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Apr 28

The Measure of a Man

My brother-in-law is dying. Sam is in hospice care. His life is ebbing away.

Yesterday, he struggled to wake-up. There was a parade of people who came to see him. They wanted to cheer him up, to help him pass time. They were shocked and uncomfortable with his obvious physical changes, changes which mirror cancer’s final assault on his body. My sister told me that Sam struggled to greet his visitors, but that he was confused and kept lapsing into sleep. He tried to rally to recognize and greet his friends, but it was difficult for him. They rapidly realized that the true purpose of their visit was not to socialize, but to say, “good-bye.” Nancy, my sister, told me that some people froze upon seeing him, standing, mute, barely entering his hospice room. Other friends will not come to visit because they are unable to cope with Sam’s impending death or possibly their own mortality.

I have walked with my sister during this journey of loss. Sam has been her soul mate for the last 40 years. It has just been the two of them, as a couple, taking on life together.

With the ever present companion of terminal cancer casting a shadow upon our conversation, the three of us have chatted about the meaning of life. We have sat in their den, and spoken about “after.” I have held Sam’s hand when he has taken a moment, away from my sister’s ears, to express his worry about the wellbeing of his wife, my sister, when he passes. I have promised him my commitment to be a constant in her life but realistically, Sam knew such a promise was unnecessary. My family – my sons and husband, are her family. His request was just a reflection of love and concern for his wife.

Are there things that have been left unsaid? Possibly, but I don’t think so. The comments I would make in a eulogy would be the same as those which I have already said to Sam and my sister.

"Sam, I am glad you married my sister. I am eternally grateful that you have built a wonderful life with her. I am glad you lived that life together with joy, mutual love and respect. You have made each other happy. It is heartwarming to see how proud you have been of her. I am grateful for how kind you have been to me, the “kid sister” when I was much younger and facing the struggles I did. I am grateful for your concern about me, my wellbeing and the hopes and dreams you have for my children and for my husband. You are a man who has always strived to live up to or exceed your commitments. You are a loving, kind and ethical person. Those are the measures by which I will always evaluate your life and contributions on earth. I will miss you."

Update: Sam died, peacefully, in his sleep at 2:40 Pacific Time, Friday, May 4, 2012 . We mourn his loss.

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  1. Nancy & Richard Lopaschuk

    Kathryn, thank you for posting and sharing this journey. Have known Sam & Nancy for many years, particularly Nancy & have very fond memories of your father “Gerry’. I went through a similar journey with my brother a dozen years ago… It is not easy..

  2. Nancy Popovich

    Thanks for a lovely, loving tribute. 

  3. Mary Metcalfe

    Though I will never meet Sam, I feel I know the kind of person he is and the warm and loving family you and Nancy belong to. I made the same journey with my wonderful mother-in-law in 2003 and saw the reactions of people who hadn't seen her in a few months. Seeing her daily, we didn't realize what a shock it would be for some and found ourselves consoling people out in the hall at times. It was not a role I thought I would have to play but I found comfort in doing it. I hope it is the same for you. You are all in my prayers.

  4. Marilyn Koyanagi

    A beautiful tribute to a truly good man. Our lives are richer for having known Sam.
    Shiro and Marilyn

  5. Judith Dyck

    Thinking of you. May you have peace in your heart – Same was/is loved.

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