Today I had a conversation with my brother that I didn’t expect to have with any of my siblings for many years to come. I was visiting him in the hospital where he is in the ICU being treated for possible pneumonia and sepsis complicated by an immune system compromised by chemotherapy and radiation treatments for his pancreatic cancer. My sister and I asked him what life support steps he wants to take if it comes to that. He was diagnosed with his cancer six months ago after a bout of pneumonia and sepsis and he is still coming to terms with the fact that his condition is likely terminal. He doesn’t want to die and he doesn’t want to believe he is.
We also discussed a “final resting” or burial place and cremation versus burial. It was an awkward uncomfortable conversation but we got through it and even managed to joke. I know joking is a defense mechanism, but it also helped put him at ease. I am not sure we resolved anything, but the lines of communication are open and we will continue to have the conversation. There is still much to discuss and learn.
We learned that Bob had cancer about six months ago after a series of hospitalizations for pneumonia, excess fluid buildup in his stomach, removal of a mass in his liver, sepsis, and finally the cancer diagnosis. He is lucky that he went to the hospital when he did and he is lucky he recovered sufficiently to have the cancer surgery and then go on to have chemo and radiation. He has a tremendous will to live and I pray that he does not suffer immeasurably. He was having a lot of stomach pain when we visited him yesterday after he ate. The doctors are telling him he has gastrointestinitis or flu, but I suspect it is more. My uncle also has pancreatic cancer and his diagnosis was a few months earlier and he also has a great deal of stomach pain.
Prior to Bob’s diagnosis, he had not seen most of our family since 1999. It is a long complicated story, but Bob also is schizophrenic and that disease caused some behaviors that made it difficult for him to leave his home. His living situation was not conducive to welcoming family and friends. Cancer for him, has reunited him with his brothers and sisters and also allows him to receive medical care regularly. He is only 47 years old, but he lives in a nursing home. He is happy to be there, because he is well-cared for and his basic and medical needs are met.
Part of the reason, Deb and I were able to discuss death with Bob is that we have seen a lot of it. All four of our grandparents have died, we have both lost various members of our husbands’ families, but the hardest have been the deaths that have occurred in our other sister’s family. Just over four years ago, my nephew was killed with his girlfriend when they were driving home from dinner and a movie. It was an awful time for his sister and his parents and everyone who knew Chris. It was a terrible tragic accident and changed the lives of many forever. Navigating the sorrow and grief has been difficult and painful and is still an ongoing process.
Five months ago, tragedy struck Mary’s family again. Her husband was killed in another horrible accident. Everyone who knows and loves this family was saddened that my sister and niece had to go through such a loss when their grief was still so fresh. Those of us who are closest to the two of them are amazed by the grace and strength they show every single day. They continue to move forward even when they don’t feel like getting out of bed. They have kept busy and are honoring their son/brother and husband/father by making the most out of each and every day.
I don’t know that my brother will ever be able to live life in the fullest the way many of us are able, but he is enjoying his life and his family has rallied around him and are helping him. I don’t know how much time he has, but experience has shown me that none of us really know how much time we have. Enjoy your life and don’t wait until another day to start. Life really is short even when the days can be long.