Then he kissed the back of my hand…

My parents always knew that they wanted to have 2 kids and to adopt.  So, after me and my sister, they began looking to adopt.  They wanted to adopt a special needs kid, provide a home to a child that might be overlooked.  They were aware of their own limitations and knew that they wanted a child with a physical handicap.  We took sign language classes together for a while when we thought we were getting a deaf sibling.  That fell through and in the end, we found out about Lee.  Lee had a little red triangle that appeared on his forehead above his nose when he cried and got upset.  The Koreans considered that a handicap.  It was meant to be!

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Lee at Universal Studios, he’s so strong, he is lifting up the A-Team Van with one hand!

His Korean name is Man Ho Ha and we picked him up from Dallas airport when he was 6 months old.  He was ours from the time he was a month old, but we couldn’t get him until he was 6 months old.  It was amazing.  A Korean woman had traveled with him and several other babies and dropped them off at other stops, and Lee and one other child, a little girl, were her last stop.  We passed him around our arms while at the airport and just couldn’t keep our eyes or hands off of him.  It was a memory that will always stay with me.

He was named Jayman Lee.  Jayman is spelled slightly different from normal so that we could incorporate his Korean name in there – and Lee is a family name.  We just called him Lee.

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Through the years, as a good older sister does, I tormented him! I curled his hair and my other sister dressed him up.  Good Times!  Since there is 10 years difference between he and I, we were pretty close.  When he got older, I always took him school supply shopping.  We had season passes to Six Flags for many years.  Apparently, when he and I were younger, I thought I was also his mom.  He would bring home papers from school that were subpar and needed a parents signature, in order to keep him out of trouble I would sign his papers.  Then mom and dad would never know that he didn’t do well.  Yeah, uh, they found out anyway.

It was 10 months ago that he was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy.  You have followed my journey with him here on my blog.  After the initial diagnosis, he did good.  We had a few set backs, but overall, he was doing really well managing the condition.  We did have a few scares along the way, but he always pulled through.  In fact, our aunt commented at a family function “you don’t look sick.”  Yeah, she’s that aunt.

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Lee’s Senior Picture

A little over a month ago he started not feeling very well.  His meds were adjusted, but he knows is body, and he knew when it was time to go to the ER.

He never left the hospital again.

This kid was amazing.  He took everything that was thrown at him.  We didn’t think he would survive the gallbladder surgery, but he did.  Then he was transferred to UT Southwestern, which is one of the best hospitals for cardiovascular issues.  He seemed to be getting better, but then stopped.  I can’t tell you how many times we were told “he may not make it through the night” but he did.  When he went in for his LVAD surgery, again, we knew he might not survive, but against the odds, he did.  I’m so very proud of my brother for all that he went through and how well he handled it.

There was a Tuesday that I went to visit him in Dallas.  He took my hand and held it.  He told me how much he loved me and how glad he was that I was his sister.  He said that he knows how much crap I put up from him over the years and he was so glad that I was always there to support him.  He also mentioned how thankful he was that I could spend so much time with him in the hospital.  He acknowledged that it couldn’t have been easy for me, but that he wanted me to know how much he appreciated it, and me, and how very much he loved me.

Then he kissed the back of my hand and sat there holding my hand.

That’s the last conversation I had with my brother.

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Lee with our nephew

That night he had to be put on the ventilator.  A week later he coded and slipped into a coma.  This Monday, he had a CT scan and we were told that there was swelling in the brain due to damage and that the doctors would not be able to fix that.

It was time.

This Tuesday we gathered by his bedside.  Mom, dad, my sister, my grandmother and I.  We held his hand, kissed his head and said our goodbyes.  When we were ready, we called in the doctors and nurses and they turned off his machines and left us in peace.  We stood by and talked to him, held his hand and we cried as he passed away.

Lee transitioned peacefully to Heaven surrounded by love.  We let him know how much of a blessing he was to us, and that we were letting him go.  He didn’t take long to pass, and we all knew when it happened, you could see the peaceful expression, it was so nice that after such a trying journey, he had found peace.

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Last picture of me and Lee, at the hospital

Today we have been busy making the arrangements.  Lee will be cremated and we will have a memorial service this Saturday morning.  I’ve been in contact with family and friends and have been absolutely amazed at the outpouring of love and support I have received.

Lee was well loved, and for a pain in the butt brother, he was pretty darn awesome.

Thank you all for being part of my journey with Lee.

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85 thoughts on “Then he kissed the back of my hand…

  1. You’ll repost it every year, and I’ll read it every year – and cry, and think about my own tribe of siblings… It’s a beautiful story. I’ll read it as long as you want to put it out here. Thanks, Kate.

  2. Please reblog this every year. It is so sweet and touching. What a wonderful tribute to your brother. ❤

  3. Such a beautiful story. Wow. I have tears rolling down my face here. Your family sound like the most amazing, generous, kind, warm and loving people. The world is a wonderful place with people like you in it.
    I am so sorry for your loss but I’m sure you wouldn’t change a second of your time with Lee. And what lovely memories you have to turn to.

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  6. Kate, I am so sorry for your loss. That last conversation will get you through many hard times coming up in the future as did the last conversation I ever had with my little brother. Hang in there. Hugs coming from across the miles to you right now.

