Yesterday, some time shortly after eating his breakfast, my cousin David slipped away.
Just a little over a year ago, I found myself writing a blog post in memory of David’s brother, my cousin Robert. After a brief illness he had died in a manner that felt sudden and as if something had been left undone or overlooked, and while we keenly felt his loss, we did, in one sense experience a measure of relief.
Just a few weeks earlier David, had been diagnosed with lung cancer that had metastasized to the brain. At the time, we had worried about what would happen to Robert when David died; we could not see seven weeks into the future and know that the problem we anticipated was not the problem we would face.
Instead, Robert preceded David in death, and while we no longer had to wonder how we would explain David’s absence to Robert, we found ourselves instead having to explain Robert’s absence to David.
After some discussion, we decided to go with a limited truth.
Robert, we explained, had broken his hip (true), and there had been some unexpected complications (also true), and it was going to take Robert a very long time to recover.
My cousin David had broken his hip, not once, but twice, so he was well aware of the work involved in recovering from hip surgery. He also knew that Robert only submitted to regimens grudgingly, so David accepted that it would take Robert a long time to recover.
Meanwhile David was busy with his own medical appointments related to palliative treatments for the cancer with which he had been diagnosed. One treatment with a Gamma Knife ended up being enormously successful and made the past ten months of David’s life possible, and my cousin with an insatiable appetite for life, wrung every drop out of each day that remained.
Despite the success of the treatment, David’s world grew smaller and smaller with each passing month. For as long as was possible we continued to have parties at the board and care where he lived. There was always lots of food, and in between bites, David would tell us about his days, introduce us to new friends, and, if we failed to come bearing cookies, he would ask me how my youngest son was doing and could I possibly bring some of the delicious cookies he sometimes baked with me the next time.
Then, after one particularly difficult medical emergency, it was clear that David could no longer safely live at the board and care, and so began a series of moves from one facility to another in an effort to find the best solution for my cousin as his life neared its end.
While my mother made most of the near daily visits with David, I did, on occasion, spell her, and on those days that I would go to see him, I knew to always come bearing food.
The one thing that cancer had not robbed David of was his prodigious appetite. I would often visit with David in the hour before lunch, and I would bring a sandwich, a banana or two, and a few cookies. We would make our way downstairs where we could each get a cup of coffee, and he would eat all of the food I brought for him. Then, when he was done, he would look at me and ask, “Leslie, is it twelve o’clock yet?” I would check my phone, tell him the time, and then he would ask me to take him back upstairs so he wouldn’t miss lunch.
Then, without fail, when I would leave, David would say, “Thanks for coming, Leslie. It sure was good to see you.”
Despite the limitations of the cancer and his schizophrenia, David never lost his hunger for life, and he lived each moment with an unparalleled earnestness of purpose, and while I know that I will miss him in the days and the weeks and the months and the years to come, I will do my best to honor his memory by bringing the same intensity of purpose to each moment that remains of my life.