November 23rd, 2012
Five years ago today, my stepbrother died. I can’t believe so much time has gone by already. I am experiencing that strange tangled sense of time, where his death feels like a lifetime ago and just yesterday all at once.
Dying is messy and confusing business.
So is caring for the dying. It is alternatively heart-wrenching, boring, arduous, graphic, and intimate.
I just got back from spending some time helping care for Jer.
Sometimes he was lucid, and we had really important conversations. We reflected on his life and our relationship. Sometimes he was slipping away, unable to communicate, not even to squeeze a hand to signal yes or no.
Yesterday morning, he was losing his ability to swallow, so I fed him honey water through a straw. Then last night, a couple of hours after I left in tears, he ate Thai food for dinner and called me to let me know how glad he was to see me. My parents tell me he was up late editing a video for Greenpeace on his computer.
Every day is different, and the events of one moment do not always help you predict the events of the next.
Caring for the dying involves so many parts of one’s self. At one moment, you’re talking to the hospice nurse, having to parse sentences like, “Phenergan potentiates opiates.”
Another moment, you are having to swing your brother’s swollen legs up onto the bed for the 15th time in an hour, because he keeps getting out of bed before realizing he’s too weak to stand, but he’s afraid of falling asleep and not waking up.
And in the best moments, you know that your song or your poem or your story — or just the warmth of your hand — is bringing a little bit of peace and comfort in the midst of a lot of anguish and pain.
I sang him lots of songs and read him poems on the restless time I spent on the night shift. In between we had conversations about what an amazing life he has had, how much he has done in the brief time he has had. There are people alive in Burma who would not be had it not been for him. There are forests that are preserved that would have been clearcut had it not been for him. He really seemed to enjoy these conversations and listening to the poems and songs.
Not surprisingly, this poem was his favorite:
UNTIL ONE IS COMMITTED
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy,
the chance to draw back,
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation)
there is one elementary truth,
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur
to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision,
raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance,
which no man could have dreamed would come his way.
Whatever you can do,
or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius,
power and magic in it.
I miss you, Brother. I try to live my life in a way that honors yours.
This entry was posted on Friday, November 23rd, 2012 at 8:24 am and is filed under End of Life. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.