Learning to Fall is a coming of age documentary exploring loss, vulnerability, & growth during young adulthood produced by Niccole Osborn. This is her story. You can contribute to the Learning to Fall project to help make this movie a reality, and share the story of love, loss & posttraumatic growth with others who will benefit from her journey. Donations starting at just $5 are welcome. Please donate before 11:59PM PST on April 1st 2016, and spread the word!
The summer after I finished my first year away from home at college, I received a call. As my Dad told me my brother was getting blood tests done, I was transported back to my physiology class in high school, to the dingy book with pictures showing different blood cells at a microscopic scale. Immediately, I thought of Leukemia. Soon after, we found out my intuition was correct. There was no question for me, I was going to move back home, even if it was just before the start of the school year.
I watched my brother, AJ, take care of his catheter for his outpatient chemotherapy, and sometimes went with him to the hospital for his chemo injections or spinal taps to check his counts. At one point, I had to test my blood to see if I was a match to his, and I was scared because in my recollection I hadn’t ever had my blood drawn. I got so upset at myself and cried because my brother, who was a child, had to face so much more, and my fear was so trivial in comparison. I had no excuse to be upset and fearful. This thought would follow me throughout my life.
My brother was thrilled I moved home after being gone so long. Most mornings he would try to wake me up to play video games with him, but I just couldn’t wake up, I couldn’t get out of bed. I had no idea why. He tried so hard to get my attention when I was finally home and so many times, I couldn’t get the will. My brother went into a brief remission, but it didn’t last long. After experimental treatments and spending the holidays in the hospital, we were suddenly being told he had two weeks to live. It ended up being two days. He was gone.
My Grief In Young Adulthood
A hurricane of guilt overcame me once my brother passed. I couldn’t recall any memories! Why hadn’t I spent more time with him? Eventually, I went to a therapist who diagnosed me with bereavement and confirmed that my inability to get out of bed was due to depression. After some time, he helped me recognize my brother and I were at two different points in our lives, and I was doing just what any typical teenager should be - figuring out who I was.
It still hurts and makes my stomach drop. While I’m mostly at peace with the guilt, I’ve realized that the loss of my brother inadvertently lead me to becoming a work-a-holic. AJ’s passing ultimately made me question which passions I’d want to pursue on my career path, but eventually I found myself using work as a distraction from the pain instilled in me. As a child, I lost my grandmother to a brain tumor from Lymphoma. As a pre-teen, I said goodbye to my uncle because of pancreas cancer. As a nineteen-year old young adult, I lost my seven-year-old brother to Leukemia. Eight years after AJ was gone, I realized I have a fear of death, but more terrifying, a fear of cancer. I couldn’t live this way anymore. Something needed to be done; I had to face my fears.
Facing My Fears Through Meditation
I asked a friend experienced with meditation to come with me to a mediation facility. There I took my first guided meditation class, and felt some type of relief. Continuing the practice, meditations would vary from focusing on my breath to being aware of my surroundings. In another meditation, the instructor guided the class to avoid judgment on thoughts, to let them pass, and think of thoughts as if they were a child, and let them be. This was something insightful to help with fear.
One day, the instructor said, “imagine yourself, the room, the city, the ocean, and expand your awareness to the world.” After paying attention to my breath and being present in the moment, I was able to realize there are many more people in the world at this very moment as well, all going through a different life experience. With more practice, I am slowly finding this awareness peal down to mindfulness, and ground me in ways I only remember experiencing a handful of times before in my life.