Thursday, January 26, 2012

He not busy being born is busy dying

"He not busy being born is busy dying."  Bob Dylan from It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding). 

In the spring of 1992, when my mother was dying of brain cancer, I watched as she used her brain to try to fool the doctors.  They would ask her questions, "Good morning.  Can you tell me your name?" (Her name was Lorna).  And some days she got that right.  But as she deteriorated, often she couldn't answer that one, or what day it was or what month or what year.  Yet my mother was a very sharp cookie.  When asked questions she rambled around, telling the doctors about a variety of things, most of it not making any sense depending on which electrical impulses happened to make their way through the frayed wires of the plugs in her brain that used to fit in the right sockets.  It was heart-breaking.

While in London this week I took a planned side trip to Geneva to visit my old friend Deb.  She was my brothers' first girlfriend when we were all in summer camp.  We reconnected after many distant years in 2003 at a camp reunion.  My wife and Debbie hit it off and a couple of years after that took a "Thelma & Louise" road trip through the Southwest U.S. which they documented with some incredible (and funny) photos.  

As a group, we counselled each other (not the summer camp variety but the kind that good friends do for each other).  Deb has always been a brilliantly talented writer (and deft Scrabble player) who for the past number of years has been living in Geneva and working for Rolex, creating and editing some of their most prominent and visible marketing materials.  Before taking that job, she was free-lancing as a web music journalist and interviewed some very well-known names in rock, blues and jazz.  Music has always been a strong bond amongst our camp friends and her appreciation and love of music even led her to taking up blues harmonica which she played with friends in her adopted country of Guatemala (Debbie grew up in Montreal).  We've all seen each other through some of life's growing pains and soul-searching times.  Deb is a breast cancer survivor which is one reason why her current condition is so sad.  She is suffering from Glioblastoma, an inoperable and except in rare circumstances, incurable brain tumor.  More than a year ago doctors gave her three months to live.  She embarked on a series of experimental chemotherapy and while it hasn't been any fun (the side effects and what-not) she is still with us.  But, her brain is messing with her too.  

My wife and I call her periodically and on those calls she sounds extremely lucid and her memory seem phenomenal.  She sounds up-beat and tells us of the books she is reading, the writing she is doing and other stuff that had us feeling more hopeful.  But a few weeks ago, one of her sisters' told us that all Deb was telling us was fantasy.  Well, I witnessed that first hand yesterday and today at her bedside.  Yesterday, her 59th birthday, she remembered me as soon as I walked in the door.  But this morning she didn't know who I was at first and as the time wore on, she knew me and called me by name.  She drifted in and out of making sense or talking nonsense.  At times, she used a word that she knew was wrong and tried desperately to correct herself.  This morning, a doctor and his colleague came in to talk with her about how she wants to live the remainder of her life.  The "living will" stuff.  And while Deb gave some conflicting answers (I think I would have too if I was her) she did tell the doctors that her best friend was the one who knew her wishes and should be the one to have the legal authority in such circumstances.  It was a heavy scene for me to observe.   

The weirdest thing was that during the time I spent with her she got two phone calls and was talking as lucidly (or perhaps even more) than you or I.  She remembered projects she'd worked on, the names of children and grandchildren.  She said some random things which I told her I'd make into a song and send her the demo.  The first line (all her) is "You can't take the sunshine with you no matter where you go."  We had a great time writing those lyrics together.  The brain is an unbelievable thing; how it works and how it fails to work in almost the same moment.  

She is in the palliative care unit of a wonderful hospital just outside Geneva.  It's for end of life care, usually very short term, but she has fooled them.  There are people who have helped her draw her will for the first time and prepare for death.    To some of us, death comes sudden and without warning.  The rest of us don't want to admit to ourselves that Bob Dylan's lyric is totally true.  And who is to say that we will be given the luxury, of sorts, to have the time to wrap things up in a tidy package and say, "There, I've done what I wanted to do and I am at peace."  Deb told me that she's heard how some other patients answer the question, "What do you dream of?"  One said, "To swim with dolphins."  Deb's dream is simply to see another spring.  I don't know that she will.  Do we know how many springs we will see?  Does anybody really know what time it is? Shouldn't we start caring?

On the road....

January 30-February 1:  Scottsdale, Arizona:  IREI's VIP Conference
February 6-10:  New York
(NEW) February 15 & 16:  London and Frankfurt to moderate breakfast briefings for RCA (Real Capital Analytics).
February 23 & 24:  Chapel Hill, NC to be attend the UNC Kenan-Flagler Real Estate Conference and be a judge at their case competition.
February 25-26:  Asheville, NC
March 29-30:  Philadelphia, PA to be a judge in the Villanova University Real Estate Case Challenge
April 25-27: Vienna, Austria to attend the INREV Annual Meeting
May 17-20:  North Palm Beach, FL to attend the meeting of The Homer Hoyt Fellows.

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