A Quota of Miracles

How many is one family allowed to have?


I’ve been thinking a lot about miracles lately.

With everything that has been going on in the world — politically, environmentally, tragically — I’ve been wistfully ruminating on the “what if’s”. What if there would be some miracle to wipe all the hate from the world, prevent the natural disasters from destroying so much and taking so many lives? And with the grief that has very recently and overwhelmingly hit my family, I’ve also been thinking, What if my brother had just followed another course of treatment? Would that have saved his life, or at the least, extended it? Would he still be here with us?

And then I get angry that my family never got the miracle that we so fervently prayed for. For 19 months we all prayed: our churches, our families, our friends, and even strangers who only knew that my brother had a terrible rare cancer. We all prayed that he would not succumb to his illness, that the cancer would just leave him alone once and for all, that he would be happy and strong and healthy again.

But my brother passed away this past July, and I stopped believing that my family would see any more miracles. Maybe we’d already had too many, and it’s not fair to other families. Maybe we’re only allowed a certain number in our lifetime.

We’ve had some miracles. I don’t mean the big “risen-from-the-dead” or “win-the-lottery” miracles, but other, smaller and not-so-dramatic, miracles.

When I was in high school, my kidneys failed and I was diagnosed with a weird-sounding autoimmune disease called Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. My parents were devastated. I was too young and immature to understand why. But I was sick for many years. I got better, and then I got worse, and then I got better again — but I was never in remission or free from flare-ups. I graduated from high school, and then college — all while fighting this disease that seemed hell-bent on destroying my kidneys and keeping me fatigued and in pain. I never considered that graduating was something so special — after all, it was what my family always expected of me. But many years later, my good friend pointed out how remarkable it seemed to her that I was able to keep up with school while being so sick. So, I guess that was the first miracle.

Seven years after I was diagnosed, suddenly and inexplicably, the lupus started backing off. I started feeling better more often. I needed less and less medicine to help my kidneys and to control the lupus. My doctor seemed surprised, but very, very, pleased. That was the second miracle.

The third happened after my brother and sister-in-law had struggled with multiple miscarriages for years. One day, they announced that they were expecting a healthy baby girl. When my niece was born, my family was blessed with another miracle.

The fourth miracle was when we found our first dog, Gypsy. Yes, adopting Gypsy was another miracle, because she came to us at a time when I was utterly depressed and discouraged about not yet having a child. She was my very first baby, and I coddled and spoiled her as I would any human child. There is more I’d want to write about her, perhaps for another time. But the point is that when I needed to be a mother, there she was, waiting for us.

The fifth miracle was when we adopted our baby girl, Ember. Nearly 20 months after Hubby and I started the adoption process with an agency, Ember’s birthparents contacted us to let us know that they chose us to parent her. Ember was born less than a week later. Now, after more than 10 years, I am amazed to see the big girl, soon-to-be-young woman that she is growing into. And I think, I helped raise her. Me, someone who feels like she doesn’t have her act together most of the time…I helped raise this healthy and happy 10-year-old. I suppose that’s a miracle, too!

We never got what I hoped would be our sixth miracle. This was supposed to be the big one: the miracle that we could profess at church in front of the pastor and entire congregation, the miracle that — if it happened — I would be perfectly willing to have no more miracles.

When my brother was first diagnosed with that one lump near his knee (and had otherwise clear scans), I felt relieved. I thought to myself, Don’t worry, he’s going to beat this. There was always hope for that one big miracle — a cure. But each subsequent scan whittled away at that hope. Each new tumor that appeared, each time he had to endure another surgery, and each time he suffered more painful side effects — that hope withered and deteriorated, until one day it was simply extinguished when his doctor told him that his cancer did not seem to have a cure.

I still remember that horrible day. This was when I begged God to let me help shelter my brother, and take away some of his pain. I was the one used to being sick. I was the one that was already stricken with a terrible illness. My brother was supposed to be the healthy one. My parents were supposed to always have him.

My dad and my mom also tried bargaining with God to take them instead — to take their lives so that my brother could live the long, happy and healthy, life that he deserved. They would have done anything to save their son. They, in fact, did everything they could.

And through it all, we all asked, “Why?” Why would this happen to someone so loving, and generous, and good? How could someone who so loved life, have his own life ripped away from him with such force and cruelty? Why him?

We still needed him. I still need my big brother.

I’ve been thinking a lot about miracles lately. But, maybe throughout my brother’s illness, I’ve been thinking about miracles all wrong.

Maybe the miracle is that he wasn’t taken away from us in a tragic cycling accident (he had so, so, many close calls) — and that he had time to get his affairs in order, so that he could take care of his family even after he was gone. Maybe the miracle was that we all had time to visit with him and say our proper goodbyes. Or, maybe the miracle was that he lived as long as he did. (I have come to learn that my brother’s cancer was incredibly resilient and unforgiving, and that 19 months was actually a long time.) Or, maybe the miracle was that my brother was still himself, up until his last few moments: still snarky, still teasing us, still aware of us, still communicating. We never lost him completely, not until the end.

Or, maybe the miracle is that what my brother went through enabled him to find a deeper meaning for his life. He admitted once that being sick made him realize that materialistic things didn’t really make him happy. He was able to make the most of his time left, and rethink his priorities.

And another miracle is that I have time to rethink mine.

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