I have a half brother who is dying of melanoma, who has been for years and years, and is in the final stages. His organs are failing and his body is swelling. He sent my father an email, the most bleak thing you have ever read, describing how he cant eat or drink without vomiting, can’t move his toes because they are so swollen, and is so exhausted he can only move a few steps at a time. He is in the hospital now, getting a catheter to relieve the swelling, and then hopefully will go home to be comfortable.
I’ve been reading Anthony Esolen’s Out of the Ashes, which bemoans the current state of America. It cries out against cohabitation, childlessness, materialism, so much of what young people are today. And while I read it I was nodding and feeling smug, a housewife with three children, preserving the “traditional” ways. And now, knowing that my poor brother is one of those people, it just seems so full of hate. He was not raised to be religious, he is married but chose not to have children, and always enjoyed traveling, going out to eat, going out to bars, etc. He is one of the friendliest, most generous people you could ever know.
His parents divorced when he was ten and his father married my mother. We did not grow up together, so he is more like a cousin than a brother to me, and we were never that close. He lives far away, there was a big age difference, we have nothing in common. We have visited each other occasionally, and he has always been very nice to me. He met my first child but none of the others, and we have not seen each other in five years.
So. How to handle the fact that he will be gone soon? Do I visit him? Arrive on his doorstep with my three little kids and say “Hi, heard you are dying, we are here to visit you?” Seems fake, and morbid, and insensitive. But to not visit? Is that worse? I wish he lived closer so I could come clean his house from top to bottom, come by once a week to do his laundry and bring fresh flowers, cook whatever he thought he could eat that day. And if he lived closer, we would not have such a distant relationship. But if we lived in a society more attached to home, maybe his parents would still be married, and he never would have bought a boat and been out in the sun so much he got melanoma, and I would never have been born at all.
I am thinking I will send him a gift, so he knows I am thinking of him. Slippers I think, or a blanket. I wanted to do a teddy bear but I think that might be weird. I wonder if it would be nice to include something religious. As far as I know he is not a believer. I would love to send a copy of Mere Christianity, but I doubt it he would read it. I don’t want to be pushy. I believe that there is a path to heaven for non believers. But I wonder if faith, or stronger faith if he has some already, would comfort him. I am a convert, and I feel like if someone sent me Bible verses before I was a believer I would find it annoying and absurd, like a nosy person telling me they will pray for me. But C.S. Lewis… so intelligent, so convincing. It might work. It is not really my place, and then again it is.
Do you reach a point before dying where you are in such physical pain that you almost don’t mind? Are you on painkillers and sleeping medications so much that you don’t fully grasp what is happening? Maybe some of the time, but I imagine that there are long nights where you are alone with your thoughts, wondering what is next for you. Would you be comforted to know that there is a God who made you and loves you, who is desperate for you to turn to him in your final days? Would you want to be convinced of that in some way so you could have it to hold on to? Or are you mad at God for allowing you to die young, for never being able to be a retired man on a cruise ship or a golf course, mad that you never had children and your old friends from restaurants and bars forgot you long ago?
I don’t know. I am sending something on Monday. Maybe I will look for passages in the book that I could highlight and mark with sticky notes. And I will at least send the slippers. And I will not tell him I will pray for him. But I will still pray.