BRO submission by Janna Willoughby:
When someone dies young, there is the common misconception that their life has ended, that they can no longer impact the world, they can’t change things. I think differently. If you embody their ideals, their love and their character, you can use their life to change the world, indefinitely. Everyone you meet will feel it. They will know.
My brother, Chris Sachs, died from Acute Myeloid Leukemia, three years after returning from the war in Iraq, six weeks after being diagnosed, five weeks after marrying his wife. He was 36 years old. The army has denied any link between his cancer and his years in the service. Our family has no doubts that his exposure to benzene, and other known carcinogens while in Iraq, caused his illness. He’s not the only one.
“How do you go on after something like that?” is a phrase I hear a lot. It is a phrase that everyone who has ever lost someone has heard from a whole bunch of people who haven’t lost someone. It is not a question that has one distinct answer or even many answers. It’s a mostly rhetorical question as the asker can’t fathom the answers anyway. But for me, the “how” is the richest part of the equation. How can a soldier lie in bed at night in the desert and still find time for dreams? How can a man look his wife in the eyes at their wedding and know that it could be the last time to stand and hold her hands? How can a family wipe up slivers of their hearts from the walls at Roswell Park and still find a way to reconstruct it into something that could sustain life? They just do. It is part of being human, adapting to the changes around us.
On November 2, 2008, this amazing man, my brother, took his last breaths and changed the world forever. And I had to adapt. I had to learn to think differently. I had to find ways to see his grin when he no longer had a body, hear his laughter without his voice. It’s the biggest lesson in creativity to conjure up a person after they have died. But I have learned to hold his heart in my hands when I leap, to draw power from it and to use that strength to laugh when I find myself down on the ground. I know he’d be laughing at me, because that’s what big brothers do.
Chris had a way of chuckling away most of life’s hardships. He would rib on his siblings so hard that we ended up laughing at our own faults, finding humor in our other weaknesses, learning to make ourselves strong. I have grown strong. But this is now my dilemma. What happened to Chris is not funny, there is no way to make it funny and he wouldn’t want us to. What happened to him was very real and has happened to many other soldiers after fighting in Iraq and will happen to so many more in the years to come. He could want me to spread awareness about soldiers who return with silent wounds, far deeper than PTSD, lurking in their blood, waiting to take over their bodies. The more people who know, the more impact it will have. I can only hope that the army and our government will finally recognize the impact that chemical warfare has on soldiers and their lives. This article, and others like it, will help him to keep changing the world, opening our eyes, making us see through the sandstorm.
For more information please read this following article published in the Huffington Post.