06 September 2010
My brother is dying.
As I write this, he is laying quietly, oxygen mask covering most of his face, sedated beyond recognition. He's been like this for days. Every so often, his breathing becomes labored and he becomes agitated. Great rasps then, desperate, gasping rattling breaths. So much so that we strive to breathe for him, will air into him. The nurses come to inject more of whatever it is medication that they are giving him, into the ever-present tubes that snake in him and around him.
I want to blame someone, something. It feels as if there is so much blame to go around.
But this is not about blame. As easy as it would be to sink into that messy pit, all shiny and burbly and self-righteously fatuous, thereby avoiding all the hard stuff, like love and meaning and fear and a thousand other difficult and honest things - this is harder.
This is about my brother, who is dying, and me trying to find some meaning in that.
I cannot talk about his death, find meaning in it, without talking about his life. He was intense and passionate and fiercely protective of those he loved. He was stubborn and opinionated. He was courageous beyond measure. He was human beyond measure, and so had his moments.
He lived on caffeine and nicotine. For decades, he walked around with a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other (and one tucked behind his ear, just in case). He moved constantly - walking, pacing, jiggling a foot when sitting, tapping out a rhythm to some private noise in his head. It makes watching him now, so still and silent, all the more difficult, because it is the antithesis of him.
He hasn't opened his eyes in a few days. The last time he spoke to me, he said "This is not - this is not - coral!" Coral? What? The drugs, perhaps the cancer, perhaps both, were stealing words from him, even as they stole his grace, his energy, his life. It meant something to him, surely, but the path to meaning, to connection, was becoming buried and tangled. They tell us, the nurses and aids and doctors, that he can hear us even in his stupor. So we talk to him, reassure him that he is not alone, that he is loved. We tell jokes and stories. We sit, quietly and lovingly. We hold his hand and comfort him through touch (we comfort ourselves through touch).
My baby brother is dying, and there's not a god damned thing I can do about it. All I can do is be with him, witness his journey through that dark and shadowy valley, love him. And hold his hand.
08-09 September 2010
Mom called while I was at work. "Come now. The doctors say it's a matter of hours."
I felt the ice in my center radiate outwards, a sheath of cold and darkness. God no. Please God no. Not today. Okay - not ever, but really not today. Sundown will be Rosh Hashanah, the new year, the celebration of the world's creation. God will open the book of Life and Death tonight. God will record who will live in joy, who will die in pain. Please: don't let my brother die.
Don't let him die before I can say good bye.
Another round of sitting. Hand holding. We soothe and comfort and cry and watch. There are no masks now. His breathing, labored and difficult and strangled only a few hours earlier is quiet. Steadier. They've taken him off oxygen and he is breathing on his own. Slowly. Shallowly. We gather around him, quietly talking, reminiscing. We are learning how to care for one another again, be a close family again. After years of wear and tear, strain and hurt, we are learning to love each other again. We are fragile and cautious and have on kid gloves.
For Randy, we will do this. It is one more way to honor him.
I can't sit for long. Sitting with family is both easy and hard. It is as if our voices are rusty. If not our voices, then perhaps our hearts. We have been separate for so long. It doesn't take much time to find those familiar patterns, sink back into the rhythms that defined us for decades. What is more difficult than re-learning and re-establishing those rhythms, is reaching out to others, to prepare them for the worst. After all, we are here, together, with Randy, cocooned by our love and fear and sorrow. But we are here, together. The others are outside, separate. Although we try to bridge that endless chasm, we fall short. We are here. They are not here. There is a difference. They love him, us, no less, but there is a layer between them and this death, a thin, membranous shield. There is that microscopic difference, though the sorrow still flows in steady waves, carrying us to one another close as breath, as light or air. But, there is a difference.
The hours wear on and we continue our vigil. Randy continues to breath, to dream, to struggle against pain. It is almost sundown, almost Rosh Hashanah. "Go," urges my family. Pray, and talk to God. Find comfort and peace and struggle and light. And so, tenuously, I welcome the new year. I can lose myself in the music of the service, in its rhythms and cadences. It is the birthday of the world and God's Book opens. I shudder at that thought, even as I sing those ancient hymns. It hits me, suddenly, that this is merely another kind of vigil.