My younger brother, Jeff Guignard, passed away September 29 at about 1:15 a.m., holding hands with a dear family friend.
He was my only sibling and my best friend, and the sense of his loss is so profoundly unrecoverable that I feel half of me died along with him.
Jeff was stricken with a sudden and frighteningly aggressive form of stomach cancer. Three months ago he was a healthy, strong man, living life as normal with no health concerns but for a mild pain forming in his stomach; in the course of only three months he fell deathly ill and withered to a skeleton, so weak as to barely raise his arms. He was fighting it to the end, but last night his heart gave out. He was only 36.
Jeff truly lived life his own way; he never pretended to be someone he was not, but accepted his fallibilities as frankly as he did his strengths. He spoke his mind, did whatever he wanted—to a fault, sometimes—was independent, loyal, and genuinely endearing to every person he met. Funny, brazen, sensitive: my brother brought energy and joy with him wherever he went. He dressed the same as he did in high school; Vans sneakers and baggy shirts, and everyone knew Jeff would always be the first to drop whatever he was doing and rush to the aid of someone he barely knew, whether it was to help them move apartments, lend them money, or sit with them in time of crises. He would open up on the most personal of topics with anyone, and he had a thirst to know and experience everything in the world. Jeff held himself back with mistakes made during his twenties, but as those years faded, he turned everything around and made amends to all including himself. He worked hard, developed a love for skydiving, sharpened his self-confidence, shared new goals and dreams; spent every other weekend at my house, playing with my kids, being the best uncle, and then suddenly this cancer hit him. It just seemed he was on the verge of finally ‘finding himself,’ of making it…
These past three months have been the hardest, most despondent time of my life. Once Jeff was admitted into the hospital, he was hooked up to machines and never able to again leave. Every day his condition worsened in some way; Debilitation, fatigue, pain -- Doctor after doctor would come in and just tell him he was going to die, and there was no hope. Though Jeff often did feel forlornness, he never gave up that hope. He and I worked through treatment plan after treatment plan, and though each failed, and he got sicker and weaker by the day, and more doctors would come in and tell him to ‘give up’, ‘to pick a hospice to die in’, and Jeff and I would cry together after the doctors would leave, we’d then discuss options, alternatives, vow not to give up, and we’d tell them to f**k off, and he was going to make a recovery and storm back in there one day and show them all...
The first two months of the cancer, Jeff felt the most depressed, and angry and scared. It was all so sudden, all so unexpected. He did not want anyone to know or see him in that condition; he wanted friends and family to remember him the way he was—healthy and smiling and independent. For those who texted or called Jeff, and never received response, please understand it was only his dejection at circumstances, not to mention the amount of effort in responding to so many well-wishes when he needed to rest. He was never alone though; my mother and I rotated shifts and spent every day with him, so he’d never be unattended. My life became a daily itinerary of how much time I could spend with him, and what we’d accomplish during that time. We’d watch movies, share memories, and often just sit in comfortable silence next to each other, lost in thought as to life and loss, regret and accomplishment, and the ever-gnawing fear of what the next hour would bring. I cried more for him than he did for himself.
The last, third month, Jeff gained acceptance of his disease and opened himself up to having friends visit. Thank you all so much, who came, and I’m sorry for those who were planning to come soon but did not make it in time. I tried to schedule his visitors so that he’d have around-the-clock care, without being overwhelmed by too many at once. Know though, I passed on every message to Jeff and let him know who I’d scheduled, and the size of his smile at every name I spoke reminded me of my brother from just three months ago, running and playing and healthy and free...
Even though Jeff’s condition was extremely delicate, I still had treatment plans for him and prayed so hard every day, believing that even with the most remote chance, he’d still be able to make a miraculous recovery and be around another fifty years... even in the face of every grim report and doctor visit, there was no way my little brother could be taken so soon... I tried so hard for him, and I’d have given anything to have saved him... but, God, I’m rambling and pouring tears now as I write this...
My memories of him are overwhelming, each more dear and cherished than the last, which makes it all the worse that they’re gone and I can never share in those things again: eating cinnamon rolls at the breakfast table; watching horror movies late at night; talking about books, about news, about gossip, friends, work, anything. My brother just made everything better in my life. Each time he would knock at my front door, my day brightened.
Jeff was my greatest champion, and I his. I knew my brother would support me in anything, regardless of how rash or careless the decision might be; he’d tell me that I shouldn’t do it, but then he’d be there for me anyway if I did. Regardless of my guilt, he’d be on my side. That’s not a characteristic one wishes in most people around them, but it was an immense assurance to know that no matter what, he’d have my back.
Jeff loved death metal music, astronomy and science fiction, high fantasy, Nintendo video games, junk food, books, and Monster energy drinks. He was an animal lover, a pacifist, enjoyed swimming, and most of all socializing with friends and family.
He hated computers, social media, banks, shopping, and pickles.
Jeff graduated Charter Oak High School, class of 1996.
He was impeccably polite. Every nurse that came into his room, Jeff would say hello, and ask them about their shift. They’d ask him how he was feeling, and he’d inquire the same of themselves. He’d thank and compliment every technician, therapist, nurse, who provided care, every time. Even when Jeff wasn’t part of their shift, nurses he’d had in the past would visit him to offer hope and assistance. When we left today, too many of the staff to count approached me to share tears...
Jeff was a ferocious driver, and in three years accumulated thirteen traffic tickets, all of which he somehow got dismissed by judges through charm and tenacity.
One time Jeff won a telescope on The Price is Right.
One time he and a friend won a trip to the Marlboro dude ranch in Montana for two weeks of partying, sports, and pampering.
One time an 18-wheel truck drove over his car, crushing it, and dragging it half a mile down the freeway. There was nothing left of the car but a pocket of air in the driver’s seat, from which Jeff emerged, unscathed.
One time Jeff was a child, and he wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up. His favorite flavor of shake was strawberry and then it changed to cookies-and-cream. His favorite color was blue.
One billion times and more, Jeff brought the purest of happiness into my life, and into the lives of so many others.
Jeff was a beloved son, friend, brother, brother-in-law, and so much more, not to mention the most wonderful uncle a child could have. He’d come over to visit my son, Julian, often, reading to him, playing games, making up stories, telling jokes –– It was like I was living vicariously though my son, playing with my brother again as we did when children. Julian loved his Uncle Jeff so much, and asked about him daily...
I just can’t believe he’s gone... can’t believe it, can’t believe it.
Thank you to my wife, Jeannette Vasquez-Guignard, who supported me and loved Jeff as much, to my mother and father, and to his numerous friends that helped to give comfort, write letters, offer assistance, etc. Among them (not limited) include Miguel Holguin, Amber Sambrone, Michele Vaughn, Janie Igler, Erik Jansen, Kim Johns, Marisa Leigh Roman, Jennifer McGuigan-Wingfield, Regina Croom, Misty Acero, Mike Clayton, and so many more I'm missing, not to mention those who provided much needed advice and empathy during this time to myself.
I love you, little brother, and I’ll miss you forever. I know every person you touched will say the same, that their lives will feel a little emptier, sadder at your loss, but also having been made fuller by knowing your smile, your laugh, your empathy and sensitivity.
R.I.P. Jeffrey Brian Guignard, 11/13/1978 – 9/29/2015
I hope and pray that whatever occurs in the afterlife, you’ll be there with me when my own time arrives...
*** I also created a shared album of photos of Jeff on Facebook here: www.facebook.com/pictures