Thursday, November 15, 2012
I am the middle child. I have one older brother and one younger brother. I am the only girl. My older brother is an architect, working for the New York/New Jersey Port Authority. He has designed subway stations and tunnel air vents. I'm not sure what else. He also wrote a book about breaking into field of architecture. He is a very good writer. But this entry is not about him. It is about my other, younger brother. Seven years my junior, he also is an excellent writer and appropriately so, since he is an English professor by trade. A confirmed bachelor, he is dedicated to his work and married to his beloved house. Eight years ago, this younger brother was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. That previous Christmas, I noticed his hands shaking and his gait unsure. "What is wrong?," I asked him, hoping he would disclose job stress and general winter malaise. But he didn't. "I don't know," he said. Even his voice was tremulous, although that could have been attributed to being confronted with his private mounting fears. "Please," I implored, "go to the doctor and get checked out." Fast forward. Since that notable Christmas, both our parent have died. I was divorced from my husband of 27 years (because I finally came out as gay, but that is a story for a different day) and four-out-of-five of my kids have moved on to college and beyond. I am, thankfully, still healthy, strong and active. My brother, long since diagnosed, soldiers on as best he can. He goes to his neurologist regularly (the same doctor who followed our mother through her progressive Altzheimer's Disease and subsequent death) and consumes a continuous cocktail of powerful drugs to calm, prompt, enhance and regulate his ailing body. He must be careful not to fall in the shower, and must allot extra time in the morning for the simple (to most of us!) task of getting dressed and eating breakfast. Shaking hands and compromised swallowing are ever-present worries. By all accounts, he is doing well. He continues to teach, drive, and go about his life with an impressive amount of grace, energy and courage. We talk on the phone and meet for lunch on a regular basis. And I have come to look forward to his regular parting salutation. "Be well," he always says at the end of a phone call or visit. I am humbled by this. I know it is a habitual response like "see ya," or "take care," but his careful choice of words moves me nevertheless. I am well. He, not so much. Yet his consistent hope is for MY well-being. It is not a small thing and it is not lost on me. "Be well. Be well.."