When my father ran out on his family, I was about seven years old. My middle brother, who would have been 12, mostly took over the job of raising me. Since none of the family’s what you’d call religious, I’m not really sure how good a job he thinks he did — what with me being a Buddhist monk and all. Hopefully, he doesn’t think it was his fault.
My brother’s your typical red-neck, chain-smoking, hard drinking, good-ole-boy from Texas, but he moved to Arkansas a few decades ago. Last spring they found out the four-pack-a-day habit had done its work, so the surgeon went in and pretty much gutted him. There wasn’t a lot left of him afterwards, but what was left was cancer free. Or so they said. By summer, the cancer had come back even worse. That’s when they told him to get his stuff in order, and not wait until Christmas to open his presents. Being an ornery cuss, he’s still hanging in there, but they’ve started only giving him two weeks of meds at a time, instead of the usual month. We all understand that it won’t be long now. [Edit: earlier this week they put him on a morphine drip and hospice took over his care.]
So, in spite of the difficulty I have in traveling, when my sister offered to take me to visit him, I went. That was last week. I don’t know if it’s the sitting in one position for hours, or just being on my feet so much, but I find that traveling really aggravates my joint pain. I haven’t been able to get out of the house since we came back. Each day I say, “Maybe tomorrow.” But then I find I’m too “stove up” to move around much, so I put it off a little longer.
Still, I’m glad I went. In my family, we don’t talk to each other about personal stuff. Instead, we all understand that we can depend on each other if need be, and there’s never any lingering hostility when we ask each other for help. “You do what you gotta” seems to be our family motto. But I thought, “It’s now or never” and actually told him how much I appreciated him stepping in as a teenager and looking after his kid brother. He wasn’t even embarrassed. He just nodded and changed the subject.
Before we left, his wife told me he’d already “gone to the light” once this month, but then he came back. As a result, he’s developed the usual “near death experience” calm. He’s in no hurry, although he’s in a lot of pain, but he’s not worried about it either. She’d made up a half-hour DVD using photos to show his life story and had my sister and I watch it. She didn’t want us to get home and then have to travel all the way back just to see it at the “wake”. Say what you will about how strange we all turned out, you have to admit, we’re a considerate bunch.