Smithfield: Opinion

My brother and I differ

I have an older brother; we are different in many ways.

In high school, he had a part-time job and a car; I played basketball and bummed rides. After high school, he got a job; I went to college. He married early and has four children and numerous grandchildren; I got married after college and have an 18-year-old daughter who’d better not give me any grandchildren anytime soon. He lives in the same town we grew up in; I live two and a half hours away.

So it’s no surprise, I suppose, that we’re taking different approaches to our father’s terminal cancer; I don’t know that one approach is better than the other.

My brother has taken a leave from work to care around the clock for my father; he sleeps in a recliner in the den, where my father chose to place his hospital bed. I go up on Sundays and stay the night, in part so my brother can sleep in an actual bed.

Among his many duties, my brother prepares my father’s meals, and like a mother of a picky eater, he chides my father when he doesn’t clean his plate. The other morning, my brother asked my father why he had not finished the cereal I had poured; my father said it had gotten soggy.

“You want some more?” my brother asked.

“No, I’m done,” my father said.

“So which is it?” my brother asked. “Was it soggy, or are you done?”

I suspect that my father, his appetite waning, had eaten all that he wanted to. “Soggy cereal” was a little white lie, and my brother had caught my father in it.

My brother tried to continue his gentle chiding, but my father cut him short. “I’m done, I told you,” his voice as strong as I have heard it these past few weeks.

And therein lies another difference between my brother and me: We both want our father to live, but my brother wants him to fight; I figure that decision is my father’s to make.

I don’t know my father’s state of mind; the men in our family don’t talk about such things. But I know my brother wants my father to fight, to not live a second less because he was too weak to eat or had given up on eating. I’m sure I want the same thing, but I’m not going to chide my dad. His life choices are his own. That has always been the case, but it seems especially true now.

Like I said, my brother and I are different in many ways.