Hanging out here at Smith Ranch nursing/rehab facility in San Rafael with my recovering brother, Jamey, three+ weeks after he had a sizable malignant tumor removed from his cranium, similar to John McCain’s. I did this abstract calla lily about a month ago, before this frightening avalanche hit, working with watercolors and ink and pastels. Really enjoyed it. Haven’t painted much since then as I’ve been mostly camping out in my brother’s hospital room. He was moved to the rehab spot last week (surgery was at UCSF), and the PT teams were working him, getting his muscles stronger and helping him de-wobble. Which meant I could take out my paints a bit and catch up on laundry.
Except I just found out this morning his next move is into hospice, as he’s not strong enough for radiation — it would weaken him and only would buy a bit of time. Time which would be miserable.
I’m kind of numb, really. Spending lots of time with bro as he struggles to understand what’s happening. His brain has served him well throughout his life, so since it is now turning on him, it’s confusing and upsetting for this accomplished brainiac. He’s an MIT grad (with scholarship) and got his PhD at UC Berkeley in engineering (and he tells great stories of working as a house painter to pay for grad school in the 1970s, including being part of a team that painted Francis Ford Coppola’s office building in North Beach in SF which involved some intricate problem-solving). Always been quite brilliant and good at figuring shit out — he worked as an administrative law judge for the CA Public Utilities Commission (among other career accomplishments) and fought for all of us when Pac Bell or PG&E wanted to unfairly hike up our rates. He’s my one remaining sibling, and has always been my hero (he’s nine years older and as a little girl I worshipped him) and he’s getting ready to leave the planet and I hardly know how to soak up this information. He turns 79 next month. The same age as dad was when he died.
But at the same time I am happy to be with him and help look after him. We have many lovely tender moments, as he lets me into his heart. He sometimes recounts memories — he’s fuzzy on his current situation, but one afternoon talked about our childhood neighbor Carolyn’s grandfather, Grampa Louie who taught meat-cutting classes for years at San Quentin to the prisoners. Not kidding. And dear Carolyn, who babysat me and little sister when we were very young, got a kick out of hearing me recount that story.
Life and death and sickness and here we are, living and dying. I am surrounded on all sides by loving friends and family members who root for me and my brother. Jamey may not be long for this world, but he is loved and respected and adored by many people. And they love me too. And I am grateful for this large and rich and multi-layered existence, truly.
30″ x 22″ ink, pastel, pencil, watercolor on paper