Tuesday, June 8, 2010


She is very, very sad. Sadder than I've ever known her to be, and I've known her since 1978.  I stood up  at her wedding, after teasing him into finally saying yes to the whole idea.  Actually, it wasn't teasing so much as pointing out the realities of the situation and forcing him to make a choice.  She listened, she laughed, and she took the idea back home.  It's a perfect marriage - at least as far as someone who's not a fly on the wall can determine.  There's respect and admiration and shared values and aspirations along with genuine affection and delight.The things about which they argue arise only because one of them is too kind or too understanding or too generous.  Smart, funny, interesting and interested..... life's had its ups and downs but she's never been this blue.

Her mother died in her arms as they were walking to the car.  At 92,  it was surprising but by no means shocking.  There's a hole where she used to exist, but it's filled with love.  After all, no one lives forever. She organized the service and notified the extensive extended family and grieved.  Through it all, her brother was by her side.  He wasn't exactly helpful, but he was there.  And when it came to the grunt work, to the boring, heavy lifting side of things, he never refused her.  He never complained or asked why or annoyed her with absurd objections... all those behaviors which I see from siblings at the passing of a parent.  She was older, she was wiser, she was the decision maker.  He was her support, her backstop, the one who never said no.

And now he's gone.  An unknown infection that wasn't ignored but wasn't able to be treated eventually sent him to the hospital and then to his grave.  He was a big, strong, uncomplaining sort of guy, and to see him wasting away, day after painful day, week after long and worry-filled week, was almost more than she could bear.  There were long periods of unconsciousness followed by brief and wonderful moments when he was awake and really there with them.  "Should we sing?" they'd ask him as his eyes fluttered open.  He'd smile and beg them to spare him that particular joy.  That was all that they could do for him, and it never seemed like it was enough.

She's worked in hospitals for decades, and knows more than anyone how to manipulate the system to insure above-average care.  She knows that it's possible to refuse and to question and to request with assurance in your voice and she's not immune to the absurdities of hospital life.  After all, she'd been coming and going for more than a month, every day, week after week..... did the security guard really need to see her id every single time?  Couldn't they issue her a pass like the airlines give their crews?  Her brother was dying upstairs; waiting 15 minutes to pass through the checkpoint was torture.  Absolutely torture.  He needed her by his side.... she'd only left to sleep.... the guard recognized her from the dozens of times he'd seen her before..... why couldn't they just let her in?

It was little things like that which seemed to affect her more than they'd ever done before.  Suddenly, every moment was fraught with importance - not filled, but fraught.  It was terrifying and frightening and filled with sorrow, every single minute, day and night, of every single day.  There was nothing she could do for the person who had done everything for her and it was taking its toll.  Bit by tiny bit, it never got any better.  It just got sadder.  The helplessness overwhelmed her.

The bed-side vigil took its toll.  She was tired and wondered why, since she was doing nothing but sitting.  Writing helped a little, but there was nothing which could really bind the wound.  Was his death a relief?  It didn't feel that way.  A modest man, he'd never told her that he was "tutor of the year."   The presence of his students at the service she planned revealed his secret.  Was there more about her baby brother, a big man with a huge heart and a key to her home and her past?  She can't ever ask him.

She's bereft.