Conversations with a Dying Man

Back in 1988 I was in Georgia working, but my family was still in Arkansas. That is actually where we were calling home. I got a letter one day from my wife telling me that my brother Lyle had cancer. I knew that when he was in the army he had to have a cancer removed from his lower lip, but they got it all. He hadn't been bothered by cancer in years and was in good health the last time I saw him. A few months earlier I couldn't tell that a thing was wrong with him by looking at him. He hadn't mentioned anything like that to anyone in the family, and I felt sure that if something like that was wrong he would have told me. We had always been best friends as well as brothers.

Still Carolyn, my wife said that if I wanted to spend very much time with him I better come home. She said that the doctors had only given him about two years to live. I definitely wanted to spend as much time with him as I possibly could, but I hated to quit my job and go home. I really didn't know what I was going to do. I was at a complete loss as to what to do. That didn't happen often--I usually didn't have any problem making up my mind what I wanted to do. Something happened at work that very night that helped me decide and by the end of that week I was back home in Arkansas.

I saw my brother on New Years Day 1989. I couldn't believe how he looked. It had been about six months since I saw him last, and already he had lost so much weight. We talked about when we were kids and things that had happened after growing up. I didn't want it to be true that he was really dying, but could no longer deny that he had cancer and that it was taking its toll on him. I decided to just talk about what he wanted to talk about.

We talked about an old friend that we grew up with our best friend when we were boys. All three of us were best friends then and still were now. They were both 46 years old, and I was 43 years old. Lyle, my brother never mentioned that he was dying. Since he didn't I didn't either, but we both knew and knew that the other knew. I suspected now that he might live a year to a year and one-half but didn't think he would make it a full two years like the doctors said he probably would.

A few months later Huston, our best friend was home and the two of us went to visit Lyle again. It wasn't the next time that I saw him, but it was the only time that the three of us got to be together after Lyle got cancer and was very special to us. We talked about everything from our childhood all the way to the present, but we all knew that things would never be the same again. We also knew that Lyle wouldn't be alive much longer, but none of us ever mentioned it.

We talked about Lyle not being bald after the chemo. His hair had come back thick and kinky-curly. He had never had thick hair, but it had always been a little curly and sandy colored. Now it was a deep red.

That was in the middle of the summer, and in September or October of that year he died. I visited as often as I could talking only about what he chose and never once did he choose to talk about dying. He mostly wanted to talk about when we were boys with sometimes talking about his kids and mine. I suspect that dying makes a person want to reminisce about his or her childhood.

Essay by Damon
Read 828 times
Written on 2009-08-28 at 08:28

Tags Death  Cancer  Dying 

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I'm so sorry about the loss of your brother. Sounds to me like you did all the right things. Interesting, touching, and extremely sad.