It was December 2016 and my brother had been battling Pancreatic Cancer for 10 months.  

For the past 2 months I had asked him if he wanted me to go Christmas shopping for him.  Christmas was his favorite holiday because he loved when family was all together and he loved to spoil his niece and nephews.  No matter how sick he was, I knew he wanted to make sure he had gifts for them.  

I had asked numerous times if I could do his shopping for him and each time he would tell me that he was going to do it himself.  He was holding out hope that he would feel well enough to go shopping for them. 

He then got the news that they were stopping his trial treatment that he had been doing and there was nothing more they could do.  We all knew that this was probably our last Christmas with him, but no one wanted to think about that.  

Less than 36 hours before I was supposed to head to Arkansas to have Christmas with my family, I was laying in bed with a virus.  Dizzy and stomach issues. My brother called and asked what I was doing. In no way was I about to complain to him about how I was feeling.  

He asked if I could go do his Christmas shopping for him.  It was cold, rainy, and I was sick, but of course I told him I would.  I was a little frustrated that he didn’t let me do it earlier when I asked, but I know he was hoping that he would be able to do it himself.  

I skipped a shower, put on sweats, and put a ballcap on to cover my hair that looked like a rats nest, and I headed to the mall.  

I prayed that I didn’t see anyone that I knew.  Those that did see me I am sure they just saw the outward mess that I was.  

The lines were long and I was irritated.  I was not my happy self. I complained and was impatient.  The best way to describe the person that the public was seeing that day starts with a big B.  

I was an outward mess, but my inside was much messier.  My brother was dying. This was most likely the last Christmas I would get to spend with him.  No one at the mall knew this. They only saw an unkind, impatient, and unkempt person.  

Since that moment I have wondered if I would have been wearing a label that said “my brother is dying”, would people have been kinder or less judgmental?  Would the cashier had a little more patience with me when I was not moving forward to check out because I was off in my thoughts? Would the sales clerk helped just a little more when I was almost in tears because I could not find the size of jacket I needed to get for my niece that my brother requested? 

I did finally find the exact jacket he wanted.

That moment has helped me with patience, which has never been one of my best qualities.  When someone cuts me off in traffic I now stop my frustration and wonder if that person’s label could possibly say “just left the doctor with a bad diagnosis”.   What if the person who cut in front of me at the store had a label that said “ My baby’s daycare called and my baby is sick and I needed to get her some medicine before I go pick her up”?  The person holding up the line at the grocery store could have a label that reads “I lost my job and this is all of the money I have to feed my family this week and I need to see what I can afford”?  

I know for me if I knew what the labels said I would be more patient and kind.  I also believe that most people would not only be more patient and kind, they would go above and beyond to help that person.  So, why do we need a label at all? It is not our job to judge, but I also know we are human and it happens. For me, I don’t even think it is something I would intentionally do and did not say it outloud.  But, just because I kept it to myself, did not make it right.  

The truth is we don’t always know what another person is going through and we don’t wear labels.   When we encounter situations that start to make our blood boil and our patience fly out the window, we can ask ourselves what their label might say.  Even if that person does not have a stressful label, but we are patient and kind, it causes us less stress, and that kindness we show may rub off on that person or the people watching us.  Remember, we are all contagious and have to ability to spread kindness and patience.

This did end up being my brother’s last Christmas. He passed away 6 weeks later.
(l-r: Me, Jayce (son), Danny (brother), Bryce (son))