Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Unfinished Stories

I still wake up some mornings and wonder how all of this could be happening.  It still doesn't seem real.

Billy has been gone for just over 24 hours, and I still can't believe it.  I miss him like crazy, and I can't imagine life without him!  The whole journey seems too short...

Just after Billy was diagnosed on September 23, they told us that he probably had a year to live.  A year!  It seemed so short.  None of us imagined we'd have even less time with him.

The past week or so was incredibly difficult for Billy.  His pain level rose; breathing got more difficult; and Billy started to sleep a lot more as the doctors increased his pain medication.  It was difficult to watch him struggle.

It feels premature to have to tell you all that Billy passed away the night after Christmas.  I'd rather tell you other stories--like the story of Buddy's reunion with Billy, or Christmas Eve night as some of the family hung around Billy beside his bed.  Those stories are rich and full.  But Billy is gone now, and life feels a lot more empty.  I miss my brother more than words could ever say.

On the day after Christmas, I woke up late.  We had been up late the night before, and I hadn't slept through the night since Buddy had arrived on Christmas Eve.  (He's my new room mate, and he likes to take charge of the bed real estate sometimes.)  Also, I was just plain tired.

Around mid-day, I called my mom to check in on how Billy was doing.  "Things seemed to change this morning," she said.  "Billy started having trouble breathing, and he seems different now."  I wasn't sure what different meant, but there was an urgency in her voice.  "If I were you, I'd get over here as soon as possible."  So I got off the phone and contacted my siblings.  One by one, as soon as we were ready, we headed over to the hospital.

As we passed by the nurses' station on the way to Billy's room, the nurses were quieter than usual.  It seemed like something was wrong.

When I got to Billy's room, I knew that something was different.  His blood pressure was slowly dropping; he had a fever; and his breathing was strained.  Instead of the oxygen tube, he had an oxygen mask.  His eyes were open, but I don't know how alert he was.  He wasn't really able to say anything.

As a family, we stayed by Billy's side all day.  Our nurse--Ellie--was amazing.  She watched Billy closely and attended to everything we needed.  Billy's doctor--Dr. Klotz--was full of empathy.  He did everything in his power to make Billy feel the best he possibly could.  But Dr. Klotz and Ellie both knew that sometimes their all is not enough.  Ellie frequently asked how I was doing; she knew it was tearing me apart inside.  Dr. Klotz knew it was hard, and he was somehow both honest and compassionate as he shared his thoughts.  The morning after Christmas, Dr. Klotz told Billy that God might be taking him home a bit sooner than he had expected, and he told us as a family that it would probably happen in the next 12-24 hours.  For the rest of the day, family stayed by Billy's side.

As evening came, we called Sam--one of the army nurses who had become a family friend.  Sam wasn't working that day, but he had asked that we call him if anything changed.  Soon after we called him, he joined us around Billy's bed.  Just after 7pm, the nurses changed shifts, and Roxanne--another amazing nurse--joined us.  It wasn't until after 8pm, well after the shift change, that Ellie (the daytime nurse) left.  It was an emotional goodbye.  I think it's hard for nurses to care for patients well without their hearts becoming attached.

We took turns around Billy's bed.  Occasionally, he'd make a sound, as if he wanted to say something, but he couldn't seem to form the words.  We took turns holding his hand; once in a while, he'd give us a squeeze, and we'd squeeze back.  It was the only way we knew to love him--to be there and to tell him how much we loved him.  Knowing the time was short, we told him the remaining things we wanted to say.

Just after 9pm, his pulse started to drop.  It had been just over 100bpm for much of the afternoon and evening.  It quickly dropped to 90bpm, and then dropped even lower.  Roxanne couldn't get the blood pressure machine to register, so she took his blood pressure manually.  That, too, was falling.

His breathing became slower--more labored, less frequent.  I knew it was coming.  Time to let go.  There was not a dry eye in the room.  I'm not sure any of us could really believe it was happening.  We had been told this day would come--and it seemed like it was coming much too soon.

