| This is the 217th story of Our Life Logs |
Some memories stay with you your entire life and can be recalled with uncanny clarity as if you picked up an old photo album and flipped to the exact picture that is painted on your heart. The day Emmanuel was born was very much that moment for me.
It appeared my life would be ordinary when I was born in Venezuela in 1988. I was brought into a big, loving family with three older siblings, but when I was four years old, we became five after my mom gave birth to the youngest of our family, a little boy whom we named Emmanuel. Our lives changed forever. Emmanuel turned our ordinary family into something extraordinary as he was born with Down Syndrome.
I learned early that I had a creative spirit and that spirit allowed me to write with a vivid imagination, act on stage without hesitation, and write stories and poems that used words resonating in my heart. But with my creativity came a sense of loneliness. I felt I walked on a different road than my friends and family. I could see them, share joy and sadness with them, but I felt I was walking down the road that ran parallel to their path.
However, when I got home, I had Emmanuel, and I didn’t feel so alone. Every day, I counted down the minutes until the school day ended so I could go home to play with him. There was never a sweeter, kinder child than Emmanuel. He loved unconditionally and whatever was given to him, he returned to you tenfold. We had a special bond that I deeply cherished.
The world started to change around us in 1999 when a socialist power took control of Venezuela after the election of President Hugo Chavez. Economically, things slowly and steadily got worse. Most of the changes were manageable—no matter how we might not like or understand them—but they became less reasonable over time. Every day was such a struggle to survive and there was no one to go to and complain. We would pay our bills on time, yet have no power for hours—sometimes, days. We had money for groceries, but there was nothing to be found due to the food shortages.
It never made sense to me, but I was young and listened to my parents. My family always reassured me that things would get better. They believed in the promise that if we sacrificed now, we would make things better in Venezuela so prosperity would permeate our country. I know they did it out of love, but I never truly believed that. Every once in a while, I would notice a look pass between my mom and dad when I voiced my growing concerns about the country we all loved and called home. It was as if they were uneasy with my questions. Still, I kept asking them because I needed to know how my beautiful and unique country was turning into a shamble of unemployment, depression, poverty, and crime.
These concerns got bigger and more urgent as I started college, but I didn’t know how to solve the country’s issues. As I tried to brainstorm how I could help, my life changed again when I was 20. Just like when I was four years old, there was no warning or planning I could do to prepare myself for what was about to happen. A tragedy occurred that I still cannot bear to think about for long because it hurts too much.
Growing up, Emmanuel weathered many childhood illnesses and always came out the other side, but on that day in 2008, my brother unexpectedly got sick and collapsed, and the outcome did not look as promising. No one in my family thought anything about the collapse at first because he initially responded after falling. That was better than other times in his early life. But this time, Emmanuel didn’t get better. Instead, he grew more ill with each passing day. By the end of the week, we decided he needed hospital care to find out what was wrong.
I had another one of those memory pictures taken that day, but this one stays hidden in my heart because it is too painful to pull out and look at. This one is of me putting Emmanuel gently in the back seat of the car, giving him a hug and telling him that I would visit him at the hospital that evening or the next day. My other siblings told him the same thing as my mom and dad drove off to the hospital. None of us had any idea what was about to happen.
That same day, we got a devastating call from the hospital. Emmanuel just died.
To lose a family member you love is hard. To unexpectedly lose a family member you love is heartbreaking. But to unexpectedly lose a family member you love, who was unable even to ask for help, or even know if the treatment being given was helpful, crushed our souls.
Immense guilt flooded into me. I was his brother, protector, and friend, but I did nothing to help him survive and failed him when he needed me most. The grief was constant and unrelenting. There were days I couldn’t breathe right. The waves of guilt and grief came upon me in my quiet moments when I was studying, or in crowded places when I was surrounded by people, so as to pull me away from what I was doing. I sobbed knowing that the world would never know his wonderful smile, his beautiful inner light or giving spirit, and that I, too, would never see these things again.
