My brother is on his final pilgrimage.
This one is not a road to a Cathedral, a new relationship, a new house, or a new family.
It is not to a new job or a new pair of jeans.
This is the journey home.
We are blessed to accompany him, however hard it may be.
There are surprises, and as I counsel all new pilgrims, we have no expectations.
We do not know how long the journey will take.
We do not know how many good days and how many painful days we will have.
We only know we began a week ago and we know we will eventually reach the destination.
Mike has had violent hiccoughs for over 36 hours now.
Nothing seems to help.
Occasionally they go away for 10 or 15 minutes.
But then they return.
I'm sure he is exhausted.
The sound grates on our nerves,
and no matter how kind, how compassionate, how patient we try to be,
the fact is it cuts to the core of my being every time he gasps.
Last night I went into the living room to check on him.
His eyes were wide open and staring at nothing.
He was not blinking.
But he was hiccoughing every 15 seconds.
I thought he was having a seizure.
I gently nudged him and called his name.
He was sleeping.
I was sorry I woke him.
I never knew people slept with their eyes wide open.
It was bizarre.
Today he goes in and out of lucidity.
He talks to invisible people and is reliving his memories.
He gets up to use the toilet and we hold our breath - will he make it without falling?
But this one last bit of independence is something I'm not yet willing to take from him.
So I follow a foot behind him, stand behind the door, escort him back to bed,
then go in to clean up the toilet.
Sometimes I feel angry.
What drives a person to waste their precious life with drugs and alcohol?
Why would someone abuse their body to this point?
Didn't he know this would be how it all ended?
Didn't he think about those of us who would be left to care for his broken and dying body?
Didn't he care?
The answer is, I don't know.
I don't understand.
But in the end, it doesn't matter.
This is my brother.
The one who I laughed with, played ball with, fought with, and cried with.
The one who I built tree forts with and protected when he was being bullied.
The one whose hand I held and whose stomach I punched.
The one who drove me nuts kicking the bottom of my mattress when he was mad because I got the top bunk.
The one who gave us such joy.
Where did he go?
Is he in there?
Is he packed inside that backpack, grizzled, worn out, dried up prune of a body?
Just waiting to burst free into the sunlight?
Is his spirit anxiously awaiting release from the painful glove holding him here?
I remind myself constantly, his life - though it may seem wasted - was not a waste.
No life is wasted.
The good was there - and shone through every now and then.
He leaves behind a treasure for the future,
precious children and grandchildren
who hopefully will do a better job of caring for their temple,
who hopefully will have better sails and rudders,
whose pilgrimages will be less painful.
I wish Mike peace.
I wish us all peace.
A peaceful final journey.
One with dignity and love.
He will reach his final destination with our support and help.
Only God knows.