Around 9:30, the doctors came in.  As they turned to my mom, my heart broke.  "I'm sorry for you loss," the doctor said.  We had known it was coming, but her statement felt so final.  They checked Billy's eyes and closed them.  "Time of death," she said, "was 9:35pm."  She turned again to us.  "I'm so sorry.  You may stay as long as you need."  And she left the room.

It came so soon.  So suddenly.  Too fast.

For now, I'll just say that Buddy did arrive in time, and the reunion between Buddy and Billy was one of the best Christmas gifts Billy could have received.  I'll share the story of that reunion soon.

Billy and Buddy

We also shared one more Christmas together as a family.  It was a tough day for Billy--but we spent it with him.  I have no doubt that he knew he was dearly and deeply loved.

Thank you to all of you for your gifts, cards, support, hugs, phone calls, text messages, prayers, jokes, wisdom, encouragement, and friendship.  You mean a lot to us, and our lives are richer for having known you.  We are honored that so many would join us on this difficult journey.


Note:  We are working through the details regarding funeral, memorial, and burial arrangements.  Once we know more, I will post an update here.


  1. Awwww RIP Billy and (((Billy's family))) So sorry you lost him, but he is in no more pain. I think in lieu of flowers, people should give to the American Cancer Society, or perhaps a group that sponsers research on his type of cancer-that would be very appropriate. Mindy

  2. As you've said a few times on this blog, tears are streaming down my face while I'm typing this. I've tried to find the silver lining in this cloud of hurt. What comes to mind is this... so many people leave for work and never return home. So many times we take for granted that our family and friends will return home, just like they always do and then one day -- poof -- they're gone. I'm thankful for the time that you had to spend with Will. I'm thankful for the time, even three short months, that you had to tell him goodbye and to show your love by being there with him through his journey home. I'm thankful for your Christmas together and Buddy's arrival, just as we all prayed for. I know I can't say anything that will take away the pain, but I know GOD can replace that hurt with joyous memories. I pray those memories flood your heart and mind. I'll continue to pray for your family. I only passed through Mr. McCotter's life for six weeks in November and December 2009. Thank you, Michelle, for letting me join you and your family through this all. It's been an honor to pray for him. And I know HE still answers prayers!! With love, Gayle Greenwell, Ft Rucker, AL, LSI Academics Instructor

  3. (((hugs))) praying for you and your family....Not a dry eye here either as I post this comment....

  4. Though the voice is silent, the spirit echos still...

    Rest in Peace, Billy

  5. It has been a privilege serving God by interceding for for all of you during this journey and I will continue to pray. My heart is grieving as if I knew you more personally because He who lives in me does. I am thankful that God gave you one more Thanksgiving as you had requested, one more Christmas, Jason's surprise visit and Buddy's reunion. Hold on to those graces and the endless treasures you hold of many more memories throughout Billy's life on earth. As I was going to bed last night, I heard someone say on TV that life in heaven is more real than life on earth. I thought of your precious Billy living the life and looking forward to one day enjoying the reunion of reunions. Maybe we could all meet that day. Blessings to all of you.

  6. “Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again...I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die...'"--John 11:23-26

  7. Michelle, I have followed your blog from the beginning..I'm not even sure how I linked to it. I where my "Ask Me About Billy" t-shirt often and always tell about a young Soldier, living and dying, and tell others to pray for Billy, you and your family.

    I am so saddend to hear that Billy has died..I've prayed continually that you would have one last Christmas with him and, although my heart is broken for you, I am so happy that you got to share a family Christmas with him.

  8. hi michelle, it's erin stine. I am so sorry Michelle. There are no words to ease the pain, nothing I can say, as I have been there myself losing those close to me. All I can ask if for God's comfort for you and your family. You have been a wonderful sister to Billy and shown him God's love on this earth. Now he can experience it first hand. love you.

  9. {{{{{{{{{{Billy and family}}}}}}}

    My heart is with you...

  10. Some of my favorite quotes that remind me (in sometimes emotional and sometimes not ways) of my mom and other friends who have passed and just wanted to share them with you.

