Author William Saroyan wrote of tragicomedy: “Remember to be good-humoured. Remember to be good-natured. And remember that in the middle of that which is most tragic, there is always the comic, and in the midst of that which is most evil, there is always much good.”
I’ve been noticing dramatic plot twists recently and the impact on a reader, going from hilarity to devastation within a page and conversely, experiencing triumph in an impossibly dire situation. This certainly inspires continued reading. Although this makes for good reading, in real life, plot twists are frustrating and exhausting and I would usually prefer life on a more even keel.
My brother, Gerald, died a few weeks ago. He fought a brief but fierce battle with cancer. With only two months from diagnosis till death, it was a frantic time of ups and downs, of hope and despair, for him of course, but for our sisters and me and the many who loved him as well.
Have you ever found yourself especially happy and content for extended periods of time and wondering what could possibly go wrong and burst your bubble? Almost like you couldn’t trust all the good happening around you? Everything was going well in my brother’s world. He was coming out of a separation, preparing to retire and had planned a barbeque-filled summer on his brand new patio and deck. A few months before he became ill, he and his beloved baseball teammates were included in the inaugural inductions to a local sports hall of fame. Many of the trophies in his china cabinet were for Most Dedicated; player, coach, manager, fan. We are grateful that he was honoured in this way while he could enjoy it with his friends. But with all that was going well for him, the timing of his illness was ironic – subtle and powerful at the same time.
Caring for our brother during the last few weeks of his life, our days were defined by how his days were going. Did he have energy? Could he eat? Was he up for visitors? We shared the short-lived excitement of discovering naturopathic treatments that, in the end, proved to be too little, too late to help; the constant monitoring of bilirubin blood counts, hoping for positive results that never happened. And we made it possible for him to stay in his home, as he wished, as we watched him diminish daily.
As it is with many folks, humour is our family’s automatic default response; comfortable, familiar and predictable even in such heartbreaking situations, as this and it did not fail us these past weeks. We joked that he was the one keeping much better track of appointments, medications and even grocery lists than the sisters who were fussing to do as much as we could for him. He got a kick out of sharing, with as many people as possible, how I’d mistakenly believed that he was dead one morning. And there was the first time he took cannabis drops, with the hope they could help with nausea and increase his comfort. I thought it only fair that I experiment too and we swallowed the drops as if they were Jim Jones’ deadly Kool-Aid.
Along with the devastation of Gerald’s passing came the immense support from extended family and friends. It was overwhelming to hear others, many whom we didn’t know, speak with such love and regard for our brother. And we were grateful for our time with him and for being by his side at the end.
There was only one wish on my brother’s bucket list and that was to see Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. He believed it would be torn down in the not-too-distant future. So, we three sisters have planned a road trip in August and we will visit for him. There will be a lot of laughs, shared memories and regret that we did not make the trip with him. It is the one last thing we can do for him and for ourselves and like many endings, it will be bittersweet.