My uncle Danny passed away on the Sabbath. He began to complain of pain only three months ago. Two weeks ago we finally received the results of all the tests: Lung cancer with diffuse metastates. His condition deteriorated quickly and a week ago we hospitalized him. Much of the time he was confused and restless but I used my connections to get a consult with the pain specialist and so at least his suffering was alleviated.
On Tuesday, after work, I visited him. He was more restless than he had been the previous days and was trying to get out of bed. He finally mumbled that he needed to use the toilet. But he was very weak and could barely walk. We told him to relieve himself in the diaper and that a nurse would clean him afterwards. I eventually understood that despite his confusion, he still wanted to maintain his dignity. What happened next was out of pure instinct. Had I thought about it too much I would never have been able to do it.
I found a nurse and asked him for the special chair used to take bedridden patients to the toilet. It is a chair with wheels and a hole in the seat for the obvious reason. I asked the nurse if it would be possible to shower him since we would be getting him out of bed. He said that it would be better in the morning shift when there were more staff working. But my uncle needed this now! (How could he possibly wait til morning?)
Without thinking, I wheeled him into the toilet. When he was done it was quite a mess. I must mention that in all my years in the ICU, whenever the nurses would clean and bathe patients who were soiled I would usually head in the other direction. I'm constantly in awe regarding how they can stand to do such filthy (and pungeant) work. I asked the nurse to help me wheel my uncle into the shower and bring me soap, shampoo and lot's of towels. I don't know where I got the strength to do it but I washed my uncle from head to toe, dressed him in a fresh hospital gown, and brought him back to the room where, for the first time in days he sat in a chair.
It was emotionally very draining and I broke down in my mother's arms. When I pulled myself together, I noticed that my uncle seemed more alert, though it was still difficult for him to talk. As I bid him goodbye, he blew me a kiss. I finally understood, that despite his confusion, he was determined to hold on to every ounce of dignity.
His deterioration continued until he finally passed away on Saturday.
On Sunday we buried my uncle. For the benefit of my sisters who live overseas (and all who might be interested), and could not attend the funeral, I provide a translation of the eulogy I delivered:
"Adi (my cousin) said yesterday that this had been the longest, yet shortest, week of his life. During this short/long week, many images flashed through my mind. This is fitting, for I first knew Danny through pictures in the family album. Dad told us stories about his kid brother in Israel. And the stories accompanied the pictures. There is the picture of Danny not much older than my youngest boy.
Mom reminded me of another picture, and I opened the album again this morning to look at it: The older brother helping his mother tend to the baby brother. Both boys would soon be orphans when their mother would pass away. There were other pictures, but that one particularly sticks in my mind.
Then one day, in the mail, we received a photograph of a beautiful young woman serving in the airforce, his fiance, my future aunt. Then Dad flew to the wedding and came back with yet more pictures. And there were the usual pictures that mark the milestones of life. Along with the pictures were the images as we lived them. Eventually, I came back to Israel alone. I bid farewell to my family, and exchanged a mother and father for an aunt and uncle. My sisters were replaced with two cousins. Little pests they were, but very cute. I instantly inherited a family, no explanations necessary, just the most natural thing in the world.
The next image that comes to mind is that of the whole family crammed into a tiny kitchen filled with the scents of delicious food. The special "prassa" meatballs would literally jump out of the frying pan onto our plates where they survived only for a few moments before being devoured.
Danny was an enigma: soft spoken, humble and pleasant. It was difficult to really know him.
During this short/long week, Danny struggled to maintain his dignity and humanity despite the suffering and the confusion and the restlessness. In my own small way I helped him achieve that goal. And through the fog of confusion and medications, Danny found the way to thank me without words. But Danny, it is not you who must thank me, it is I who should thank you for letting me finally know who you really were.
The images of this short/long week crowd my mind. There is one that supercedes all others: Dad bent over Danny, caressing his forehead and comforting him. Again, 60 years after the first picture, the older brother tending to the younger. Nothing has changed.
But this isn't the memory I want to retain. The one I want is that of Danny, the gentle, quiet, honorable and respectful. And above all else, noble. That is the memory that I want.
May his memory be blessed."