A Life Lesson

Today is the 21st anniversary of my brother’s death. He died in St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. I learned a lot about emotional intelligence, personal choice and dignity in his last 6 months on the planet. Dale was diagnosed HIV positive in April 1989 and at the time of his diagnosis, he appeared, and felt, very healthy. Following his doctor’s appointment he phoned me and we met for a walk and coffee. His demeanor was calm as he related the conversation with his doc. What I didn’t immediately pick up on was the underlying tone of resignation, as I was too busy swinging into solution mode. I was full of ideas about thoroughly researching the best treatment approaches for HIV and what therapies may be coming down the pike.

Over the course of the next 8 weeks Dale’s health declined rapidly. We spent a lot of time together and when I wasn’t with him, or at work, I was researching treatment modalities like crazy. There was no “Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy” in the late 80’s. Then came the day of our tide turning conversation. Dale sat me down and calmly stated he was not interested in spending all his remaining time chasing solutions that didn’t exist. He told me stories of many friends and acquaintances who had died in the previous nine years and was very clear about wanting to spend his remaining time living rather than chasing the holy grail of HIV treatment.

This was my moment of revelation. This was Dale’s journey. This was his odyssey and what he was wanting from me was support, but not the types of support I was suggesting. He was asking for my support for his decisions in the final months of his life. It hit me with stunning clarity that it was not my task as older brother to come up with solutions, but to gently and actively support his choices and advocate for him with the medical community regarding those decisions. That moment was the beginning of a valuable life lesson. Kim, really pay attention, listen really well and don’t get too wrapped up in your own solutions.

Today, my Dad, my sister and I will deeply miss Dale, and we will look back fondly to our respective precious moments with him.

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