Monday, September 18, 2017

A brother's death

Broken Oak by Jim Cole
It's been a tough year.  I lost my brother.  Jim was my oldest brother.  Floyd, the middle brother, died some years ago and Peter, the brother closest to me in age, took himself out of the family picture as soon as he left home at 18.  So, Jim was really like my only sibling.

We were 15 years apart and different in many ways. He was an engineer and spent his career working on the early Apollo space shots and later working in high-powered jobs that took him all over the globe. I was just a writer and potter, usually just scrapping by.  He bought all the homes and toys his substantial salary would allow; I've struggled just to keep my modest home and keep my car running. He was a Republican, though not exactly a true right-winger, having eschewed religion some years ago;  I have been a liberal Democrat since attaining voting age. Yet we had one thing in common.

Jim had his photography and I had my pottery and my writing.  This bridged a significant gap in our years and lifestyles.  Jim had his photography equipment and studio; I had my pottery studio and tools.  We understood that about each other. We understood art and the need to create.

Jim's motto, if he had one, was to try to have a little fun every day.  At the end, he was having no fun and he chose to refuse treatment for his ongoing problems in April and died.  I even understand that.  He fought as long as he could but when he was done, he was done.  I suspect I will leave this life much the same way. There is something to be said for retaining control over one's death, as one has in life.

Still, it has been hard.  Jim went into the hospital for an elective surgery about a year ago.  It went all wrong and led to another, major surgery, which in turn led to a major lifestyle change for Jim.  It sapped a lot of the joy from his life. It turned him into a patient. In March, he returned to the hospital for another surgery and it all went downhill from there.  Five years ago he beat lung cancer but when he contracted hospital-acquired pneumonia in March, it was all over.

He was in and out of intensive care, had repeated procedures, and finally he just quit eating.  I had to get in his face and make sure that he understood that not eating would lead to his death.  He understood.  When his wife and I walked out of his hospital room that day, it was grim. His final words to us were, "I love you guys." The next time we saw him was in hospice.  He was unresponsive and so ravaged by the pneumonia that we had to gown up and don face masks and gloves to go into his room.  It was more than his wife could bear.  We did not go back.

It was a beautiful day at the Cape Canaveral Military Cemetery when we finally interred Jim's ashes.  They played Taps and folded a flag, presenting it to his widow.  I held her hand.

Grief is complicated.  A lot depends on one's relationship with the departed, how close it was, its quality, its essence.  Sometimes grief cuts a relationship short that is unresolved and that adds a measure of angst.  Sometimes it creates such change for the one left behind that added stress can make it intolerable.  For me, none of that is so.  I am simply without my brother.  I have his photos, and they are like part of him.  Here is one I like.

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