In my grieving, I reflected on my relationship with my brother. Though he had been labeled as disabled, Emmanuel was very wise and taught me something I never learned from a teacher or parent. He taught me that life is much bigger than the self. Even if I could have, I would not have changed who he was for the whole world.
The most important thing Emmanuel taught me was that if I was ever going to find where I fit in so I could grow, feel freedom in my veins and achieve the goals I dreamt of, I was going to have to leave behind the comfort of my home and my love for my country to get there. And so, I started making some long-term plans to explore beyond Venezuela someday.
After Emmanuel’s death I finished college, got a job in marketing and wrote a few books. I had written some when I was a child and published my first book, When Dying Is Not a Problem, when I was 17, but now my books were inspired in an important way by my times with Emmanuel, the changing of my beloved country, and the lessons I’d learned after his death. I never wanted to forget the detail of my brother’s too short but beautiful life. I called my stories “Kelly Dallton Series,” a collection of books that I was preparing since I was 15. The first volume of these books were published after the editors saw the originality and beauty behind the stories. I was so proud to hold a published book of my own (my second published book), and as I held it, I knew Emmanuel would have loved every word.
By the time Nicolas Maduro was elected president in 2013, I found there was nothing of Venezuela I loved left. My day-to-day life became even more of a nightmare and when the inflation rate reached 83,000%, I knew it was time to start making plans to leave.
For a couple of years, I saved, putting any money I could aside to create a different future for myself. I knew that when I left, I’d be going alone because none of my family believed things were as bad as they were, still insisting that the days would brighten up.
In September of 2018, I had saved enough and prepared to leave my country. Only my oldest sister and her husband came to say goodbye to me, and I went to the airport alone. My heart broke, but my spirit was strong and I knew I was taking the only road I wanted to be on. Many other Venezuelans were like me, leaving their homes to settle in safer countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile. But I chose to come to Montevideo, Uruguay for my new beginning because I had heard good things about the country and I had some friends there that could help me.
I am now thirty years old and living alone, but I am comforted by new friends I have made here. Uruguay is peaceful, organized, and so very different from what Venezuela is right now. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. I still may not fit on the road everyone seems to be on, but I do have faith that death is not the opposite of life. I believe it’s part of life itself, so the spiritual world and Emmanuel are still but a thought and memory away.
I am dedicated to continuing my professional writing and I make sure every word I write has a color behind it to make it count for Emmanuel. I am thankful every day for having him for the short time I did. Without Emmanuel, I never would have found the courage to use my voice for change, leave my country, or continue to use my creative thoughts to write.
These days, I am happy in Uruguay, living my life in the moment for none of us know how many tomorrows we have. Most of all, I am certain that because I have love in my heart for my family, there was no need for goodbyes when I left—because for those who love, there is no such thing as separation. Where I am walking, I carry my family and Emmanuel with me, and I will continue to walk the extraordinary path I’ve chosen to reach my dreams with them by my side.
This is the story of Eloy Lopez
Eloy is happily living in Uruguay, although he does miss his family. When Eloy was 11, his home country, Venezuela, began to fall economically and only got worse as he grew up, which eventually led him to leaving the country this past year. Although, he doesn’t think he would have gotten the courage to do so if he hadn’t learned so much from having a brother with Down Syndrome who sadly passed away in 2008. Without his brother’s positive influence in his life before—and after—his passing, Eloy never would have had the confidence to leave his country behind for the sake of happiness. Eloy loves literature, music, and film. Some of his favorite films include Titanic, The Lion King, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Eloy hopes to become prosperous in Uruguay and will not feel at peace until he achieves it. He also hopes to visit more countries and see the world. Eloy still writes, and if you are interested in reading some of Eloy’s books, please visit:
Cuando morir no es un problema (Spanish edition)
Kelly Dallton y la sustancia del sol (Spanish edition)
Kelly Dallton Operación: Andrómeda (Spanish edition)
This story first touched our hearts on November 27, 2018.