One day, a message popped up on my phone that I had feared for years: “I’m looking for my patient’s sister, Jay Friedman.”
A conversation began with a doctor who was not a messenger of good news. At 65, my brother Jay was suffering from advanced pancreatic cancer. He and I grew up in Devine Corners, New York, a small town in the Catskills where our parents, two Holocaust survivors, raised chickens. Their personal history, exacerbated by the isolation and poverty of our farm, made my father abusive, especially towards his only son.
I was the only one in the family with whom Jay had kept in touch for the last thirty years. We communicated exclusively by e-mail or postcards, which I sent to the mailbox. Although he worked for a quarter of a century on the computer network of the local school network, my brother did not have a mobile phone. His doctor found me through Google.
Jay had just been admitted to the posh Seattle hospital, where I was able to call him directly from his room. At the end of the line, his voice was weak, plaintive.
Jay, I’ll be there I said. Let me be with you.
– I dont knowhe replied. My house is a mess.
— I can stay at the hotel.
– I will tell you.”
I started to panic. I knew the prognosis was bad, but my brother’s loneliness added an even darker shadow to the picture.
He was discharged from the hospital with a bag strapped to his chest to drain the bile that his intestines could no longer process due to tumors. A few days later, her doctor called me back. Jay needed my help.
I took a ticket to Seattle, rented a car, and drove along Puget Sound to Kitsap County. Before entering my brother’s house, I whispered a prayer to give me courage. As I followed the sound of his weakened voice through a maze of papers and boxes and electronics, I found him lying on the couch. His withered skeletal body was consumed by disease. Only his husky baritone voice remained recognizable.
“Thank you for coming, he told me. Sorry for being rude on the phone.”
He was wrapped in a blanket full of holes. A layer of chestnut covered the floor and worktop of his kitchen. He drank tea with lemon from the only glass he had. Not having a kettle, he heated water in an old pot.
I made more tea and cooked the chicken. After taking a few sips of tea and a baby snack, Jay told me he wasn’t hungry anymore. He slowly walked up the stairs to his bedroom. Sheets haven’t been changed in months. In pla
Source: Courrier International