11 October, 2005

A Dark Night (and Another... and Another...)

My brother is still with us, though it's become harder and harder to tell how much he knows it. Occasionally he will make a small motion to indicate that he's heard us, including what I thought was a guffaw at one of my lame attempts at humor. A lot of the time however, he's in a dream state - looking at something we can't see, reacting to... memories, visions, spirits, repeated whispers of love. We can't know. He seems peaceful most of the time - comforted easily by a touch or a word.

Last night, he ate a hearty dinner, concluding with three different desserts(!), then helped my niece to get to sleep by cuddling up with her in her bed as he often does. This morning however, it became clear that my brother had slid a long way overnight and would not be getting up.

For awhile we thought it might be a drug issue, but virtually nothing had changed there. (One always clings to hope.) As I was leaving my driveway to come out to his house, God broke the news that I would not accept: my car radio came on to the last 30 seconds of 'American Pie'. Go find the lyrics if you don't know it. (My brother – a huge music fan and former DJ would.) No, I didn't make that up.

And in the streets: the children screamed,
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed.
But not a word was spoken;
The church bells all were broken.
And the three men I admire most:
The father, son, and the holy ghost,
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died.

And they were singing,
"bye-bye, miss american pie."
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
And them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, "this’ll be the day that I die.
"this’ll be the day that I die."
Around midday, the hospice nurse and doc made clear that the disease was finally taking over and with blessed swiftness. With the excellent counsel of those folks, we've been able to keep My brother comfortable throughout. They're telling us hours, not days.

The extended family and I are all here, continuing to sit vigil around the house, coming in and out of the room from time to time as my brother’s wife sits steadfast by his side. My brother has been a lucky guy indeed. One could not wish for a better wife. She has been a pillar of strength and comfort to all.

My niece comes in periodically to hug her daddy, help with his care (e.g. sponge water onto his lips), and show him things she's made. Their priest came by the house twice today - first to sit and pray with my brother privately, and later to give him communion as the entire family stood, sat, kneeled and prayed, holding hands together at his bedside. My brother was more alert for the priest’s first visit than for anything else all day. I suppose that's a good thing: when God's appointed agent enters, my brother marshals the energy to recognize him right away... the right channel to have tuned in right now.

My brother’s wife played guitar and sang a spiritual song to him late this afternoon. At various points throughout the day, I've played DJ, putting on various CDs that my brother likes. If there's beauty to be found in dying, we've found enough today to go on one more step... one more hour... one more breath. We hold each other close in love. There have been countless blessings along this hard hard road - blessings that we trust will flower when the sun comes up. Please pray with us tonight as we await the hope of dawn.

UPDATE (5:05AM Wed.) - We're still here waiting. It's been a peaceful night, with the opportunity for more kind words to be exchanged. I have felt calmed beyond reason by the prayers of so many. Thank you.

UPDATE (8:02AM Wed.) - My brother is slipping... peacefully, oh, so peacefully. His recently acquired crucifix is on his chest.

UPDATE (10:30AM Wed.) - God has His own time for these things. We've played some of my brother's favorite CDs this morning: REM, Joe Jackson, U2, Lyle Lovett (not a typo). My niece comes in and out, playing with our parents in the meantime, rough-housing with me in the hall. (Her dad has not been able to pick her up in months and she misses that.) I have read many of your kind comments to my brother in the last few hours. I am sure he hears them. We hear them. They sustain us. Thank you. Occasionally we daub a tear though he is mute, I sense he is still mourning for what could have been. I walked the block an hour ago and... wow... the pine trees, the birds, the rain, the wet leaves, my strong legs and unlabored breathing. Life is good. Life is precious. Don't take anything (or anyone) for granted. We all have so little time. Only God knows how much.

UPDATE (6:45PM Wed.) - I should have known that my brother would be tough. This is the same man who managed trips to the gym during chemo. The same man who has unambiguously kicked my behind on more than one long bike ride. Around 5PM he lapsed into unconsciousness - (though the boundary is hard to define.) He's hanging on with us, listening to more stories and goodbyes (small 'g') and resting without pain. We must be satisfied now with the idea that he can hear us. One of the hospice docs used the metaphor of a house. My brother can hear us at the front door of his self, but he cannot rise to open it.

The priest just left after a beautiful hour of prayer - silent and otherwise as the family stood and sat, all around his bed. Words flowed. Tears flowed. I felt the saints drawing near, beckoning gently, relaxing all tension in us as they all brush by in the room.

I cannot imagine another night. I fall asleep almost wherever I sit, only to wake to this nightmare from which we cannot really awake. This night, there is only one set of footprints in the sand. We are carried by Christ - forward ever forward. I have never felt so weak. I have never felt so strengthened by what I cannot see.

UPDATE (11:30AM Thurs.) - My brother is comfortable and strong. Very strong. My sister-in-law and I (I want to call her 'sis' after this) are sitting vigil.

UPDATE (10:44 PM Friday) - My brother passed 14 hours ago. I've turned this into a new post here. Thank you all for your comments and prayers.