Every Monday, I plan to publish a past communication or two about Eric Russ and his Health Journey that originally appeared in Caring Bridge. For anyone with a “health opportunity” as my nurse friend calls it, I hope these posts are helpful.
It’s evening, and Eric is resting comfortably at home. He says he feels better, but has no stamina to speak of. He is mostly in bed. He is on pain medication and something for digestive comfort as well. He believes he is getting better and, frankly, that is a mighty fine place to be with oneself.
I have asked for a hospice evaluation for tomorrow afternoon, so a nurse is coming to talk with us.
Through this process life has gotten both simple and complicated. Simple in terms of knowing what’s important. And complicated because there are many needs to be met for Eric. I keep putting one foot in front of the other, and I notice that my heart is opening, my understanding is deepening, and I see life in sweeter ways every day.
Eric is being gentle, open and very loving. He appreciates all your warm thoughts and your prayers. It means a lot to him and he comments about that often.
My youngest brother passed away on June 5th, 2010, after a year long bout with cancer. He was only 50. It is said by some that we have full view of our entire life before coming into this physical world. I’m not sure why someone would opt for a short life. It doesn’t make any sense to me, and I’m going to miss him.
He was a slender, red-headed jeweler, with a shop full of gold and diamonds. He seemed to love working with jewelry and worked long and diligently to be able to open his own retail shop.
After word came that he had passed, my husband and I sat still and just looked at each other. There’s not much to say when someone leaves.
They are gone, and it’s sad.
However, almost instantly, the sadness lifted.
“How strange is that?” I thought.
All the worry and anguish and heart ache surrounding his departure just got up and left — suddenly! What a surprise! Never had I expected to feel instant, well — happiness — upon his passing.
It felt a little strange.
This feeling of elation in the middle of all the sadness was so striking to me that I wondered if I was tuning into him. If so, he was surely in a happier and more expanded state!
You should know before I go any further that for most of my life, my brother and I struggled to relate. We didn’t agree on much, and locating common ground for a conversation was a bit challenging, even awkward. As the years passed, we’d simply avoid conversations about a subject that was even remotely controversial.
It was just easier that way. We could always talk about the weather, so to speak.
In the last year of his life, when he was ill, we found two subjects we could always talk about: Singing and Sunsets. I used to record little mp3’s for him and send them to him. He seemed to appreciate them. Once I recorded “Bridge Over Troubled Water” for him, and other times I sent improvisational pieces that were prayerful, meditative and reassuring.
One evening when he was in pain and seemed to be wondering about how everything was going to turn out for him, he called me and said, “Tell me about the sky tonight where you are. Is it beautiful?”
So I went outside and sat on the well and told him that earlier that evening, we had set up the high powered telescope to look at the four largest moons of Jupiter. It happened to be a spectacularly crystal clear sky, and all the stars were especially beautiful that evening. My brother and I talked for a long time.
So after his passing, I headed down stairs in my home to a room where nobody was, just a nice big open space, and I started to sing. Not a song, not a melody, just long notes of sound to soothe my soul. I let the sound take me wherever it wanted to go. Singing like this is a way to center myself, let go, and express whatever is there.
It felt like a good thing to do at a time like this…
So there I was, getting warmed up for a good and expressive singing lesson, and I swear on a stack of Bibles — my brother was a man of faith– that he appeared in front of me, happy as can be, and began to playfully direct my singing.
This was out of character for him. In life, he was much more serious than that, much more reserved.
After wondering for a moment if I was just crazy, or if I had an over-active imagination in this time of stress, I just went with it. I began to follow his conducting.
With a big smile, his right arm shot up in the air and I’d sing that note. Then he’d waver that hand a bit and I’d do a trill. I followed every nuance. I’d waffle the sound to go right along with his indication, he’d smile and then swoop to the next note. Then he’d change sides, go high, go low, go medium, and it all sounded beautiful to me. Part of the time I was laughing so hard I could hardly sing.
Then there was the crying….
I was so touched that he would visit me.
He was joyful and utterly, completely free — fully liberated and totally expressive, without a concern in the world. And he also looked really attractive and young and happy, just like any guy who is being fully himself does.
I was beside myself with joy and gratitude. It felt heavenly to be with him in this way, and I admit that I always wanted him to be more open and light-hearted when he was alive. Now, in this moment, I was just grateful that I got to experience him in this happy place…
I don’t know how long this went on, probably 20 minutes or so, but I’m just guessing, because there was no sense of time anymore.
I moved through more emotional spaces than I can even begin to describe. He finished conducting, gave me a wave, and off he went.
I sat for a while, reveling in the experience.
Then I walked upstairs and while preparing dinner, I noticed the sunset was beginning to be especially beautiful. Inspiring sunsets are a regular occurrence here and we look forward to them every evening.
But it got crazy beautiful!
With every bite of dinner, the colors of the sunset became increasingly spectacular, and they kept changing — radically and in no small way. We’d take a bite of food, and stop midway with fork poised, and exclaim about the stunning sight before us.
“Wow, look at that!”
“Whoa, who thought it could get even more beautiful! But it just did!”
We had never seen so many big color changes and variations in one evening.
We started to laugh and decided it was Calvin saying hello in another way that I would understand. Who knows if that could be possibly true… but it sure is fun to think about it that way!
