Tuesday, May 31, 2016


My youngest brother, Tim, is dying of colon cancer and I'm feeling so bad for him. We had a falling out last summer when things became testy between us while our mother was living out her last months in a long-term care facility in Northfield. There were several of us who broke ties with Tim or was it Tim who moved on. Regardless, he needs us now.

My sister Jackie has remained in sporadic contact with him and it was she that he confided in recently about the struggle he's in. She called me to pass along what he'd told her. I was out on a ride and listened while I pedaled along not quite sure of what to make of it and I'm ashamed to say, allowing our falling out to overshadow all of what Jackie was telling me. I returned my phone to my back jersey pocket, said a prayer for him and tried to find the rhythm I'd been enjoying before her call. But I kept thinking about Tim and what he might be going through and there's no way I could come anywhere close to appreciate any of that. I called Keith to tell him what Jackie had told me. Neither of us were ready to let our guard down just yet.

I sent Tim a text as I rolled into Northfield and told him I was sorry for what he was going through and that I was available to help him in any way he needed—all he had to do was ask. I didn't feel comfortable calling him, unsure if either of us was up for that.

I spoke with Jackie again last week and she told me of a recent visit she'd had with Tim while taking him to a doctor's appointment. She told me that he looks so ill and so thin that his clothes are falling off him because he can't eat and has lost so much weight. He has little to no money for necessities because he can't work in his condition but he's too proud to ask for help. She was crying as she encouraged me to reach out to him.

And I did.

I hung up from Jackie and gave Tim a call. He sounded tired on the phone but he was pleasant. He tried to tell me a little of what he was dealing with and how the word "overwhelming" doesn't quite do it justice. He said he's on a low dose of Percocet to help with the discomfort he's feeling although he's not in pain. It helps to take the edge off as well. He's incontinent and that adds another layer of difficulty to an already difficult situation. I stressed to him that I'm here if he needs me and to not consider me a last resort. He thanked me and I told him I loved him and that I cared about him as does everyone in our (at times all too dysfunctional) family. It was a nice conversation.

Jackie has been the main one in our family to help Tim with the myriad of appointments to be scheduled and forms to be filled out as he seeks to find out for certain what he's up against medically and what financial assistance may be available to him. Tammy and I will now be taking over from Jackie as it's simply easier for us considering Tim lives on our end of town.

I was going to take him to a doctor's appointment this afternoon but as I was driving there I called him and he told me there was a change of plans and that he wouldn't need a ride until this Thursday, two days from today. "No problem," I said, "is there anything I can get for you and bring it over?" I asked. He took some time to do a mental inventory of needs and mentioned he could use some laundry soap and Boost: a nutritional drink which is the only source of food he can stomach. I stopped at Walgreens on County Rd 11 in Burnsville and as I walked the aisles to find what I was looking for I tried to mentally prepare myself for seeing him again, thinking about what Jackie had said about how ill he looked and how she felt he should probably be in hospice care.

How can you ever put yourself in the shoes of someone going through something such as this? How can I begin to understand the emotion he must be feeling as he stands on the edge of this cliff called life and looks out over the edge, unsure of what to honestly expect when he loses his footing and leaves us. I can't begin to imagine what he's thinking and feeling, but I try.

I worked my way back along a winding road to the cluster of townhomes where he lives in the basement of one he was renting from a woman. He was waiting for me, seated in his truck in the driveway. I tried not to be too upbeat. I made sincere eye contact with him and whatever stupid small-talk came to mind.

Jackie was right. She hadn't overstated how bad he looked. I wouldn't have recognized him had we passed on a sidewalk. He's aged at least 25 years in the last 8 months and it's so incredibly sad to see. We talked a little before he began to cry. I embraced him and told him I loved him and that I was there for him. It was so sad. He doesn't deserve this.

I only stayed a few minutes. He wasn't up for this and I didn't want to stress him any more than he already was. I reached out to some siblings on my way home but I didn't realize my phone's volume was turned down and I couldn't contact anyone. Maybe it was for the better as I was still trying to process my time with Tim.

I texted Tammy and Rachel and Keith and Tracee when I got home.

I was out walking the dogs tonight when Tammy drove by on her way home from the club. She pulled over and with a most concerned look on her face, she suggested we offer Tim our spare room upstairs—to come and live with us. What a great idea! I thanked her for suggesting it and asked if it was okay if I called Tim now to let him know. "Yes" she said. There was no other consideration to concern ourselves with.

I gave Tim a call and did my best to manage the pups while we walked and talked. Tim was thankful for the offer but said he'd have to think about it. I told him he could stay with us and it wouldn't cost him a cent. He could make his room up however worked best for him and we'd put the rest of his things in storage and that this would allow him to remove so much of the stress in his life and fight this cancer. He thanked me again for the offer but said he'd need a little time to think about what would be best.

"I get that" I said.

We would love nothing better now than to make our home his home and give him all of the comforts he could want for, for however long he needs.

He deserves that.


John A Hill said...

I'll be praying for Tim.
And his brother, too!

Kevin Gilmore said...

Thank you, John.