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Susan lived what she considered to be a very normal life. She had a wonderful childhood growing up with 6 siblings and two loving parents. She counted herself fortunate when she met and married a very good man named Bob, who had 2 sons from a previous marriage. Having 2 children herself, they became one big happy family. Everything was going well up until she lost both parents to cancer. She felt the contentment from a full and satisfying life give way to a void that clouded her heart. Through it all she was forever thankful that her sisters and brothers were there for her. Sharing and relying on the love they had for one another helped ease the pain of their loss. As time went by they made adjustments and things began to take on a new kind of normalcy.

It didn’t surprise Susan that her older brother, Jim, became more and more of a father figure in the absence of their own. He had always been her hero and she looked up to him as much now as she did as a child. The pride she felt for him was deeply rooted. She fondly recalled a visit she had from him during the second grade. All the kids attended a Catholic school and Jim being the second oldest had already graduated and joined the Army. After completing basic training he came home and surprised her at school. She was so happy and proud he was there that at first she couldn’t say a word. Beaming with excitement she finally declared to everyone around, “That’s my big brother!” He immediately scooped her up and perched her atop his shoulders, carrying her all the way home.

As Susan grew up Jim was always there for her. He was there for the birth of her children and every other important event in her life, but she could count on him for the little things too. When Jim became a motorcycle police officer Susan knew he would be very good at his job. He was already a hero in her eyes and such a giving and compassionate man. He was well respected by his colleagues which spoke volumes of his character. Jim loved being a police officer and took great pride in his profession. Susan knew what he did was dangerous but she also knew how much it meant to him so she faithfully prayed for his safety daily.

On Sept 10, 2002, Susan was sitting at her desk at work. It was a beautiful day and her smile reflected her mood. The phone rang and she immediately recognized her aunt’s voice on the other end. As her aunt quickly relayed what happened Susan felt her good mood evaporate. One of her biggest fears had come to fruition. While on the job, Jim was involved in a serious accident. After teaching a class for the police department, he lost control of his motorcycle on the interstate and went into the grassy median. He hit a metal culvert and was thrown 50 feet. Her aunt told her he was alive but had been air lifted to the hospital in critical condition.

Susan left work frantically, worried about her brother. As tears threatened to spill forward she finally made it to the hospital. She parked and hurriedly rushed towards the entrance. Outside, police officers milled about, each one’s face drawn pensively in concern. Brushing past the ocean of uniforms she ran in. After quickly learning where to find her brother she stopped to take a deep breath. The doctor had also informed her that Jim was in a coma and it was a very touchy situation. The outlook was grim but Susan refused to give up hope. Along with her sisters and brothers they held diligent vigil over the brother they loved so much.

After several months they felt as if a miracle had occurred. Jim came out of his coma conquering the first hurdle. Now he faced the daunting task of learning how to live all over again. Susan, who would have willingly given her own life for her brother, was fully prepared to help him with his rehabilitation. She was not alone though, her other siblings did what they could as well. In fact they called themselves the A-team, stemming from their given last name of Ashe and the fact they were prepared to give it their all. It was challenging at times and it was incredibly hard to see Jim, who had always been such a strong and capable man, struggling with even the small tasks. At times he seemed as innocent and helpless as a child and other times he was almost normal. Being a devout Catholic, Jim did not let his disabilities hinder his faith. He prayed the Rosary every day.

The traumatic brain injury he had sustained proved to be too much an obstacle for Jim to overcome. It was a heartbreaking day for Susan when he was moved from an assisted living facility to a nursing home. In some small way she felt as if they were admitting defeat and she still was not ready to call it quits. Yet Susan, after going through the dying process with her parents, sensed that her brother was giving up. Every time she looked into his eyes she saw the familiar look of discouragement and frustration she had seen not so long ago. She shared her observations with her siblings and they too had noticed how Jim was beginning to pull away from everyone. He had repeatedly told Susan that he didn’t know what he would do without her. The truth is she didn’t know what she was going to do without him.

Susan was hesitant to leave her brother’s side but her only daughter had given birth to her first baby girl. Even though she had five other grandchildren Susan was quite anxious to be there for her daughter. Of course her sisters and brothers were close at hand to reassure her Jim would be well-cared for while she was gone. Still battling with mixed emotions she decided to leave for Florida. Only one day after her arrival, she got the disturbing news that Jim had taken a turn for the worse. Susan was devastated and felt completely helpless being 8 hours away. She begged her siblings to tell Jim she was on her way back and to please hold on.

The entire trip back Susan faced the difficult task of preparing herself for the worst. Still clinging to her faith she prayed all the way back. Thankfully Jim was still holding on when she made it back. She rushed to her brother’s side and took his hand into hers. His eyes were closed but she knew in her heart he could hear every word as she whispered lovingly into his ear. She told him that everything was okay and he should get on his Harley and ride up into the clouds. She smiled and told him that mama & daddy would be right there waiting for him. She also reassured him that she would be okay. And with those words a single tear rolled gently down Jim’s face as he took his last breath. A mere 30 minutes had gone by from the time Susan arrived and she was incredibly grateful that he had stayed with them long enough for her to relay her final words to him. It was September 11, 2009, seven years since his tragic accident and they all felt blessed to have had the additional time they were given.

Jim’s funeral was wrought with emotion. The overwhelming number of people that came to pay their respects was testament to how much he was loved and respected. Susan along with her siblings found out so much about their older brother. They always knew that without fail they could count on Jim for anything at anytime but it was a little emotional to find out just how many people he had touched over his lifetime. One such individual had come forward while Jim had been in intensive care in a coma. She shared with them that she was a neighbor of his and that her house had burned down. Jim was so compassionate and caring that he had brought her and her family dinner almost every day until they could get things back in order. He was a sincere and genuine friend to everyone he knew.

Weeks later as Susan made her way home from work her thoughts were on Jim. She still struggled with her loss and the tears flowed regularly. She fervently wished he was still right there with her. This was too much like losing her father all over again. Arriving at her house she instinctively punched the garage door opener. Her eyes stared blankly as the door began to rise in front of her. All of a sudden she spotted someone in the garage. The door reached its highest point and revealed her brother Jim, standing right in front of her, dressed in his police uniform, with his foot propped on her husband’s 4-wheeler. Susan felt her breath stop. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Her eyes blinked and he was gone. It was a brief moment but she knew her brother was there letting her know that he was okay and that he would always be with her. Jim lifted her heart in one amazing moment. Not a day goes by that she doesn’t think of him and all that he went through. However, from that point on she was able to let go of the pain, reassured that he was never far away.

Submitted by Susan James
August 2012