They called me and told me he might last a week and that if I wanted to say goodbye, now was the time. I was terrified to go, death scared the hell out of me and so did losing my brother I was so naive, I thought I would "get it" if I kissed him, so I stayed on the phone for hours before my plane left to go to him. When I got there the brave front I put on fell apart, when I saw his wasted body, I knew it was all true and could pretend none of it was true no more. My sister pushed me towards him, telling me it was ok.
He smiled and said "it's about time you got here"... I could do nothing but sob, even tho he was the one who was so sick, he once more...comforted me He apologised for not getting me a birthday present, I cried some more because he was so unselfish, if I was in his shape I don't think I could've made the effort to go to a bookstore and find someone's favorite book, but at 89 pounds with less than a month to live he did, and he tried so gallantly I'm told.
One night I couldn't sleep and he rolled over in his hospital bed and his scrawny arm came thru the bars reaching for me. I sat up and put his hand to my cheek and sat silent. He let go of my hand and made flying motions upwards, and said he would like to go up now. I asked him if he meant upstairs, where his partner had lived before he died of the same thing. He shook his head no and looked at me and just exhaled so big I thought he died right there. He closed his eyes and I felt so bad for not understanding what he was saying. I felt mad at myself for not understanding the dying process, or AIDS or understanding what it must have been like to be gay and be put down all of your life, then get a virus and have the uppity snobs tell you it's a good thing that "your kind" are wiped out.
He opened his eyes again and made the flying motions again with his fingers waving in the air. He pointed up and said again "I'm ready to fly up" I felt a coldness come over me, I've never felt this before, I was totally terrified that he was telling me he was ready to die and damn, didn't he know how much I needed him still? I would always need my big brother and how dare he say he was ready to "fly up"...but thank god I kept my selfish mouth shut and asked him what he meant, and what he needed to "fly up.
He tapped his chest with a bony finger and waved his hand over his body, indicating his wasted state, for the first time I saw the shame in his eyes at being so sick. He said "I have no strength to fly up" and reached for my hand again. I tried to put it against my cheek to keep feeling him, to just savor the moment of one more moment of his being, but he pulled me close and looked straight into me and said evenly "I have NO strength" ...then I knew he was talking about the strength to just let go, I asked him if that was it, my guess was right.
I told him I was terrified to come and somehow I had all this strength, to take it all, that I could get more. That made him smile and he took a deep breath. I felt all happy, I had solved his problem with dying, and for once, been able to help him, and that felt like a blessing...a gift. Then he opened his eyes again and had this "I forgot something" look" in his eyes. silently said "shit" to myself because this is not something I do and what if I did it wrong? Would I make a horrible mistake and say the wrong thing and then wake up the next morning and find he had died and I didn't say the right thing? He simply said "courage, I need some courage to fly up too." I felt totally trapped. Weren't dying people just supposed to "go to sleep??" and I wanted to run, deny this was happening, this conversation was not real, please god, make it go away... And at that moment, the words came, from my lips yes, but not from me, I swear it. I told him I had brought enough courage, that he had given me so much courage by leading the way and encouraging me that I had all of what I had to give to him to "fly up"... He asked me what I thought dying was like...
I could've just copped out and told him I didn't have a clue, played stupid.But I couldn't...This was my last conversation and I owed it to him to be honest. I had never told anyone before what I thought dying was like, but for him,for me, I told him that night.
"Dying to me, is letting go, you get to leave your wasted body, the freedom from pain is complete and peace fills you like you've never known. I believe you will get to fly around with wings borrowed from angels to all the places you never got to see before you got sick. I believe that you'll be able to sing, and dance and where you are going, nobody is going to ever judge you again, you will only know love, and light, no more darkness, no more anger. And when you get done seeing all the places and people you wanted to, that you go to a different level, one I'm not even sure about, but want to believe in for you." His eyes filled up with tears and they rolled down his face, I wiped them away and crossed my heart with them. I told him with his tears I would never forget him, that I would never stop speaking out about how nobody should die alone, or wear condoms, or be afraid to be who they think they are. I thanked him for all the gifts he ever gave me, for teaching me true humility, for "the last trip" to Disney World and jokingly chastised him again for spending so much money on my daughters and I then. He told me the look of wonder and happiness on our faces, and the laughter was something he would take with him when he "flew up", that he believed all the good in his life would be kind of a fuel for his "flight"...
