Saturday, September 8, 2018. My brother Mark is seriously ill. In recent years, he's been on the front lines helping our parents as they enter their eighties. He has been a beacon of love and gentleness for his wife of 35 years, his two children, his four siblings. He was my childhood friend, my marine-biology-science-fair hero, my pop music mentor, and my model of what is a gentleman--confident, athletic, responsible, elegant, caring. He also did some big-brother tyrant things in our childhood...most were minor, even funny--a couple, not so much. Yet love really does transcend all. (And: I'm sure my family members could name a few things I did that they are still chewing on...work for me to do there...)
In the meantime, medical science says my brother's time is close to ending. Of course, we are all going to die, and none of us knows how long we have.
Carlos Castaneda told the story of a man who was lamenting to him, filled with pity for a friend who was ailing. The man then headed to the hospital to visit his ailing friend, and died in a car accident en route. Not long after, the man's friend recovered and left the hospital.
The sobering fact is we don't know when our time is up. This reminds me to use my time well and reach out to friends and advisors who help me meet the day-to-day of my current experience, and to set aside attempts to escape through various distractions (I ran headlong into one last week), or my child's perspective of "it's too much" and "I'd better educate those family members on what they're not seeing" (ha!) or tell them "how best to heal Mark."
We get the privilege of time with each other. One of my heroes, (athlete and paralysis recovery game-changer) Aaron Baker said to me that he learned, when he was near death on a hospital bed, that what we get to do is share time, and love.
I got to share some time, and love, with my brother these last few days. He's not able to walk more than a few feet every day. He's dependent on others at the moment for nearly everything. His mind, always sharp and curious, is now roaming in realms that his weakened voice is not able to fully express. He shared his frustration about that with me; I suggested we play telepathy. He sent an image of "Pizza." I read, "Toucan." If he could have pizza right now he said, it would be a nice vegan cauliflower crust pizza. We laughed.
He whispered to me later that he had chosen his career in finance out of fear that he couldn't do other things. His most recent position was troubleshooter for the marketing and sales department; all the seemingly unsolvable, tangled things came to his desk. He had told me a year earlier, just after the cancer diagnosis, that he was not taking the time to fully enjoy his life. He lived near the beach yet never took the time to see it. He would have liked to teach math to underserved kids, to make a difference in their lives.
He said that he's accepted his past choices--"I did what I did." He is in a state of grace, grateful for his time, his wife and family, the hospital staff, the singing trio who came to serenade him yesterday, for life. He suggested, before he fell asleep a couple of nights ago, that we meditate together on who in the family we might help. We did. I then proposed that we add ourselves to that list. He smiled and agreed.
Last night my lovely and sophisticated younger sister arrived in town. As we took the elevator up to the hospital room, she asked whether or not she should touch my brother--it had been over a month since she had last seen him--and she wanted to make sure she didn't further compromise his already challenged immune system. I told her to take the lead from his wife, who is a nurse, and that he would likely be wearing a mask, there were gloves and sanitizer at the room entrance, etc.
Soon after my sister greeted my brother in his hospital bed, I turned to look and my brother had his arms around her, her head on his chest. He's eight years older than she is, and helped my mother take care of her when she was little; she used to call him "my Markie."
He is bringing our family together. We have to drop any petty struggles and stories with each other to meet him where he is. If I were the arranger of all things, I would deem that his unifying work is done, the family is working well together, and that he heals body and soul and gets on with that dream of teaching those kids--or whatever else he chooses.
Of course I am only a small player in this game. And I need help to stay present, and play it with love. I reach out to my friends so we can help each other share love in this moment, this day. One of them asked me where is my anger in all this. I went through a lot of anger in the last few weeks: the "It shouldn't be this way" and "Who is responsible," scenarios. I wouldn't take those away from anyone else going through something like this. Today I feel many emotions. The strongest is gratitude for the that love that is here, in so much abundance.