Galley Wench Tales

Exploring the world through the people we meet
and the food they eat.

Photo credit:  Amine rock hoovr on Unsplash

My brother Mark was the kind of guy who did everything right. 

Growing up, you could count on him for an adventure anytime an escape was needed, whether it was sliding around the muddy culverts behind our neighborhood for polliwogs, to testing the brakes he installed himself in his car on a curvy country road, to escaping to the coast when everyone else was opening their Christmas presents (which we didn’t celebrate because we are Jewish). 

His pranks were diabolically funny, from the smoke bombs he built into abandoned, carved out textbooks, to the shock device deployed through the linked-hand boy scout friendship circle to the orange-flavored Kaopectate that found its way into the campout orange juice. When it was mom’s Weight-Watcher’s liver night, he developed a special bond with our sheltie. 

Mark never seemed to get into trouble for his pranks, except maybe the time when my friend was staying overnight and he set an alarm for the wee hours, tucked it into a shoebox in our room, wrapped the shoebox with a sweater, fastened it with many loops of twine then knotted the whole bundle tightly. When I couldn’t untie it, I hurled it into my parent’s room—not a reaction he’d anticipated. That time he got busted. Then again, on the rare occasion that Dad broke out the paddle Mark generally stuffed magazines in his pants. Mark later hid the paddle; Dad never had much inclination to use it anyway.

As an adult, Mark loved his family, Raised great kids. Worked hard and found success with a great career that tested his fine intelligence and broad talents. He lived and played where he could enjoy the great outdoors, hunting, hiking, and off-roading. He cooked a mean BBQ. Neighbors knew if they needed help with a project, Mark would volunteer and get the job done. Mark did his research and ate a healthy diet. Exercised regularly and strenuously. Proactively monitored his health with the assistance of carefully chosen medical care. Mark planned and saved for the future. The list of projects, passions, and travels he wanted to explore in his golden years was long and varied.

When our dad nearly died, Mark flew in to offer the reinforcement I asked for to be Dad’s health advocate. We bought dad several more years of life. When Mom neared the end, Mark again flew cross-country so we could say our final goodbyes to her together on Mother’s Day. When the time came for our parent’s celebration of life, Mark flew cross-country again to pay his respects.

Six months ago my brother uncharacteristically found himself struggling for the right words. He forgot the combination for his suitcase lock. There were a few other odd events that perplexed him. My sister-in-law called to tell me about it. Mark, as usual, tried to make light of it. However, he was concerned enough to return a day early from his business trip and go to the doctor the next day. A week or so later he got the diagnosis: terminal brain cancer.

To date, no one knows what causes brain cancer. In general, it’s incurable. There are treatments that can delay death, sometimes for months or years. The treatments can ease the symptoms or can wreak more havoc. In Mark’s case, he decided to give chemo and radiation therapy a try. It didn’t help.

His wife encouraged me to see my brother “While he was still Mark.” I did. Mark rapidly lost his memory, then his ability to communicate, then his mobility. He declined so quickly, that he chose to cut himself off from everyone except his immediate family. He wanted to keep his suffering private. Even in this post, I am deliberately withholding details on behalf of his family. 

His daughter came from Germany with her infant son, Hugh. Hugh’s antics were the only thing that still brought a smile to Mark in his last months and days. His other two sons also spent with Mark and supported their mom. When Mark died, Friday, May 13th, we all knew it was a blessing, especially his wife, who remained there to do all she could for him to the very end.

Mark was only 63 years old, my older brother, only sibling, and last remaining close blood relative. He leaves behind a loving wife, three adult children, two grandchildren, and another on the way.

I’d anticipated years of friendly competition with Mark, to see if my lackadaisical, carefree habits or his diligence were the most effective in fending off crotchety old age. Before then. I’d hoped to travel internationally with him, something we never did together unless you count crossing over into Canada (I don’t).  In all my years of international sailing, Mark never got the chance to join me on a boat other than a short zip along the Columbia River. That was a good day. 

Our mom lived to 87, cut short because she refused to go to doctors and died of a stroke from untreated diabetes and high cholesterol, a sugary diet, and a sedentary lifestyle. Dad, a WW2 bombardier spent decades beating the odds, despite diabetes, a bad ticker, and a family that most members didn’t survive past their 50s. He lived to 94. Both our parents died in 2018. 

In the Jewish faith, it’s said “you live on in the hearts and minds of those who knew you.” Mark’s legacy is broad and rich.

Yet Mark’s death still doesn’t seem entirely real—more of a dream or crazy prank my brother pulled that when I wake up or get the punchline, we’ll all laugh. Instead, I have to accept that he got a big hug from Mom, the kind so long and tight, it’s hard to breathe. Dad probably greeted Mark with one of his legendary apple pies. When my time comes to go to the TGB—the great beyond, maybe there will be some colossal prank Mark will cook up, especially for me. 

Like Mark, I too am full of plans for the future that I hope to accomplish, now with an even greater sense of urgency to not delay. I am all the more grateful to my husband for making sure we didn’t wait to fill our lives with adventure, nor do either of us consider ourselves anywhere close to done with our adventures yet. 

I urge you to do the same. Let those you love and care about know it by telling them and showing them. Spend your time with them; make good memories. Leave no business unfinished when it comes to love and friendship. Live your life and dreams like there is no tomorrow because you never know when your last day will be.