Destination Unknown: Family, Loss, and Regret
Editor's Note: "Destination Unknown" typically features posts regarding Pacers play-by-play radio broadcaster Mark Boyle's life on the road, basketball insight, and general musings. This entry follows a different route, taking a personal turn that's put Mark on a different type of journey away from the basketball court. As always, Mark's take is uniquely his own and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.
My brother is dying.
Not in the way most of us are dying, where death is merely a concept, and even though we know it’s inevitable we rarely think about it. No, my brother Scott is dying in a way that is tangible and bitter, like a dark cloud hovering on the horizon, waiting to unleash a torrent of pain and agony.
My brother has terminal liver cancer.
I’ve written about Scott before, so I won’t go into the specifics again here, except to say that I’ve more or less assumed for a long time that he would die before I did, even though he’s younger than I am. Still, when my dad called to tell me the news about my brother’s diagnosis (5:52 PM, October 13, 2014; you don’t forget stuff like that), it hit hard. I don’t show my emotions easily or often, but I was enjoying a cup of coffee at a local establishment when I got that call, and I cried in public for the first time in my life. The lady sitting next to me, a total stranger, gave me a big hug, told me her own sister was a cancer survivor, and assured me that everything would turn out all right.
But it won’t.
And it’s not just because Scott is nearing the end. That’s a big part of it, obviously, but I’ve always wondered if I could have been a better and more supportive brother. When we were kids, it wasn’t enough to beat him in our various competitions, I had to humiliate him. When I got A’s in school, I would ruthlessly taunt him about his C’s and D’s. I know part of that is about brothers being brothers. But, still, you wonder. What if I’d been more supportive? What if I’d been more empathetic when he started having his problems with drugs and alcohol, instead of wondering why he didn’t have his act together? Yes, I was 17 years old then, but I cringe now when I recall how disgusted I was at his lack of willpower and self control.
And that’s not all I’m feeling guilty about. I’m finding out is that this is as much about how it affects me as it is about my brother dying, and this seems stunningly narcissistic to me. Am I really that selfish? That can’t be a normal feeling, can it? Do others feel that way when they know loved ones are on borrowed time? Do you?
I think about my family. My dad is in his 80s, and I know he's struggling with the idea of burying one of his children. And my sister, who is probably the most caring, supportive person I’ve ever known, is showing a strong front. But she feels things in a way that I never have, and I know she's devastated. What do I do for them?
The doctors say the clock is running, and that Scott’s remaining time can be measured in weeks, or maybe months, not years. And they say that he can expect to suffer through excruciating pain as the days pass. He’s been shot, stabbed, robbed, and homeless. He’s endured surgeries that have, among other things, left him attached to a colostomy bag for months. That’s not enough? Apparently not, and some days this agnostic thinks like an atheist. Can’t he even make it to the finish line pain free?
I’m planning on going to Arizona before too much more time passes to see my brother one last time. He’s an alcoholic and a substance abuser, but if he needs a fifth of Jack to ease the pain, I’ll bring him two. Or three. Or a case. Yeah, I know that there are moral and ethical questions here that might interest some of you. They don’t interest me, because I haven’t done a damn thing to help my brother. Ever. Whatever it takes to help him, even if it’s only for a moment or two, I will do.
Love is a powerful emotion. Scott and I have never been close, and I’ve been really surprised at how profoundly this has affected me. My mom passed several years ago, and while that was difficult, it didn’t come close to impacting me like this. I’m ashamed to admit that while I felt all the normal emotions – sadness, loss, and the like – I grieved more when my beloved cat died than I did when my mom passed. Does this make me a bad guy? Unfeeling? Weird? All of the above? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m in my 50s and I don’t understand myself any better now than I did when I was in my 20s.
So. My brother is dying, and I’m lost. I don’t know what to do, for him, for my dad, for my sister. Or, for that matter, for myself.