Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's Been a Year...But I Know He's Watching

I have incredibly mixed emotions about today, November 15.  I’m greatly saddened that my only brother passed away from melanoma one year ago today.  And yet, in carrying on his campaign to raise melanoma and skin cancer awareness, I have “met” so many wonderful people and felt that I’ve contributed to the cause and grown as a person.  Don’t get me wrong…I would trade this great experience with BITNP in a heartbeat to have Jeff back.  But alas, that’s not to be.  So today, I choose not to commemorate his death, but honor the life he’s continued to instill in me.  I miss him…and think of him every day.  But I also know that he’s with me.  In fact, he told me so.
I used to keep another blog...one that shared random thoughts.  Some were funny…some were touching…many sucked.  But I enjoyed writing.  I never really knew what to write about...only that I enjoyed sharing my thoughts.  I had no real focus to my work, and I really only had one full time reader.  That was Jeff.  His passing is one reason I haven’t written in that blog for about a year.  My last posting was about…well, I’ll let you read it.  I’ll edit it a little, but the following is basically what I shared about a year ago:
If you’ve read some of my Facebook postings, you know that I engage in a hobby known as geocaching. Basically, geocaching is a global scavenger hunt. The location of hidden objects can be found on the website, Geocaching.com. If you type in an address and find the link to a map, you’ll see that there’s most likely a hidden object nearby. There are about 5,000 “treasures” hidden within a 10-mile radius of my house. In fact, there are well over a million such treasures, or caches, hidden world-wide from county parks or city blocks and even the International Space Station. I bet there’s one near you!

Caches are rated 1 to 5 for both difficulty and terrain with 1 being the easiest. Seeing as I’m not a rock climber or scuba diver, I tend to look for ones rated 1.5 or easier. Whenever I travel out of town, I can load the latest cache locations into my GPS along with previous logs from other geocachers and a description of what I’m looking for. Caches can range in size from smaller than a thimble to a rather large water-proof box. I’ve found all sorts, although there are some types that are more common than others.

A 35mm film canister makes a perfect geocache container. Other geocachers hide the caches for others to find. One simply places a log inside for geocachers to record their find and perhaps adds a coin or little trinket as a reward. All caches contain a log on which the finder will sign his or her geocaching name (mine is MountieAl). Most small caches contain only a log. The “treasure” is in the hunt itself, not the end prize. Anyhow, one takes this small container and hides it in a tree stump or other such place. One very common hiding location is within a light pole in a parking lot. Most poles have a metal or plastic skirt at the base of the pole which can easily slide up, thus making a perfect hiding place for smaller caches underneath. And yes, most cachers will giggle when announcing they’ve found a cache “under a skirt.”

Jeff read a few Facebook postings of my initial geocaching finds and asked me about the hobby. After I described it, he started looking for some in Ohio, especially while walking his dog. I remember the first day he found one…he called me on his cell phone asking questions and giving me updates. He was so thrilled at the first find, and I could tell he was hooked. “Jadestep” was introduced to the geocaching world. As he always did with things that interested him, he quickly became very involved in the hobby and even helped organize a few Geocaching gatherings. He started to become one of the more involved geocachers in the Akron area.

When Jeff and I attended my step-mother’s family reunion in June, we made sure to go on a Hurricane, WV area “cache run” together. We found about eight caches that day…a record for me at the time. When we finished, my dad commented that geocaching was the first thing Jeff and I had done “together” in a long, long time. And it was true…somehow this silly little hobby bonded us closer than we’d been in years.

During that trip, Jeff commented that he had wanted to hide his own on a guardrail near the Walgreen’s in Hurricane. He always liked puns and many geocaches were given such titles which would also offer up a clue to the hide. His idea for this cache was “Guarding the Wal.” Jeff was always quite clever. Sadly, he never got to hide that cache.

Before I traveled to WV for Jeff’s funeral, I loaded the caches along my travel route into my GPS as I usually do. Granted, I had no intention of making this a caching trip, but seeing as how he loved to geocache, I thought it appropriate to be able to find one or two during the trip...perhaps at a rest area along the highway or near a restaurant during a lunch or dinner break. But honestly, my mind was far from caches as I drove up the day before his funeral.

On the morning of the funeral, I decided to take the car out to fill up with gas while the rest of my family prepared for the somber day. As I drove past that Walgreen’s in Hurricane, I noticed an icon on my GPS indicating a newer cache had been hidden near the drug store only a couple weeks prior. Again, I hadn’t planned on seeking any caches, particularly on the day of Jeff’s funeral, but curiosity got the better of me. I drove past the guardrails and into the parking lot. The GPS directed me to a light post on the parking lot edge, with a sign attached stating “Area Under Video Surveillance.”

I pushed a few buttons on my GPS to read about the cache and look for any clues. What I read gave me chills. I jumped out of the car, lifted the skirt (giggle) and grabbed the 35 mm film canister. There was only a log inside, as suspected, and I signed it “MountieAl for Jadestep.” I returned the cache to its hiding place for others to find and then sat back in the car with my heart racing. Tears started to well up as I drove off.

It wasn’t the content of the cache, nor even the coincidental location of this geocaches that had me rattled.  It was the title of this geocaches that had me shaken…and yet smiling.  The name?

 “Big Brother Is Watching.”

(true story…100%)

So you see, my brother DID tell me that he’d be with me.  He’s watching my life’s path and guiding me.  And that’s why on this day…a day that marks a year since feeling great sadness, I feel great joy and confidence.

I miss you big brother…now let’s go find another cache.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your post! I lost my only sister 6 months ago to Melanoma and waited a long time for a sign. I finally did get one and it was heartwarming. Its awesome that you decided to geocache on that special day! Hugs to you!

  2. Oh that made me cry. I'm hoping my big brother is watching me, while I spread awareness in his name.

  3. Touching story. Wish I had a brother watching me. Thanks for the post.

  4. What an amazing post, Al. Sending you a big hug today.

  5. As I read your post, my heart is breaking for you. Just this week we found out my sister in law has cancer in both lungs...So much heart break and pain for our love ones to go through. Your brother would be very proud of the tribute you are setting for him.
    Thank you for sharing your blog with others who are fighting Skin cancer. I myself am a skin cancer survivor ,all thou I will fight this the rest of my life. Please come visit all my blogs and join by following me. Its important that we share our story's so we can help others.

  6. Touching but enjoyable story....So sorry for your loss....I lost my son last October of Melanoma he was 24 yrs old. I believe that they do watch over us and give us signs. On rough days that I have and I'm he's on my mind I always seem to find pennies. Theres a story behind those for me. Yes I've been trying to spread the word of this terrible disease. People just aren't aware that Melanoma is such a aggressive type of cancer. Liked the geocaching I've been wanting to do something different for my son in trying to raise money for his funeral expenses and this may be something that I can use. Thank you and may God Bless and comfort you.