Then he looked pensive and scared...I wondered again if "this was it". Was he going to die and this was it??? God, why didn't I spend more time talking about HIS day instead of mine??? I pushed the hair out of his eyes and prayed silently, asking God to take me instead of him, he was the good one, I was the wild one. I begged God to just make me sick and heal him. Then when I saw that it wasn't going to really happen, I simply prayed that he help my brother on his journey and help the rest of us to never forget to be kind, because we never know when our time, or the other persons time will be up. When I got done praying and opened my eyes, he was looking at me, that pensive look still in his eyes. I asked him if he was afraid and he kinda shook his head "no"... He made the "flying up" motions again...put his hands down back on his chest and told me he wanted peace. That did it for me, the tears just ran down my face, the dam finally breaking again.
When the heat of the pain and the tears finally passed I wiped my face and told him I thought maybe he would find peace when he let go and went on up, wherever "up" was, whatever "up" was. He totally amazed me at breaking into a beautiful smile and for a moment thru this smile I could see my old brother, not the sick one before me. His whole face lit up and he shook his head and grabbed my hand. All excited now he whispered "that's it!! I have to let go to get the peace!!" Then just as suddenly as the smile came, it was gone and the fear and uncertainty filled his face. "Will I know what to do when the time comes??" he asked.
I reached for his hand again and kissed each finger, I kept his hand in mine and I got really close and whispered "I believe in you and always have. I'm scared to let you go, but if you have got to go "flying up" I will look for the hawk, because in spite of everything you've gone thru in your life, you've managed to stay true, to stay kind. Your wings will fly with grace in death, as they have in life and you will soar wherever you go." He went back to sleep and I sat up in the bed next to him and watched him. His breath grew soft and I was sure he was gone..I kept feeling for a pulse and I kept finding it. This went on for three more hours, then exausted, I fell asleep with my body awkwardly hanging over his hospital bars, holding his hand so he didn't have to die alone, the one thing he was afraid of was to die alone.
The next morning I had to come home, a surgery to fix hemorraging was waiting for me, as well as my 5 year old daughter who was being raised alone by me. I didn't want to go and packed slowly, staying in the room as long as I could so I could comfort myself from the loss about to come. I said goodbye and my brother in law took me to the airport. On the way to the airport it was silent in the car, but I was reliving the talk with my brother in my head. Tears rolled down my face again and I silently thanked God for the gift of being someone my brother felt he could talk to about so scary a subject, that he believed in me, the little sister, to be there for him at perhaps one of the most important moments in his life.
I had my hysterectomy and the next day my father walked in, his eyes sad. He sat down and told me my brother had passed. What I didn't know until later was...I had complications from my surgery and was bleeding from a severed artery, they had to go back in and fix it before I bled to death. My father had called my sister about the emergency I was having and my brother heard the whole thing, in spite of her trying to protect him from the news. He had not gotten out of bed since I left and now he would not close his eyes or take his morphine.
When my father called and told my sister I was going to be okay, she hung up the phone and went on an errand with her husband. While they were gone, a volunteer came and sat with my brother. He finally accepted some water and morphine for the pain.While the volunteer was there, my brother told her he didn't want to die alone, but he also didn't want to die with any of us there because of the pain he was afraid it would cause. He asked her about herself, ever the considerate one. While she was telling him of her life, he took a breath andlet it out. He never took another.
He left me some money. I bought a house in a canyon, away from the city, but close enough for shopping and other things. While the moving men were unloading the truck one of them pointed up and yelled at the rest of us "Hey,wow, look at that, they never fly this low" I squinted and looked up. It was a red tailed hawk, flying extremely low and he flew not more than 15 feet above me, he circled and flew away. I knew he had made it. I also knew he had found peace. I smiled and gave the "I love you" in sign language we used so often.
It is almost 3 years later. My brother lives on in all that knew him. I still talk to the people who were his neighbors and friends and we laugh about things he did to make our day, we cried because one more person had died of AIDS. We remembered and celebrated life and shared it with each other.
In times of distress I will drive along the canyon road and I get upset when I don't see the hawk. I pull into the driveway and most of the time the hawk that eluded me when I went looking for him, well, he flies really low over my house and my neighbors say they have never seen anything like it. Me??? believe it's my brother. He flew up. He's at peace. He lived a full life, in spite of the pain and died with dignity and grace.
Tony, this one is for you, may my wings be as beautiful as yours,
may I be as kind and as wise as you. I love you dear brother.
Frazld2 © June 9, 1997