At times in one’s life, Joy and Sorrow appear in concert, each tempering its counterpart’s emotional ups and downs as they interact deeply within the Soul. I am going through this conflict, trying to understand why my grieving is only sorrow, and my joy is only relief. Taken alone, each would possibly reach full expression, but not now.

My brother John, my only sibling, is dying. As I visited with him for several days last month, and talk briefly with him daily on the phone with help from his wife, the helplessness that each of us feel as that deadly disease makes its way through his shell of a body, generates only anger. This gentle man and I were more friends than brothers; he is nine years older than I so that I was raised more as “an only child” due to his being off doing “older kid” things when I became conscious of our status. I never had the pleasure of being “picked on” or teased by a brother; we never did fight, and when we did have a car, our parents didn’t need to keep us separated front and back seat when we traveled. We were too different in age. He was more of an image than a reality through many of my “growing up years”; we would see him briefly when he came home from college, or on the rare furloughs from his service as a Naval officer.

As I went about my own business of maturity, I began to move into my own adult activities and we came to know one another as long distance friends who share many of the same interests, to varying degrees. When I was in my first year of teaching, I attended his marriage in 1960 at the All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C., the service being performed by James Reeb, the pastor killed in the racial unrest during demonstrations in the South in the ‘60’s. My brother had recently begun his career as a Naturalist with the National Park Service, and among his first duties was caring for the original Smokey the Bear at the Rock Creek Nature Center in D.C.  John had met his wife, Paula, through Unitarian church activities; she worked at the National Geographic Society and was charged with selecting the photographs to be used in the journal’s articles.

While I was completing my Peace Corps assignment in Ghana, they were transferred to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, and during their two years there their daughter Kathleen was born, and who later followed her father into a NPS career. Another transfer sent them to Death Valley, for two more years, and then to Yosemite National Park in California. I managed to visit them there several times during the next nine years, including a few days on my own honeymoon in 1970. Unfortunately, Paula began to suffer a series of life-threatening health issues and subsequently passed away after John’s final transfer, to the Sandy Hook National Seashore in New Jersey. Prior to that last move, a second child, Steven, was born and who also later entered into the Park Service.

After some time, John met and married his present wife, Trude, with whom he shares many interests including a love of the outdoors and many varieties of social dancing. They have been inveterate members of ballroom and square dance clubs, with weekly participation in numerous events. Trude is highly accomplished in a variety of arts and crafts including woodworking, wheel pottery, textiles, and other ventures, some of which she markets commercially. The couple moved to a small town near Raleigh, N.C., several years ago to be near some of Trude’s children and grandchildren, and for John to continue treatment from the Duke Medical Center for cancer which had first appeared when they lived in New Jersey. He is ending 12 years of fighting with this Chimera, conquering some of its many heads only to be confronted with another.

At the time I was visiting last month, I also was under a possible sentence of eventual terminality; I had been diagnosed as having a progressive, autoimmune disease related to MS, Lupus, and others. He and I talked about Dying being a personal affair regardless of all the attention and comfort being tendered toward him by others. I of course was still functioning in a fairly normal fashion and, as later events occurred, was to feel a sense of relief. During my visit I was able to take him to his church, which he had not attended for several months, and on the day I left, I had taken him to his oil painting class. But even during those few days, I could see the deterioration. Only a few more days later, and he was no longer able to stand upright or walk, and ultimately was placed in a hospice facility. He said to me last week on the phone, “I’m dying but I don’t know how long it’s going to take”.

So, what does one do, or say? His children have visited and said their goodbyes, although they call him every day also. Friends and relatives have visited, church members have performed musical concerts for him. But he can no longer eat or drink, and barely talk. Four weeks ago, he had sufficient energy to make a five minute video pleading for care of the environment, speaking from a bridge over a nearby stream in the kind of wooded area which he loved. Now that person is reduced to struggling inside a thin shell, and looking toward a final release. And there’s my sorrow.

As for me, I feel sort of like someone who gained either a reprieve from the Governor or had his sentence commuted by the President. Through three days of testing at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, I was told that I do not have CIDP, I have only a mild form of Neuropathy which, although progressive, will not move beyond my lower legs and will take years to move even a few inches upward. At the same time, there was no evidence of myeloma and I need only have a blood test once a year to “keep an eye” on that minimal potentiality. And no medications. So, I hope to resume my travels, either as a volunteer for AdvancEd or on my own, as the focus of my retirement. And there’s my joy.

I haven’t yet seen the bill from Mayo, but think it was probably worth it, whatever it is. Peace of Mind is a great thing! I just hope that Congress doesn’t screw up Medicare before I finish with Mayo’s.

Always Be Happy                                   To Our Youth

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