He Cries More Than He Laughs Now

Part seven of the series “Seven Months for Seven Siblings”

The youngest of seven children whose parents are deceased, Colleen Haggerty chronicles about the coalescing of her adult siblings following the sudden brain cancer diagnosis of their single/childless 53 year old brother, the makeshift care-giving they built along the way and her experiences with the surprising person who awoke from that fateful brain surgery.

The joke was on me.

Our 54-year old brother, Kevin, was doing so well now, despite his living six months with brain cancer without treatment, that I gullibly entertained the idea of needing new a care giving plan for his ongoing, self-sustainable life.

Indeed, we would need a new game plan, but not for his longevity. It seemed our library visit last month, reading book covers, was Kevin’s peak.

The bickering between him and our sister, Keri, was apparently more than just frayed nerves among siblings pushing each other’s buttons, as we’d hoped. He began to have mean streaks by February, with piss-and-vinegar moods spiked with vulgarity. Paranoia and anxiety also crept in. He accused others of stealing from him, and he snuck out of the apartment a few times, once to yell at the apartment complex gardener for the loud leaf blower.

The signs were no longer too subtle to ignore.

The decline had begun. We all knew that once this happened that things would digress quickly. And they did.

I’d hoped to have enough time to take Kevin somewhere exotic before it was too late, the kind of place he’d only dreamed of seeing, like the Matterhorn in Switzerland or the Taj Mahal. We went down to Oceanside for a family brunch and to see firsthand how he was doing, gauge his ability to take a big trip.

Kevin comes up with his final travel bucket list

But it was clear that travel wasn’t feasible for Kevin now.

Physically, his speech slowed, his balance was thrown off and he walked with deliberate concentration. Memory was fading, verbal responses came with longer pauses.

Then, he lost his ability to draw.

It was devastating. He snapped his finger and said “just like that, it went away,” a heartbroken look on his face. No longer being able to draw was the anchor plunging him into depression and fear, for his sacred creative outlet was no more… as was his time left. And he knew it.

He cries more than he laughs now.

Apparently, extreme emotional outbursts and tears are common as brain cancer worsens. Mid-sentence he cries, shoulders heaving up and down, breath gasping, and eyes perpetually red and glassy. Every ten minutes you could expect another flood of sobbing. Kleenex was always on hand.

He was scared. He wept that he failed, that he let us down.

Everyone did their best to try to lighten the mood, our team of acrobats and plate-spinners attempting levity amid palpable despair.

Adding a hospital bed to Kevin’s small apartment just gave us more places to take selfies (yes, that is a lampshade on my head, thank you)

His apartment was flooded with Kevin’s two favorite things: sweets and song.

Crumbs from all the cookies, pop tarts, chocolates, and odd Mexican sugary confections flung from our mouths as — in between the crying periods — we laughed and sang everything from The Simpson’s Quickie Mart song to the lyrically tongue-twisting “Ring Them Bells” by Liza Minnelli, Kevin still remembering most of the words.

Kevin sings with Liza while I stress eat a poptart

But, by month’s end, his limited walking that had resembled an ancient Chinese man hunched over with just inches of step distance had ceased. His body was shutting down, unable to control even the most basic bodily functions.

On one visit, I walked into the apartment as Kevin lay in the hospital bed we ordered through hospice care, while Keri mopped up urine in the bathroom where he had missed the toilet a few minutes prior, direction nonsensical to him now. Keri was in tears as I fed Kevin anti-anxiety meds.

We’d hit the breaking point.

But as we looked for available hospice facilities to move Kevin into, several people outside of our care-giving circle suggested Kevin may be more comfortable spending his final days in his own apartment, among familiar surroundings. A valid point, but I was admittedly resentful of outsiders weighing in on this.

Early into his diagnosis, Kevin was clear he didn’t want to burden the family in the very end - a position shrouded by the memory of our dad dying at home after a long, drawn out battle with cancer as my oldest sisters and Kevin watched, leaving scars with them to this day. None of us ever wanted to repeat this.

Yet, Kevin was changing his mind constantly in these final weeks as the cancer took over.

Considering his comfort over our feelings and fears, we changed course and paid out-of-pocket for private in-home nurses, the around-the-clock care giving Keri a break and Kevin additional support. But this offered little relief for anyone. Keri felt like she was abandoning her brother and Kevin was far from comfortable as nurses unfamiliar to him or his medicinal schedules confused and scared him, the strangers in his house fanning his paranoia and anxiety.

Best intentions aside, after three days it was apparent that this approach was doing more harm than good.

It was time to move our brother to a hospice facility.

Next Issue: Hospice Coda

The first thing Kevin will do when he passes to the other side? Draw. And draw and draw some more.
This became the last family brunch at the harbor, early February, while Kevin could still walk, albeit slowly

Read the previous six blogs of the series here:

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