnosed with Leukemia,’ my mother said on the other end of the phone. I froze. I couldn’t get any words out. All I could think was, ‘Why would god do this to him? He’s only 14.’ I was devastated.

Over the next eleven months, my brother fought. He fought and he fought, and he fought again. After some time, he lost complete mobility of his legs. I was still living in Massachusetts and he was in New Hampshire. Then came the loss of his hair, and boy was he hairy. Even his long, beautiful eyelashes fell out.

Courtesy of Justina Gannon
Courtesy of Justina Gannon

On one particular night, I drove up to see him. ‘He’s so excited to see you,’ my mom said when I walked through the door. ‘He’s stayed awake for you.’ The second I walked into his room, we made eye contact and his face lit up. I sat on the chair next to him and watched Toy Story 2, one of his all-time favorite movies. It was just my brother and I and nothing else in the world seemed to matter except this very moment. I will cherish it forever.

While my brother was sick, we never talked about the ‘what ifs’. We were all in denial; our minds couldn’t fathom the thought of losing him. For years, I went through phases of severe depression. I had a hard time even getting out of bed. My room was always a reflection of my head, an absolute mess. I got used to waking up and seeing my eyes puffed from late night tears.

I never told my parents how I was feeling. I didn’t want to upset them. We had enough to worry about. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was trying to figure out a way to cope with my brother passing, in case it ever happened. I would later come to realize that there is no way to lessen the pain. It never goes away. You just learn to live through it.

November 20, 2013 was the day my world came crumbling down around me. I remember looking down at my phone at 6 a.m. and seeing a missed call from my mom. I thought to myself, ‘That’s weird. She never calls me this early.’ After that, I didn’t think too much of it and went back to sleep. Around 10 a.m. I finally called her back.

My Aunt Joanna answered the phone and, in that moment, I knew something was off. ‘Noah passed away last night,’ she said with a cracked voice. I forgot how to breathe. I was numb and confused. He was just 15 years old.

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From that moment on, I’ve made it my mission to keep his memory alive. This is my third year raising money for Autism Speaks, an organization dedicated to sponsoring autism research and raising awareness. I couldn’t be more grateful for everyone that has helped me along the way.

Courtesy of Justina Gannon
Courtesy of Justina Gannon

After his passing, Noah came to me in a dream. There were no words, just a glow and beautiful smiles. I knew he was okay. I knew he was where he was supposed to be. He was healthy and not in pain anymore. No more needles. No more feeding tubes. No more two-hour car rides to get treatment. He was… free.

I miss my brother terribly every day, but knowing he is guiding me from above gives me the strength to continue moving forward.”

Courtesy of Justina Gannon

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Justina Gannon of Pembroke, Massachussets. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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