  7. Oh Kate, this is such a beautiful and heart-wrenching tribute to your brother. I’m so sorry for your loss, for your family’s loss. Those who touch our hearts stay in them forever, Lee is in yours. Be gentle with yourself, the sadness is a natural part of this. Thank you for sharing this part of your heart. Big hugs. 🙂

  8. Oh Kate, I did not know. The song made me sad before I read this, not i’ve got tears. It’s still a beautiful song. I’m so sorry you lost this beautiful person from your life, but glad that you had him while you did. xo

  9. This story makes me so very sad. The first post I remember reading of yours was the letter from Lee and his handwriting and the tattoo you got for him. I had not realized at the time it was so fresh and no matter how much time passes, it will always feel fresh. I’m so sorry. I got teary eyed too.

    • This story makes me so very sad, too. But, he was such a blessing, and I am so fortunate to have had a brother like him! Some days it feels like forever, and some days it is weird that we are coming up on the 1 year mark because I swear it was just yesterday!
      I figure it will be like that for a bit longer, yet!
      Thanks Tracie! ❤

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  13. What a beautiful memorial. It brought tears to my eyes…at how wonderful your parents are for looking for a special needs child to adopt, at what a cool guy he was and the loving relationship you had with him. Life is so precious.

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  15. Oh so sad. I’m so sorry for your loss. I couldn’t imagine losing one of my siblings. And how wonderful of your parents all those years ago to look for a special needs kid to adopt. They gave Lee a wonderful life it sounds. Lots of hugs

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  17. Hi Kate, I am so sorry to hear about your brother. I cried reading your post… it was so beautifully written! Thank you for sharing your story and pictures with us. I just lost my aunt recently and in her memory I am going to plant a cherry blossom tree which will bloom every year around the same time she passed. I am hoping the beautiful blossoms will bring a positive reminder of the bright and beautiful soul that she was. I will keep you and your family in my prayers during this sad time.

    • Thank you. I love the idea of planting a tree, I think it is an excellent way to remember your aunt. Several months ago, while we were all still clueless that losing Lee was even something we should consider, most of the family was gathered around the table at Applebee’s, and the subject came up, and I was telling my family that I had found this great urn, that you add the cremated remains to the urn and plant it and it became a tree, and that was what I wanted. I told Lee that we could turn him into a tree (he was against cremation for the longest time) and then I joked that I would go decorate him every Christmas. He goes “You can turn me into a tree, but don’t you dare decorate me!” As morbid as it sounds, it was actually a funny conversation. We had no clue that our time was limited with him. My mom is actually considering turning his ashes into a diamond, I told her about that and she is really interested in that.
      anyway… probably more than you wanted to know! But, thank you very much, I cried when I wrote that post, too; however, it was cleansing so I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  18. I’m so very sorry for your loss.
    “We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even
    more temporary than our own, live within a fragile
    circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept
    its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We
    cherish the memory as the only certain immortality,
    never fully understanding the necessary plan.”
    — Irving Townsend
    Hang in there

  19. I am so sorry Kate. I am just seeing this now after today’s post. As lucky as you were to have him in your life, he was lucky to have you, too. You were an amazing sister to him and your love came out in every post you shared with us.

    Like you posted today, it’s okay to keep going. He will always be with you in your heart.

  20. I’m so glad that I stumbled upon your blog. I have been thinking alot about my best friend who I lost to cancer in 2006. ITs hard to remember. You are very strong and I am sorry for your loss.

  21. I am so sorry. I love that picture of him when he was little with the truck. He actually looks a lot like my brother’s son in that picture. I have 3 brothers and tormented mine as well, but I love them too. It sounds like you both loved each other very much. I hope memories are comforting to you and your family right now.

  22. This is the first time I’ve read your blog and I was certainly not expecting to read this, or to end up in tears. I am very touched by your story, and very sorry for your loss, but mostly happy for the time you got to spend with him. Wishing you all the best.

  23. Oh Kate, I am so sorry for you and your family’s loss. I have only been a part of your journey for a short time but I was drawn to this story and yours as well. I am happy that you have so many happy memories of Lee and that these will forever be with you. Again, my condolences with you and your family.

    • Thank you so very much. It is still very surreal. Today I was arranging the cars – who is riding in what car to the memorial service – and out of habit, I was saving a place for Lee to sit. 🙂 Some habit will take longer to break than others! But, thank you for the kind words, I appreciate them, and you.

  24. Thank you for sharing your brother and his journey with us. While I’m sure it was not easy, you always did it with love and grace. I’m so glad you both were blessed with the chance to say goodbye.

  25. Beautiful memories of Lee! I’m so glad to have met him, he will always be remembered as part of Landon’s story for me. My heart breaks for you and the rest of the family that he was called home so early, but thankful he’s now at peace. Love you!!

  26. You are amazing. To put all that into words….I’m amazed. Sounds like you were all blessed with one another, even if only for a short time. Big hugs.

  27. Your reporting of this has been touching. While it was clear you were sad, you were a the good soldier doing whatever you could do to be there and help.
    I admire the way you have been determined to continue enjoying your life the best you could despite the pain you have been feeling over your brother’s illness.
    I am truly sorry for the loss you and your family are experiencing, and I hope Lee is in a better place.

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