The AtHome Pilgrim

Musings at a Slower Pace


Philly area, Pennsylvania, USA
"Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita," I find myself still asking some of the same questions I did when I was just a punk kid. The Big Things confuse me. Fortunately, though, many little things delight and amuse me, and some Big Things--my wife, our kids, our bird and bunny visitors, food, baseball--make me very, very happy. In my pilgrimage, I try to be guided by the wisdom of dear old Auntie Mame: "Life is a banquet!"


AtHomePilgrim's Links

Outside Sites
Things Historical
Things Natural
Things Philosophical
Things Baseball
SEPTEMBER 22, 2009 9:27AM


Rate: 19 Flag

Some of what follows has appeared in different form in posts from the past week. I would appreciate it, for my brother's sake, if you read on.  

The précis of a life, which appeared in the memorial booklet:

Father, brother, friend, proud Marine, Vietnam Veteran, staunch UAW member, Very Rotten pig roaster, softball player and coach, storyteller, worker, hunter, mentor, poet, and thinker.

He was a leader who inspired many people. He always knew when others needed careful instruction, wise counsel, a strong shoulder, a funny story, or a kick in the pants. Born in Detroit, he remained a resolute Wolverine in the midst of Buckeye country. Countless people were touched by his life and remember him with love. Many, whether here or elsewhere, pause today to honor him. 



The eulogy: 

Before speaking of my brother, I would like, on behalf of the family, to thank his friends and cronies here who loved him, who cared for him—to the extent that he would allow—, who played ball with him and ate piggy with him, who stood with him when the plant was organizing and supported him as plant chair, who hunted with him and partied with him, and . . . who put up with him. It was clear to all of us in the family that he found a home here. You all made that home, and we’re grateful to you.  



Last Sunday, my brother’s oncologist told him that his cancer had returned, that it was very aggressive, and that he only had a short time left to live. Before she left the room, she told him that she wished she had met him under different circumstances and had known him longer because she enjoyed talking with him so much.  

His son and I were with him when the doctor delivered this news, and after she left the room we could see that he was perfectly calm. A judgment that sends others into fear or tears or rage simply moved him closer to a peaceful center.

I know it might be a bit hard to think of my brother as tranquil, but believe me, that’s what he was. 

Of course, he also started giving his son and me instructions about what to do. He wasn’t that serene. 

Before she left the room, the doctor had said that the next morning she would talk to the people from a local hospice to arrange the next stage of his care. That Monday, when we came to the hospital to see him, a social worker and a nurse from the hospice were already there. They had come to explain what they do. There were six of us arrayed at the foot of his bed, the social worker and the nurse flanking it and his son, his lady, my wife, and I standing at the feet.  

You could see that the social worker was searching for the right way to address this unfamiliar group of grieving people. How would they take this conversation? What was the right note? How would they react? “When we care for someone . . . who is . . . terminally ill,” she began haltingly, and paused, unsure of how to make the plunge. 

In that pause, my brother seized the moment. He jerked in his bed, grabbed his heart with his right hand and said in his loudest whisper “Terminal? You mean I'm terminal?" 

The nurse was startled. The social worker jumped a foot. The four of us cracked up. 

His joke set everyone at ease. Clearly, he was confronting his last journey forthrightly and with courage. There would be no beating about the bush. Just give him the facts, and then he’ll deal with them. We tried to take the cue. 

Later that day, when my wife and I were alone with him, another thing became clear. My brother had been told that he could stay up to ten more days in the hospital under hospice care. At that point, he would have to be transferred either home or to a nursing home, where the hospice care would continue. “I’m not leaving here,” he told my wife and me. “I’m tired, and I don’t want to be moved.” He also knew that either option would be difficult on his friends and family, and he refused, even then, to be a burden on anyone. And his faith told him that he would be in good hands afterward. 


When he died just a few days later, then, we were not surprised. He was very ready to go. I won’t say that he willed himself to death, but next time any of us sees him, I’m sure he’ll describe how he organized his passing. 

Later in the morning that he died, the hospice nurse called. She wanted to express her condolences. In that conversation, she said this. “I wish I’d have known him longer, because I could tell he was a wonderful man. It was an honor to care for him. It was clear he was a special person.”  



These stories from the last week of my brother’s life reveal that he left it just as he lived it: with a strong will, with a desire to be as independent as possible, with clear-eyed realism and a deep faith, with a sense of humor that cut through any pretence, with an uncanny knack for saying the right thing at the right time, with the ability to set people at ease in the most difficult of situations, and with an incredible charisma that allowed people who had known him only for a short while, and only in a weakened state, to recognize nevertheless that here was an impressive man, “a special person,” someone who commanded love and respect.



Words and picture © AtHome Pilgrim.

All Rights Reserved.  