    Wish Heaven had a phone, so I could hear your voice again. I thought of you today, but that is nothing new. I thought about you yesterday & days before that too. I think of you in silence, I often speak your name. All I have are memories & pictures left in a frame.

    "God saw you getting tired and a cure was not to be. So he put his arms around you and He whispered come to me. With tearful eyes i watched you and saw you pass away. Although I love you dearly I couldn't make you stay. A golden Heart Stopped beating, hard working hands at rest. God Broke my heart to prove to me, He only takes the best."

  11. Michelle,I'll be praying for you and your family. I can't imagine your pain right now. I know God is watching over you and now Billy is right by HIS side watching over you all. I'm glad you all were able to have the holidays together, to share your family's love. God bless you all.

  12. I'm praying for God's mercy, grace and comfort to you and family. God bless. Lloyd

  13. I am so sorry friend. Like many, I was praying for a miraculous healing for Billy. Well, God healed him, but not in the way we expected. I am praying for supernatural comfort and peace for all of you.

    I wish I could be there in person to hug you and your brothers. Share a hug with them for me - our hearts ache for you all.

    The photo of Billy and Buddy is so precious. Those memories will give you strength until you see each other again.

    If there is ANYTHING that can be or needs to be done in Dgo, please contact us. Love you all.

  14. Thank you for sharing Billy and his fight with us. I am so sorry for your loss. I wish for you and your family to find comfort in knowing that Billy is no longer in pain.

  15. Michelle & family,

    We are so sorry to hear of Billy's passing. We will continue to pray for yall.

    Bouldin family

    Heavenly Father,
    Please wrap the McCotter family in your arms and comfort them during this time. Help them find peace and comfort in each other.

  16. Michelle (and family), while I knew Billy a little bit while he was in Durango (and thought he was just about one of the sweetest people ever), I feel like through your writing I've gotten to know him even more. Thank you for your very real stories. Thank you for informing us and at the same time bringing hope. Thank you for sharing Billy with all of us.

    I am so very sorry for your loss. I will continue to pray for peace and comfort during this difficult time. Blessings and love to you all.

  17. Michelle, Our hearts and prayers go out to all of your family at this time. What a gift that you had these days with him. May the love all of you have shared will sustain you through these first difficult days. I am so grateful that Buddy got there- what a special memory. I am grateful for the witness of your blog and the incredible example of faith and courage that Billy has given to all of us. Faithfully, Janey+

  18. He fought a good fight. And is leaving myself and I'm sure many others he has came across in his life inspired, uplifted and blessed. I'm proud to call him a friend. My heart goes out to you and your family. Rest well my friend and Peace be with you.

  19. Hi Michelle and Fam,
    Thank you for sharing this journey with us!!! I pray for God's love, peace, and strength to be with you as you make the arrangements that you need to be made!! Tears stream down my face as I read your post and all the comments written. Knowing from experience the pain that comes from losing a someone I pray that you will fill God's arms around you!! Please give Bobby, Blair, and Danny a hug for me!! Praying for you and the fam!!
    Much Love!!

    For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
    2 Timothy 4:6-8

  20. I am so sorry to hear of Billy's passing...and my prayers are with you and your whole family at this time...I know that he is with the Lord and was such an amazing young man that I guess God just saw fit to call him home early...I didn't know him, but have been so moved by his story of courage and the love that surrounded him...
    Sending love and prayers your way,

  21. Oh Michelle, I can't believe how brave you've been in sharing every tiny detail of Billy's life and your own painful emotions, and your hopeful prayers. My heart is breaking for you and your family. Jesus has Billy. What could any family want more for their brother or son? Again, I am in Durango until Thursday. If there is anything I can do for you while I am here, please tell me. Jeanette

  22. Feel the arms of God around you.

    I believe in God the Father almighty
    Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth
    And in Jesus Christ
    His only begotten Son, our Lord
    He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
    Born of the virgin Mary
    Suffered under Pontius Pilate
    He was crucified and dead and buried

    And I believe what I believe
    It's what makes me what I am
    I did not make it, no it is making me
    It is the very truth of God and not
    The invention of any man

