For previous posts on the contributors, see these authors who were all featured in the first section of the book, “Mystics and Messengers.”
And from the second section of the book, “Angels Watching Over Me.”
From the third section of the book, “All in the Family: Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, and Grandfathers.”
After almost twenty years as a features editor at Southern Living and Progressive Farmer magazines, Nancy Dorman-Hickson now freelances in Birmingham, Alabama. She co-authored Diplomacy and Diamonds, the best-selling memoir of Joanne King Herring, who was portrayed by Julia Roberts in the movie Charlie Wilson’s War. The Mississippi native’s in-progress memoir draws on stories from her rural childhood in the 1960s and 1970s to find answers to present-day questions about faith, loss, and living in today’s divided world.
Nancy’s essay, “A Brother Dying,” is just that . . . a memoir of her brother Dennis’s death from HIV AIDS. One of the themes I asked contributors to consider for this book was end-of-life stories. This short excerpt is from one of Nancy’s last visits with Dennis in a hospice facility. Dementia has invaded his brain. This story hit close to home for me, since I was holding my brother’s hand when he died. (Also my mother’s, my father’s, and my aunt’s.) This is part of one of their last conversations.
“A Brother Dying”
“Am I dying?” It is the pure, innocent question of a child asking his mother about some wonder, some puzzling riddle to be solved by someone he trusts. It’s a cosmic question that requires honesty.
“Yes,” I whisper, extinguishing the last flicker in the fantasy he—and to some extent, I have breathed life into since his diagnosis.
He closed his eyes, sighing deeply. “Okay,” he whispers, “Okay.” Then he opens his eyes again and ventures a step further: “Is it going to hurt?”
“God, I hope not,” I blurt. “I don’t think so.”
He mulls this over in the muddy river that is now his mind, then throws out a life preserver, that of his paper-thin hand, toward the only salvation we mortals can ever hope to give each other.
“Will you love me?” he asks.
A drowning woman, I cling desperately to his hand. “Yes, I will love you.” I feel the weak pulse of his hand in mine, and out of habit, try to will it to match the stronger rhythm of my own. . . . He falls asleep with me clutching his hand. I rock back and forth, back and forth, and pray voicelessly, mindlessly, “God, God, God, don’t let it hurt.”
When he wakes up again, he glances down, startled to find my hand still anchored in his. “Oh, I forgot. I forgot you were loving me.”
I am rock-sure of what to answer: “I will always love you,” I promise. “I will never forget to love you.”
This answer pleases him. He rewards me with a peaceful smile and closes his eyes to rest.