He was sitting on the couch reading the newspaper when we got there. I kissed him on the top of his head and said~hey Grizzly Adams~ for he had grown a beard. I sat down beside him and he looked at me ~I have to talk , can we talk? I said sure and settled in, wondering what was on his mind. He showed me some photos, one of the Grand Tetons and another of a butte standing alone in the middle of nowhere. They were beautiful scenes, pictures taken on his travels around the US in the mid 1970's. He had an adventurous soul and told tales of wild adventures: land slides, lightening strikes during sudden blizzards, blistering heat in Death Valley. He told these tales with an urgency as if time was running out and he felt the need for someone to hear him, to know of his exploits, to be able to cement his place on this planet in the mind of another, so as to be acknowledged as having lived a life of substance. I listened as he spoke and thought of what it must be like to know that death is right around the corner, that vast unknown lurking in the corner of your eye. He seemed frightened and filled with dread and despair. But he kept talking, eventually simply listing places he'd seen: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Tetons, Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore, Grand Canyon, Painted Desert, Hoover Dam and on and on. Tears dropped from his eyes and he would try to wipe them without letting me see them. I put my hand on his shoulder and rested it there. He cried ~I brought this on myself. I said ~ no , no one would do this knowingly, you have a disease no different than cancer or diabetes~, but my words were small consolation for a man dying of liver failure, a slow and debilitating death. I asked him if he had a plan, and knowing exactly what I meant, he said no, that he had tried that before and wasn't very good at it. Having been at a few desperately low places in life myself, I told him I knew what he was feeling, I knew what it was to want to die and have done with it. But that is not an option for him, and if it was, I believe I would help him if I could. I would not allow an animal to suffer as he is suffering and the pain I felt at leaving him was as bad as any I have ever experienced.
It affected me profoundly, left me weak and sad beyond all sadness. He called last night to tell tales of his older brother who had passed on before, and we listened without saying anything. Tommy has been gone for more than 10 years now, and he feels like he will be following soon. I want desperately to make things better, to help him survive, to give him some hope. I want to do that for his big brother, for his sons, for myself, for him, but I am helpless in the face of his illness. Life can be cruel, cruel and hard. It takes but a slip to go from having everything to having nothing, a split second in the grand scheme of things. We are, all of us, responsible for the decisions we make and must pay the inevitable consequences of the ones poorly made, but in the end, after all is said and done, and there is no hope left, it should not be so hard to die.