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
I'm sorry for your loss. This was a touching, tender tribute and the spirit, determination and sense of humor he possessed made me feel like I got to meet someone new through your wonderful writing about him. Prayers and love to you and your family and his family and friends.
Thank you for sharing your brother with us. Sincere condolences on his passing.
Just by reading this, I wish I'd known your brother because I can tell he was a wonderful man.
I'm so sorry for your loss - he was clearly an amazing person and through your words, his life is touching even more people than he could ever know.
Very touching, AtHomePilgrim. Thank you for so generously sharing with us, and condolences on the loss of your dear brother.
I love the photo. It says so much.
Such a moving and personal eulogy. Such a good brother you are.

I know this state you are in, this stage of soft mourning, where everything you see is through the lens of grief. Though painful, it can be a time filled with such clarity and closeness to those you love. I remember it as one filled with a new sense of peacefulness, even a touch of the serenity your bother felt last week. It's not a permanent stage, but it's a meaningful and real one.

I feel for you, Pilgrim. All warm thoughts to you today.
Thank you for sharing your brother with us.
cartouche: I'm glad you feel this way because that was my purpose. He was a remarkable guy. And thank you for your kind thoughts.

Bill: Thanks to you as well. I think more condolences would have been due if he had had to linger and suffer.

Julie: He was indeed.

cardamom: Thank you for visiting and for your kind words.

Kathy: Welcome, and thanks to you as well.

waking: Yeah, I love the photo too. The amazing thing is that it was taken little over a year ago. I'm so glad that I was able to capture that look in that setting before all the shit started to hit him. This is the memory I carry. I also like your phrase "soft mourning." It sums the feeling up perfectly. Thanks again for caring.
Bette: Thank you for paying attention to him.
May he rest in peace.
Thank you for adding the photo of your brother, it brought him more into focus for me. He sounds like a man I would have enjoyed knowing, and the twinkle in his eye tells me why he was so loved.

Again I thank you for helping me to grieve my own loss through yours...bless you and my thoughts are with you and yours.
Thank you, AHP, for sharing his spirit and yours through this eulogy, and the pieces that preceded it. The world is dimmer for his passing, but richer for his having been in it.
I only hope that when my time comes, I am half so loved and half so respected as your brother was. This was a fitting tribute to a good man. I wish I could have known him.

Lea: Yes, I think he is doing that now. (Actually, I think he's telling stories . . . )

Buffy: You're a sweetheart for sticking through this. If it did help you, I'm glad.

Owl: Well put.

Torman: I'm sure that you have earned your tributes, and I do think that you and he would have gotten along--he spoke his mind and had low tolerance for BS or fakers. And you guys could have shared some great stories.
I am glad you have somewhere to come to share your brothers story. What a wonderful man he was and what a wonderful brother you are to speak so kindly of him. My thoughts are with you.
Excellent and moving tribute. You have succeeded in drawing a picture of the man through your words so that your friends here can get a sense of the man, and of your loss.
Owl: Your last sentence, that is.

Lunchlady: Yes, this place is a blessing in that it allows me to tell more people about him. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

Carolina: Deep thanks to you also. Now have some fun!
Pilgrim, I had already made a mental picture of your brother, but the photo moved me deeply: this is him, he was good-looking, and he seems so frank and friendly... now I have the real face and expression to accompany your words, thank you very much for this.
You are a great brother, I imagine he died full of love, your writing says so.
A big kiss to you and yours, Pilgrim.
Dear Pilgrim, You will find him near. You will know when. Sincere sympathy.
I've always liked tender-hearted, tough-minded people and that's the impression you give of your brother. Well written and moving.
Marcela: Frank he definitely was, and he could even be friendly at times! I believe that he died at peace, and I believe that he did feel our love and that of his friends. What more can one ask for?

scupper: Yes, he's with me. And thank you.

emma peel: He cared for people who needed caring for, protecting them from aggrandizers and fools. A good code, as you say.
I get the impression that your brother knew how to enjoy life to its fullest and certainly on his own terms. Your tribute is honest and heartfelt—a fitting portrait of a life well lived. Healing thoughts and prayers to you and yours...
skye: That is how he lived, indeed.
"Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all."
—2 Thessalonians 3:16
Much peace and love this night to you.
Thanks, Debbs. That's a lovely passage.
Somehow I missed this. I am so sorry.
Teresa, I have no idea what led you to this today.

But thank you for coming. Really, really, thank you.
Like Mami, I wish I could have known him, Pilgrim! You knocked this eulogy clean out of the park. I think your brother would have approved. I like it that he took it upon himself to put the hospice nurse and social worker at their ease.

It kind of reminds me of the story Al Franken told about his own father's death. Soon before he passed, their family Rabbi made a call, thinking to help Al's father deal with all the emotions of dying. "Dad, the Rabbi's come and he'd reallly like to talk to you," Al told his father.

"Well, if I can help him feel better about this, sure, tell him to come on back," Al's father replied.
Shiral, thank you so much for coming here to comment: very thoughtful of you. Truly. And I love the story of Franken's dad!