21 June 2009

If I Seem to be a Little Blue....

The Quandry….
by Rod Smith

So I called him, as I often do these days, he can't get to a computer any more and he's got to be bored out of his mind…

The voice on the phone is recognizably his, but it is punctured by the snorts and snarfles of a man struggling for every breath.

The non-committal "yep, yeah" in response to most anything I said might be offensive in almost any other context…. the excitement he feels at my presence on the phone is palpable, yet verbal response is more than he can manage right now…. "yep, yeah, OK … oops pardon me I just chundered…. yep, yeah…"

in the background beepers are going off, sounds like its his bed…. and some sort of interference that sounds for all the world like a bunch of old aboriginal guys playing didjeridoo...

Were I there I could sit with him for a while, just be there, that way he could talk if he felt like it… but the damned phone…. you can't be present and silent, that very comfortable silence between people who know each other well… it's not what a phone is for... one "needs to have a conversation" on the phone…

I'm 15,000 miles away… at least I have the phone.

He's staring the Grim Reaper down for the fourth time in 8 months….. at least he has a phone…

It may not be my tool of choice for comforting the sick, but the phone great when that's all there is…

It is impossible to make meaningful conversation when I have no idea how much of what I am saying is understood…

So, does he need the conversation? It is clearly more than he can cope with, but that doesn't make it a bad thing…

I contemplated calling him back and reading something meaningful to him… but what? The only book that I know would excite him is "Tertius Interveniens" the Kepler volume I left him with last year when I visited…and yes we are crazy, he and I, I don't know too many people who get excited over Kepler…

ye gods that was over a year ago!! …

I read his cards for him the night before he went to see the doctors about this… "this is serious, mate, it may not kill you, but its gonna turn your world upside-down…."

I'm just glad I didn't read his astrology while I was there, it would have been very hard to mask my anxiety once I saw how that stacked up... but I digress

How do I feel when I'm really ill? Do I want hours of conversation?.. nope… I want to be left alone to get myself better…, someone calling by every now and then to make sure I'm OK is great, but more than 10 minutes conversation sets me back when I'm that sick… and he's that sick and then some…

I guess I'm trying to tell myself that I handled it well, that the 5 or 8 minutes of not-terribly-interesting rambling, the awkwardness of trying to present conversation in ways that can be answered in yes-no sound-bites, the overwhelming sense that I was taxing him way beyond what he could cope with, and yet my own desire to be there, to be really present with him when he needs support….

It was both cruel and kind to end the conversation quickly, cruel because I know how much it means to him, kind because I know it taxes him deeply… and cruel again because I really don't know how to cope with it… and that's not a situation I find myself in very often at all… I can always cope, but this one has me rattled…

And so to the quandary, is it worth it?…. Weighing the pro's and con's, is it worth what it costs him to talk with me? Is it worth what it costs me to talk to him?

Conversation is, after all, more about the desire to communicate, than about the words we use to do it… it has to be worth it, lest all conversation be rendered meaningless by fleeting moments of difficulty...


  1. Well, Rod- the sliding weight that semed to rise and then fall again from my gut to the base of my throat never quite made it out as I read your post...damn Cancerian sensitivities.
    maybe a way of gaining peace for both would be for another to read a copy of this to him as you both listen. I sense that the 'open line'he held while knowing you are the one on the other end of it...hearing the voice...was a palpable experience. Throughout I am certain he was actively in subconscious review of 'where' the two of you have been together in this lifetime, and that felt like life.
    For you- the writing, the blog is essential.
    I wish peace for both of you.
    With deepest respect and love,to all of you in this,

  2. Thanks Linda,

    I'm glad I put this into words.

    It has made it possible to sort out the feelings, and gain a little perspective.

    Thanks for your support.

  3. Yes, peace, love, and respect to all of you as you go through this. Janis B.

  4. This came through Facebook from a friend of mine in LA... Thanks Jeanette

    Ya know....I worked a few years in a nursing home and am well acquainted with serious illness and death.

    Often, I held the hands of people who had been forgotten by their families....a stranger to accompany them on their final journey...we had a policy that no one died alone, and we all tried very hard to be there for someone's last moments when there was no family.

    How nice it would have been for a family member to even pick up a phone at some point. I know it would have been appreciated...something for the person to hang on to....not the words....the fact that someone actually CARED.

    There are no right words to say. No perfect conversation that will make everything better. The length of the conversation doesn't matter...they are 'just words' after all. They will be forgotten. But the feeling....the feeling that they and what they are going through matters....that is something they will take with them. Be it in death, or through a serious illness.

    So don't be discouraged. Whether you are 15,000 miles away or right there at the bedside doesn't matter. Even if he gets to a point that he can't respond, just to hear the voice of someone who cares makes all the difference in the world.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts Janis, if you could light a candle for my mum, she's 87 and has to contemplate burying one of her children... that has to be tough

  6. You know Rod, reading your post and what the person on Facebook said took me right back to the day my dad died. I was on the phone with him (I was in Oregon) while he lay dying in a hospital in Chicago, surrounded by our family. Just by being on the phone with him, and not really talking, we both knew that I was right there with him until the end even though I couldn't be physically present. I am thinking it was the same for your brother. My deepest sympathies go out to you during this time.


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