I need to mow the brother’s lawn.
Despite not taking any nourishment or liquids for the last three or four days, despite blood still being suctioned from his stomach, Jesse Eugene’s body continues to remain alive. We keep thinking that this must be his last day–and yet each day his body carries on.
The world doesn’t stop, of course, just because my brother is very slowly dying. It doesn’t even slow down. And yet all the little mundane chores and errands that take up so much time every week seem weirdly out of place. Yesterday I went with my oldest brother, Roger Lee, to replenish his supply of his favorite tea. We had to visit three or four shops before we could find one that carried the tea. At one point we were near a big box sporting goods store, so we stopped and went in. We looked at kayaks, we looked at golf equipment–and for a short time we stopped thinking about Jesse Eugene slowly dying in the hospice.
So this morning, instead of heading off to the hospice, I’ll be cranking up the brother’s aging lawn mower and making his lawn presentable to the neighbors. When I get to the hospice later, I’ll tell him about it. It won’t matter to him. It doesn’t really matter to me. The neighbors might appreciate it.
It’s just another of those many things that have to be done. All over the world, the lawns of dying people are being mowed.
update: The lawn is mowed. I can’t say it was fun, but it was a nice distraction. I’ve decided to do a yard chore every day until the brother checks out. Tomorrow I’ll power up his weed-eater and clear out this mess:
What I like about yard work is that there’s a clear, visible indication of how much work you’ve done. It’s oddly satisfying when you finish.
Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to quiet. I like it. More than that, I’ve come to need it. If stillness was a drug, I’d be a junkie. My body demands the periodic injection of solitude and silence.
I haven’t had it for the last couple of weeks.
You’d think sitting around a hospice room for hours with somebody who is heavily medicated against pain would be quiet. It’s not. For ten thousand reasons, it’s not. The hospice staff are always in motion. Visitors come and go. There’s always the sound of the hospital: the trundling of med-carts, the alarms, the clang and shuffle of housekeeping crews, the hiss-thwok of suction pumps. And, of course, even though he’s heavily medicated the brother still requires attention. There’s not much left of him now. His body is wasting away; his voice is just a thin, papery whisper; he sleeps most of the time. But now and then he opens his eyes and looks around—and when he does, I want him to see somebody who loves him.
The hospice has a second-floor balcony. Walls of glass shield it from wind and rain, but it’s open at the top to allow a bit of breeze. Sparrows fly in and out, and nest in some of the beams. They’re a messy bird, sparrows, but cheery and it’s pleasant to hear them.
We take the brother out to the balcony when he’s up to it. He sits and looks at the trees and listens to the sparrows, and appears to pay attention to our conversation. When he’s tired himself out—after fifteen or twenty minutes—and he’s being wheeled back to his room, I like to linger for a moment.
It’s not enough. It’s not enough for him or for me. But it’ll have to do.
Family is a weird thing. This is Scott. Technically, he’s my cousin. In spirit, he’s something more like a brother. In fact, a few months ago my actual brother Jesse Eugene said this to me: “Don’t take this the wrong way–but you were gone for years and Scotty sort of took your place as my little brother.”
He’s been a good little brother (though, truth be told, it’s a wee bit difficult to think of Scott as a ‘little’ anything, given that he’s got the bulk and mass of a Sherman tank).
I shot this photograph in Jesse Eugene’s room at the hospice. Scott had just arrived (he’s been there every day) and sat down. The light from the window fell on his face and I sort of demanded he not move for a moment. We hadn’t really spoken at that point, other than to say hello. After shooting the photograph Scott told me he’d just heard that his best friend had been killed in a motorcycle accident in Wyoming.
It’s been a tough few days all around. There he was, sitting in the room where his ‘brother’ was slowly dying, thinking about his friend. And yet when asked to sit for a photo, Scott just quietly went along with it. Which is what brothers do.