Loving Sister Served as Her Brother’s Pillar of Strength

Cancer & Caregiving

When it comes to brother and sister relationships, there couldn’t be one as close as the one between my husband, Brian, and his sister Pat. Two years apart in age, they had been inseparable as children and maintained their close bond as adults.

Pat and Brian were best friends who shared the happy and sad times in their lives, celebrating each other’s weddings, rejoicing in the births of their children and mourning the death of their parents.

When Brian was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma and given less than a year to live, Pat was devastated. After sharing each other’s lives for 52 years, she and Brian would once again mourn together. But this time, it was for Brian’s impending death and the end of their beautiful relationship.

Despite her own grief, Pat was there to support Brian and me in any way she could. She was the pillar of strength we both came to lean on.

Treated Him Normally

Regardless of his mesothelioma diagnosis, Brian wanted to act and feel ‘normal.’ Knowing her brother better than anyone, Pat understood this and continued to act in exactly the same way around him as she had always done. Sharing the same easygoing banter they were accustomed to, she would amuse him with anecdotes about her grandchildren or the latest neighborhood gossip.
Always keeping their conversations light, she would never talk about his illness unless he instigated it. If he did wish to talk, she was there to listen.

Offered Us Transportation

Around a year after Brian’s diagnosis, he and I had to relocate from the coastal town of Exmouth, in far north Western Australia, to Perth so that he could commence chemotherapy treatment.

After living in the country for many years, neither Brian nor I felt confident driving in the city. Pat’s offer of transport was a huge relief. Whenever Brian had a doctor’s appointment or was due for chemotherapy treatment, she was always available to drive us to the hospital. Rather than leave us there to be picked up at the end of Brian’s treatment, she remained with us and her loving presence was a comfort to us both.

Enjoying the Outdoors

Despite the terminal nature of Brian’s disease, I was determined that he would not be stuck inside our home waiting for the worst to happen. When he eventually came to rely on a wheelchair and oxygen bottle to get around, Pat was there to help me maneuver him and the equipment he needed in and out of the car. She usually did the driving.

One of our favorite places to go was to a beautiful rose garden nursery that also served tea, coffee and a selection of tasty treats. Although Brian could not partake of these pleasures, he loved to look out over the rose gardens and get to choose which type of rose bush we would purchase. When we arrived home, he would tell me exactly where he wanted it planted.

Pat and I took Brian many places during the last months of his life, including the movies and the Aquarium of Western Australia in Perth. He could roll his wheelchair onto a moving ramp below the aquarium and gaze up at the huge array of fish that swam above him.

Aware of his love for the ocean, we often took him to the beach where he could look out over the waves and feel the cool ocean spray on his cheeks. This never failed to bring him pleasure. His smile was like gold to Pat and me.

My Pillar of Strength

Living in expectation of Brian’s death from mesothelioma was the cruelest torture. While I released a lot of tension by writing in my journal, there were times when I needed to talk to another human being about my anguish. Someone who loved me and was able to understand what I was going through.

I found that person in Pat because she was so often in my company. She came to see the true depth of my suffering and there were many times when she held me in her arms and talked soothingly to me while I cried. Sometimes, her own grief came to the forefront and we would cry together.

Pat and I grew incredibly close to each other during the two years of Brian’s illness and could talk about anything, including his approaching death. I could not do this with any other member of my family, and it was a huge relief to put voice to my concerns.

Pat also talked to me about what I might do after Brian passed away. Though I could not imagine what that might be at the time, I understood that she was trying to give me something to hang on to, and I appreciated her wisdom.

One day shortly before Brian died, he took hold of my hand and Pat’s as we stood beside his bed, and placed them upon each other. He then placed his hands on top of our joined hands and held them firmly together.

Although he was unable to speak, his eyes never left us. We knew that he was telling us to look after each other.

When he died, it was Pat who helped me shave and dress him for his final journey. She was a loving sister to the very end.

For as long as I live, I will be grateful to this very special woman who loved her brother unto death and helped me cope with my grief in more ways than she could imagine.

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