Saturday, April 6, 2019

Off Target

My brother is ten years older than I am,  just turning 79.   He is something of a character, but good as gold.   He has never knowingly cheated anyone and, although he can be as bullheaded as the best of them, and quick to judgment, he is always open to reason and quick to take responsibility when he decides he is wrong.   We were not close when we were young; the age difference was too great, and just about the time my daughter started to show signs of mental illness, he took on the too-common ideology of those who do not live with that kind of illness.  He was sure that my lax parenting was to blame, and I disliked what I considered his ill-informed conservative views.   At about the same time, he was going through difficulties of his own, and I was as sure that he was the cause of his troubles as he was sure that I was the cause of mine.   So neither of us were good listeners, and both of us were too full of certainty to let the other one topple our world view.   

Despite ourselves, we got older.

About ten years ago, actually almost exactly ten years ago, my daughter underwent a crisis and to my surprise, my brother called and said he had been an idiot to think that any kind of parenting issues could have caused her problems and that he was sorry he hadn't been there for me.   It turns out that he always has been the bigger person, genuinely wanting, even if sometimes failing, to do the right thing.   

We have become very close since then, and for years we have been the first person to hear the other's news, good or bad.   He still sees the world with fewer shades of gray than I do, but we respect and love each other in a way that both of us treasure.  And so, over time, I have become his patient advocate and the person who gets the call when things go awry.   As a result, I have been close at his side during his treatment for bladder cancer, and then for treatment of the very rare side effect that the cancer treatment caused.   Lately, things have gone from bad to worse, more quickly than we could have imagined, and now he has been diagnosed with an inoperable aneurysm that is steadily growing, untreatable because it is part of that rare side effect.   The doctors were candid:  it will kill him.   They do not know and will not predict when.   It could have been last week, but it wasn't.   So now it could be today, or next week, or next month, or even next year.  There is nothing they can do to treat it or to stop it.

And so we wait.

Meanwhile, he and I are scrambling to get his affairs in order.   Things we meant to do years ago have suddenly become as urgent as they should have been all along.   He and I disagree, a lot, about where his estate priorities should be, but I have spoken my piece more than once and am trying to step back and let him do whatever he has to do, no matter how foolish some of it looks to me.   I am afraid he will insist on continuing to support someone, a woman to whom he is not married, who has brought him nothing but pain for the last 20 years, at the expense of grandchildren who have brought him nothing but joy.   Whenever he asks, I state my mind, but he did not invite me to join him at the meeting with the estate lawyer, and so it is time for me to let it go.   

But honestly, we most likely would never have had the kind of talks we have had lately without this diagnosis.  I would never have been as candid about his relationship if the stakes weren't so high.  And we are not, by tradition, a demonstrative family.  He is uncomfortable talking about feelings and I have always gone easy on him, but no more.   Now he has to suffer my telling him I love him whenever we talk.   It's been a silver lining that I have had the opportunity to tell him that I will miss him terribly and cannot imagine a world or a life without him, and he has managed to tell me how much he values me in his life.

This morning I got a call from  hospice saying they couldn't reach my brother.   It didn't help that I had already awakened from a nightmare about missing an emergency call about him.     I told myself not to panic,  but he is so good about answering his phone, and even better about calling me back.  Both the hospice and I tried for well over two hours with no answer before I couldn't take it anymore.     Certainly, the hospice lady didn't help by telling me he could be lying there in pain.  I finally got into my car and drove the 2 1/2 hours to the house where he lives alone, calling him every half hour, and trying all the way there to ready myself for the worst.   When I arrived, he opened the door with a happy smile, delighted to see me.   Where was his phone?   Shut in a closet, on the charger.   He said he was sorry I had to make the drive, but really, really happy that I cared enough to do it.   We are both new to this threat of eminent death, obviously we still need to work on some of these little details.   We decided that my panicked drive north was a dry run, and went out to dinner.

I had a lot of nervous energy when I got back home, but now I'm ready for bed.  It's been a long and stressful day but, against all odds, it turned out to be a good one.   Because in the end, at least for now, we've dodged the bullet.


Marie Louise said...

Oh Gail, I am so sorry to hear that your brother has gotten such an uncertain diagnoses about his future, but I am glad that you both have been given time to make more invaluable and unforgetable memories. One ot them, I am sure, will be the one of his happy face when you showed unexpectedly at his doorstep.

I have been reading your blog for ages and ages and it is and has been eerie to read about the similarities of our lives. I guess you are my twin on the other continent! But this is not the time and place to write you about it.

gpc said...

Thank you, Marie Louise. You are so right, the look on my brother's face was a gift. I look forward to hearing your story some day. How nice to think that I might have a twin! When I was a little girl, my second brother teased me by telling me I was adopted. Instead of being upset, I took such comfort in that possibility that it became a family joke. Although the idea of my Real Family was just a childhood fantasy, it is still nice to think that I could have sister spirits out there in the world. :)

Barbara said...

Oh my, Gail. What a mix of emotions you’ve experienced over the past many months. I’m so sorry to hear about your brother. It’s wonderful that you are able to see the gift in the bad news. My own brother died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2003. Loss is always devastating, no matter how it happens. Still, what I wouldn’t give to have five minutes with my brother to tell him some things that were left unsaid between us. I hope for all of your sakes that the remaining time you have together is positive and that you will have peace with your memories when it comes to an end.

Kim@Snug Harbor said...

Oh Gail, I sure feel for you. My husband is going thru something very similar and it scares me to death. Let me know if I can do anything for you. xo