December 6, 2023
My little brother died December 6, 1977. That was 46 years ago today. He was nine, I was twelve, my sister was days from turning seven. I thought I had heard all the stories about Vince since then. Yet yesterday my father surprised me with one I had never heard of before.
In his final days at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, my brother was moved to a floor separate from where the regular treatment took place. In today’s terminology, I expect this would be referred to as a Hospice floor or Palliative Care. He was in a great deal of pain, “bone pain” I have heard it called. His entire body hurt, and no one could get an IV started for pain medication. Taking any orally was not an option at this point either. Numerous nurses and technicians could not find a viable vein and my brother continued to suffer.
Finally, my father asked them to go get Nurse Betty who had been the one who administered his chemotherapy over the last year. The people in the room exchanged looks and told my dad that Betty did not ever come up to that floor. He replied, “Tell her it’s Vince.” Within minutes Nurse Betty was at Vince’s side and was able to start an IV and get him some relief as hoped.
Nurse Betty and my father stepped out into the hallway, and she said to him, “You know… I have been at St. Just since they opened the doors in 1962 and I have never been up here before… but there’s never been a kid like Vince before either.”
We all tend to canonize loved ones when we lose them. We bring the best memories to the forefront of our minds and push the bad ones back. But in the case of my brother Vince, anyone who ever actually knew him would agree he was an exceptional boy. He had such a generous and loving spirit about him. He was courageous and kind. Just a few years ago, on this same anniversary I wrote about how his death has shaped my life in ways I cannot fully grasp. Now I prefer to frame it differently. His life is what has truly helped shape me into the person I am today. His death hurt us deeply because he had such a beautiful soul, but I choose to not focus on just that loss anymore. I was so blessed to have Thomas Vincent Doyal as my brother even for a mere nine years. The words of the Don McLean song echo in my mind, "Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you."