    I believe that He who suffered
    Was crucified, buried, and dead
    He descended into hell and
    On the third day, rose again
    He ascended into Heaven where
    He sits at God's mighty right hand
    I believe that He's returning to
    Judge the quick and the dead
    Of the sons of men


    I believe it, I believe it
    I believe it
    I believe it, I believe it

    I believe in God the Father almighty
    Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth
    And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son,
    Our Lord
    I believe in the Holy Spirit
    One Holy Church, the communion of Saints
    The forgiveness of sin
    I believe in the resurrection
    I believe in a life that never ends


    I believe it, I believe
    I believe it, I believe
    I believe it, I believe it
    (Rich Mullins, Creed)

    Life that never ends. I believe it. I believe it. May angels carry you. All my love, Deborah

  23. Tears are just pouring down my face. I have just been one of those people praying who didn't even know Billy or any of you. Yet, I feel it personally!!! You all are family to me. First of all, my very deepest condolences to all the family. Second, you all have changed peoples hearts and their lives for the better in ways that are hard to describe, except you have shown as how to love our family and friends in a way that is more Godly and Lovingly. My prayers will be with you all continually. I am a Army Mom who lost her son 4 and 1/2 years ago in a combat zone. My son was a deeply committed Christian as my husband my daughter and I are. It is our faith that has seen us through. But as a good friend told me, after the passing of my son,"You don't have to be strong ALL THE TIME." Those words have stuck with me during the times of many tears. I know when "I can't do it", the Lord Jesus will help me, as He will help you. I Love you all.

  24. Oh, Michelle. I am so, so, very sorry. I will be praying that in the coming days your family would be able to grieve well and remember together, and in that space would find freedom to feel what you feel and grace and comfort from God and his people. I wish I could hug you right now.
    Love and sorrow and prayers,
    Casey Taylor

  25. Thank you so much for writing throughout. I hope it has helped you. I know it has touched me, and I'm sure hundreds of others. I wish you and your family all the best. You were, are, and will be in our prayers. I'm so sorry. Take care and God bless. --John Paul

  26. @Mae 7:05 I am so sorry for you-thanks for your sacrifice :(

  27. Oh, I am so sorry to hear of Billy's passing, and your loss. I haven't been online since Christmas morning as I was down with the flu, and just now found out. I feel so sad over the loss of a brave young man who became a friend... but yet happy as I know Billy is with Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Just over these past few month's I have felt a tight bond as great friends to Billy and you, Michelle. I am so grateful to be a part of your lives, and ask that you keep in touch. We will cherish Billy's memory and keep you in our hearts.
    R.I.P. Billy, we will all see you again
    Love and Prayers

  28. I have followed Billy's story through your words and have said many prayers for each of you...and for Billy. My heart is breaking for you and though I didn't know Billy personally, through this blog, I "feel" that I did know him. What a blessing he has been to you and how blessed you are for having experienced a brother like that, a love like that..

    Please know I will be thinking of you in these next days,weeks and months...and I will say prayers for your family...

    God Bless...

    Lou Cinda

  29. Michelle,
    My heart goes out to you and your family. As you grieve there are so many others grieving with you. You will never know all the lives that were touched by Billy and this journey you all were on. Many people were crying with you, people who never met Billy or your family. I am sure God has saved many lives through Billy. We will never know all the ways God has worked. My prayers are with you. In Christ,

  30. Michelle, please know that, like you, my heart is broken over the loss our your beloved brother. We all had prayed so hard that he could have defeated this terrible enemy, knowing all the while that the chances were not that good. He was a brave young man, one who served his country well and who was an inspiration to everyone who got to know his story.

    We are also so very proud of you for all that you did for Will. God Bless you. Please know that you will see your Brother again some day.

    Love and admiration to you and your entire family. Michael Patterson

  31. My Condolences on your loss.I guess God Needed him more. Back in July 2003 my Mom was diagnosed with lung Cancer. we were told she had 6 months. we lost her in Sept. She did get to see you grand child get married first though.


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