Shortly after posting “And Dumbledore Said…”, I received the news that my brother, actually 1/2 brother, was in intensive care. He had been diagnosed with colon cancer a year ago, underwent treatment for most of that time, and last week took a turn for the worse. The consensus was that these were his final days. And the family starting talking and making plans. For the next three days, or s0, I pondered my 1/2 brother. I love the word ‘ponder’. To ponder is to consider carefully, with the additional caveat that a heaviness be present. It is serious looking at. It is ‘noticing’ with laser intensity what’s going on; understanding need not apply; just watching.
And so I pondered. Not full strength all the time, but always there. And I was curious what would turn up. I hadn’t seen or spoken with my 1/2 brother since our Mother’s funeral 30+ yrs ago. And for 10 years prior to that, only when absolutely necessary. Now pondering is not without it’s pit-falls. Since we’re processing memories, it’s recommended that we realize that all memories are revisionist history. It doesn’t take reams of scientific studies to grasp this. How many times have you listened to someone tell a story – when you were at the happening – and it wasn’t what you remembered at all. Or maybe it’s just details that are different. Once my husband & I agreed on this we started having a lot more fun listening to each others stories instead of arguing about how it really was.
So I’m still pondering. After all, I have a whole growing up of memories that became stories. During these last 30 years, the information I received about my 1/2 brother was sporadic, maybe 3-5 transmissions from the designated go-between. Go-between reports all transmissions conveyed. So I shouldn’t have too much to ponder… It took me about a day to decide that I would visit him the end of next week. Go-between conveyed to family and family to 1/2 bro. I didn’t know what I could give him but I still had some time to think about it, if he didn’t die first.
I’m told that colon cancer was diagnosed a year ago, and that treatment continued until recently. I have no information about what this past year has been like for him. During my nursing I watched others go through this, as well as many other infirmities, and it is one of those BIG THINGS. Some good resources for looking into what actually goes on with various illnesses can be found on the Resources Page. Coping well through these parts of life is what we do better when we have practiced Mindfulness and experienced compassion. So I’m still pondering. What does ‘this kind’ of relationship require of me? and what can I give?
The thing is, this is the guy about whom I’d pray after finishing a litany on Gratefulness, the last line of which reads: “grant me a pure heart and generous spirit that I may give without counting the cost”. And with timid supplication I would add: “but please do not put me to the test if ever my 1/2 brother is wanting.” Wow. Pondering can do this kind of thing. So we had a ‘crazy’ family. Everyone’s family is crazy in their own way. My way of coping well was to distance myself as far from and as soon as I could from mine. But now it was test time, and the studying got intense. To the question “what can I give?” the only answer had to be compassion; to simply bring a heart open enough to be compassionate. No words, platitudes, or white lies needed.
is not sympathy, is not empathy, it is more than a Vulcan Mind Meld, it is ‘suffering with’. (Does Spock have more emotion than Data? – Star Trek) And never, ever, any pity; no judgement. And I was willing to try. As it turns out, my 1/2 brother died before I got there. Report is that he passed around 3 AM, still in the ICU, with no family around.
A Compassion Exercise
During all that pondering I remembered the ‘exercise’ I practice when out and about. Pretty simple. Every time I notice that my mind is processing ‘assessing’ thoughts about someone I see – he/she looks sloppy, over-nourished, under-nourished, pretty, ugly, runner, wheel chair-er, etc. I say “just like me”. Over time I noticed that the thoughts became gentler, more accepting, more acknowledging that just as I struggle and stumble on my path through life, so do we all. And as I try to do my best, so do we all. I need no specifics. So when the time came to ponder my 1/2 brother’s life, dying, and death I saw that I am just like him: traveling the path one step at a time, doing the best I can.
Garfield Pondering for 9/16/2013