Tim passed quietly, surrounded by friends and family. In April of 2004, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor – a glioblastoma multiforme, which is the most invasive type of primary brain tumor. He went in for emergency surgery to have it removed and lived. My small, close family felt so thankful.
Tim always had an amazing spirit. He was one of the most positive and committed people I’ve ever met. He gave so much more than he took – from people, from the environment, from everything. It did not surprise me to see that he attacked this disease the same way. He rode his bike the many miles to the hospital for chemo and radiation. He told me that it was his goal to keep his body as fit as possible so that it would be up to the task of fighting. My mom spent a month with him in September of 2004. He lived in a commune devoted to self-sustaining, environmentally friendly, living. Every single second of his life was devoted to his convictions. What an inspiration. Mom said they gardened, rode bikes, talked, cooked, walked and just had a wonderful time together, laughing all the time. She said he was in great spirits.
In November, the tumors came back. There were more of them and they were growing out of control. Tim knew he was going to die. He did treatment for a time, but finally decided that he didn’t want to extend his life in pain. He asked that the family come, in December, to Bellingham. He did all the work and found a cabin where we could all be together and spend Christmas.
For a number of reasons, I couldn’t – didn’t – go. I am going to say here, because I really, really need to, that part of it was plain cowardice. We’d lost both of our grandparents, but the rest of us had been mostly untouched all these years. And he was the youngest. I was so angry and scared, I chickened out. On Christmas Day, the family called. I stood in our beautiful loft, smelling our own 2 man Christmas dinner cooking and looking out the gorgeous windows at the big puffy snowflakes and talked to every single person. I could hear the usual cacophany that signals a Scotchler family gathering in the background – hysterical laughter. I talked to Tim and I felt like I had lead in my belly. He sounded wonderful, but told me that he wished I was there, it wasn’t the same without me.
I talked to him a few days later and made the decision to go to Bellingham in January. I dragged my feet, hoping that he’d get better, but he kept getting worse. Finally, I talked to him mid-January and he could barely focus. All he said was: “You are coming, right? Come now. Don’t wait.”
Since 1995, when I moved to Chicago to be with Sean, I’d never gone away without him. He wanted to go with me, but for some unknown reason, I felt I had to do this on my own. I got up early in the morning on January 28th to catch my plane. Sean got up and shuffled around after me in his bathrobe. He kept saying how much he didn’t want me to go and why were we being so weird when it was only going to be until Monday!
I’ve never been long on good-byes. I tend to hug quickly, say something mumbled and then run. A bandage pulled off quickly hurts less. Sean is from the midwestern school of the interminably long goodbye. I kissed him and said goodbye and then wheeled my suitcase out the door. I turned around and he was shuffling after me. “I’ll just see you to the elevator,” he said.
The elevator came and he got in without a word. We hugged and kissed in the lobby. I remember turning around as I walked down the street and seeing him standing there, waving, in his bathrobe with his hair sticking up on end. He called me on my cell phone as I was on the way to the airport. I fell in love with him some more.
I got to Bellingham at 10am. It was cold and rainy and I caught a cab. The cab driver was really nice and we chatted the whole way – big Bellingham supporter, him. We finally got the the little house where Tim was staying with his mom and step-dad. He dropped me off and I stood outside for a bit, then went in. It was cold and dark and very, very quiet. My Aunt Marty had left me a note on the counter saying they’d be home at 8pm that night, to make myself at home and then instructions for caring for Tim.
Finally, I went in to Tim’s room. He was sleeping, but really looked just like Tim. Not sure what I was expecting. He woke up when I sat down on the edge of his bed and looked up at me with those beautiful blue eyes: “Stephie! Oh my gosh. How long have you been here! Hi!”
We talked for a few minutes and then he just sort of zoned out, rolled over and went to sleep. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about the rest of the stay. Suffice it to say, my cousin was mostly gone. He was lucid for short periods of time, but mostly slept. At times, he would become very angry for no reason. At times he would hallucinate, forget where he was, who people were. I guess in some ways, it prepared me for what I’d face later with Sean.
Saturday, I spent the whole day caring for Tim on my own, giving Aunt Marty and Alfonso a break. As Tim was napping in the afternoon, I called Sean, who was over at our friend’s Mick and Sarah’s house. He was such a comfort. I spent an hour on the phone with him and then an hour on the phone with my mom. I felt re-energized, but missed Sean horribly and, quite honestly, was wishing I was home with him. I actually told my mother that as guilty as I felt for saying it, “I would give anything to go home right now.” That turned out not to be true.
As I said above, on Saturday evening, the 29th of January, I got the most horrible call of my life. I guess I always believed that I’d have some sort of precognition if anything had gone that wrong – stupid for a scientist, but we all, I think, have an odd belief or two. I didn’t. Caught completely out of the blue is an understatment. Aunt Marty and I were trying to get Tim up for dinner and his nightly medications. Tim was very angry and I was quite stressed. Aunt Marty was busily cooking away and laughing and saying: “Oh, go back in. He’ll yell at you and say things, but at some point, he’ll get angry enough that he gets up.”
My phone rang. The instant I heard my panicked mother-in-law’s voice, I knew. Sean had been on his way home from Mick and Sarah’s house and been hit by a bicyclist. He’d gone over backwards and hit his head very hard on the sidewalk. A large number of people saw the accident and the reaction was swift, which saved Sean’s life. He was taken, within 20 minutes, to one of the best trauma units in the state. He had surgery to install a drain into his brain within an hour done by the best neurosurgeon in the state. My friends Mick and Sarah were with him the whole time and I was on a panicked journey back home. The hospital told me simply this: “Get here as soon as you can. The sooner the better. Tell the airlines it is an emergency of the highest order.” The airlines were amazing.
I got in at 5am the next morning and was at Sean’s side at 6am. He was in a coma, one in which he stayed for 9 days.
I’m not going to go into Sean’s struggle right now. That’s the point of another essay when I am up to writing that. When I was hyperventilating, sobbing, throwing up, throwing things into my suitcase in Bellingham, my Aunt was on the phone with the airlines. So was my cousin Chris, who was in Seattle at the time. The last thing I saw of Tim. He was laying in his bed in the glow of the living room light. His face held incredible concern. Crying, I went in to sit with him. I held his hand and told him the bare bones of what had happened. He squeezed my hand and said that everything was going to be ok, he knew it would, and that he loved me. I told him goodbye and that I loved him and that he would always be in my heart – with me. And that I was so proud of him, proud to be related to him. As I left, he called Alfonzo in and said: “Take some of my medications to Stephie. Tell her to give them to Sean. They might help him.”
My mom came to stay with me two days after Sean’s accident. Sean’s mother, father and sister also came. Our loft turned into a dorm and we all helped each other through our terror and grief. Sean came home on the 12th of February. The first night was really hard. My mom had to leave the next morning and it was very hard for both of us, we almost couldn’t part. That night, she called me to tell me that Tim had died. To be honest, I hardly even reacted.
Over these months, all of my attention has been focused on getting Sean back to health. I’ve had almost no time to mourn Tim’s passing. I was not able to go to his funeral or to his brother Chris’ wedding, for good reason this time, not cowardice, but I still wish I could have been there for both. I’m planning on going to Bellingham, probably with my mother, next year or the following, to finally put something on Tim’s grave from me. I don’t know what it will be yet, but it will be something personal and special.
The world lost something when Tim died, really that’s just the truth. People like him, selfless people, people who are willing to suffer hardship for their convictions, to put their money where their mouths are, I guess they are about the rarest of the rare. I will always feel lucky to have known him and I feel tremendously happy that his blood is, in some measure, in my veins.