We’d eat another bite or two and then stop to take another photo of Calvin having a little fun in the sky. It seemed as if he kept changing his mind about what to paint — oh, let’s try THIS!!! OOOO- what if we added a little salmon across the middle…..
Play with pastel stripes...
Or brighten it up a bit?
Add some intensity ...
Add some mist just for fun...
And I haven’t heard from him since. That fantastic sunset was his final bow apparently.
And it was a stunning one.
Goodbye, dear brother.
Iowa is beautiful, even in late winter, early spring.Granted, it’s cold, and the gray days so far are quite a contrast to my usual daily dose of bright California sun.From having grown up here, I know the Iowa gray can go on all too long this time of year when everyone is ready for spring.
I’m here with my youngest brother, who is 49 years old, and has cancer according to the medical people.It has been tough going on many levels. He is struggling to keep weight on, struggling to breathe, struggling to keep a positive attitude, struggling to accept his situation, struggling to walk, struggling to accept so much assistance, struggling to sleep, and most of all, to live.
His having cancer changed the landscape of our family quite suddenly. There we all were, going about our days and nights as if all we had to do was “the usual” and then we found out he was not well. We were having “lah-de-dah” conversations about the weather and “what did you do today?” which took a sharp and unexpected turn into conversations about how to live life fully, how to help someone else do the same, and what really matters in a day.
The mood — the frame of mind among family members on any given day here at the hospital — varies. Wondering if he will live at all is at the top of the list some days. On other days, all things considered, he looks pretty good. If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you know the “ebb and flow” I’m talking about.
I have a renewed appreciation for the nurses and doctors who do this service for my brother and for others every day in the oncology wing. Being here with him and his process is my lesson in letting go. How he is dealing with the cancer, his treatment choices – all of it is different than I would choose. That is what I think, but I don’t know, because I don’t have cancer and I have never walked in his shoes.
So here I am, hooking up his feeding tubes, learning how to disinfect the ports that carry the “nutrition” into his body, doing driving errands, transporting his children, or doing household chores. My brother’s wife is carrying on the family business so they have an income.The tasks I’m doing seem very small, and they are, but every little bit helps.
Now he is home and having chemotherapy on a weekly basis. He is on the least-invasive, most tolerable drug possible, because he has lost so much weight and getting him stronger is the number one goal now. Finding food he can face eating is quite a challenge. He’s hungry, but nothing seems to sound delicious. Truly good food, fully nutritious food, natural food — all of this seems to be a big turn off. How curious, since it seems that is what could possibly help him recover. Again, I don’t know. I have no idea.
Maybe the information I have about cancer can be helpful to someone else. I will post more soon. In the meantime, listen to your heart. Follow your heart. Imagine yourself looking back on your life. What will you be glad you did? Get to know your loved ones. Have honest conversations.
You’re broken down and tired Of living life on a merry go round And you can’t find the fighter But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out And move mountains We gonna walk it out And move mountains
And I’ll rise up I’ll rise like the day I’ll rise up I’ll rise unafraid I’ll rise up And I’ll do it a thousand times again And I’ll rise up High like the waves I’ll rise up In spite of the ache I’ll rise up And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you For you For you For you
When the silence isn’t quiet And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe And I know you feel like dying But I promise we’ll take the world to its feet And move mountains Bring it to its feet And move mountains
And I’ll rise up I’ll rise like the day I’ll rise up I’ll rise unafraid I’ll rise up And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you For you For you For you
All we need, all we need is hope And for that we have each other And for that we have each other And we will rise We will rise We’ll rise, oh, oh We’ll rise
I’ll rise up Rise like the day I’ll rise up In spite of the ache I will rise a thousand times again And we’ll rise up High like the waves We’ll rise up In spite of the ache We’ll rise up And we’ll do it a thousand times again
During this strange time in history, I noticed y’all were tackling all sorts of interesting projects. I decided I needed one, too—something positive to remember the pandemic of 2020 by.
I decided to pay attention to something I had abandoned…
Nope, I’m not cleaning my garage. I am not organizing one single thing. I’m not planting a garden or cleaning up my yard.
Instead, I decided to take care of myself better. This, folks, has made all the difference for me.
With relatively little time and effort on my part, I feel so much better than I did a month ago.
On March 30, I got on the exercise bike and the yoga mat for the first time in a long time, and did 30 minutes each. I liked it so much that I decided to do it every day. But I fell short of that, and changed my commitment to every other day, which felt more manageable, reasonable, and doable.
I also get off the bike after every song, take a couple of sips of water, shake out my legs and arms for a few seconds, and get back on. This makes the bike project a reasonable proposition, too.
Daily walks of any length—by myself, or with my little guy, Jackson—are a fresh air bonus.
My recumbent exercise bike has pulleys to work my upper body while I pedal, which gets my heart rate up fast, and also helps my whole-body strength. It feels good to get up from writing, or doing a consulting session with a client, to do something physically challenging while listening to good music.
After only a month, I feel a sheet of muscles on the front of me I haven’t felt for a very, very long time. Goodness gracious. Who knew they were there. I’ll be posting rippling ab photos soon, I’m sure.
I have no idea what the scales have to say about my bike/yoga project—I don’t care. Paying attention to scales tends to send me sideways, and therefore, I’m ignoring them completely.
But—I LOVE the way I feel! Hang in there, everyone.