My late brother was my only sibling and seven years my senior. Bill played guitar in a band when he was a teenager but I couldn’t go to his gigs because I was underage (: Pete played sax, Frank played bass and Lou was their drummer.
Mom, Dad and I were at Bill’s on Christmas Day 1980. I asked him why he was sweating and he said, Oh, it’s just hot in here. In fact he was stoicly covering up the pain he was having from the blood cancer he had been fighting since the previous summer. The day after Christmas, Bill’s girlfriend, Louise called the ambulance. Mom only visited Bill once in the hospital because it was too painful for her to see her son suffer. She also didn’t know the seriousness of his sickness, Bill not having wanted Dad and me to tell her that his doctor had informed him at 38 years of age that he had a year and a half to live.
A few days into his stay, he was transferred to the Palliative care unit, his leukemia having gone into the acute blast stage. Bill asked for morphine but the doctors only prescribed a drug cocktail for pain. On one visit I asked him what I could get him and he weakly said ‘a coffee’. So I brought him a mug of coffee and holding the mug in one hand, he outlined the eyes and upturned mouth with his free hand. Typical Bill, always in good humour no matter what. Even when he was first diagnosed, I would call him to ‘cheer him up’ and he was the one who told me the joke of the day.
On my visit that record-breaking cold day of January 4th, the nurse met me at the door to his room and told me I’d see a big change in Bill, as he had slipped into a coma. Louise and I stayed at his bedside until I thought I’d better call his friend Lou in Toronto to come quickly if he ever hoped to see Bill again. I stepped into the other room to make the long-distance phone call and heard Louise call out. When I went into the room, she said Bill had just died. I saw him take another breath and I ran out to the nurse to come quickly because I thought he was still alive but she said not. That had been his last breath. The priest came into the room and in consolation said stay here and let’s pray. Bill’s soul is still very close to his body and it will give you strength.
I had the task of breaking the news to my parents. I don’t think I will ever have a harder thing to do.
Four years after Bill died, I heard his voice when I was sleeping and he told me what he wanted me to say in the memorial notice I put in the paper.
Dear Mom, Dad and Chris
and all who loved me
Weep not for me;
What is the end of life for the caterpillar;
Is the beginning of life for the butterfly;
And I soar with the eagles.