A physician’s grave illness brings two brothers together
COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
A few months ago I received a phone call from Cochrane coffee companion David Irvine.
Dave, a prominent corporate relationship expert, wondered whether I’d join him and a mutual friend at his home to help him come to grips with a matter of some deep personal concern.
When I arrived, he poured out his heart to us. His 61-year-old brother Hal had been diagnosed with grade III anaplastic astrocytoma, “an aggressive, inoperable tumor intersecting three lobes of the brain.” He might live for only a few months.
Hal had received the devastating news about the same time he’d been honoured with the award for being Alberta’s Family Physician of the Year for 2013. Here was a brother who was used to reaching out to his patients in their time of need. Now at the peak of his career he was the one in need of companionship in the journey.
Dave looked to us for advice on how he could be a better companion to his brother at this time.
His candor quite surprised me. After all, Dave had long been a model to me for authentic relationships. For example, see my column for July 6, 2011 on being meaningfully connected to each other in a fast-paced, high-tech world.
But Dave explained how the two brothers themselves, although very good at being present to others, had not really enjoyed that same closeness with each other. That had to change now, he said – and that change had to begin with Dave himself.
In Dave’s June Newsletter, he shares quite openly what some of those changes look like.
“While I wouldn’t wish this hell on anyone,” he writes, “I am surprisingly grateful. Hal and I have spent more time together in the past six months than we have the previous 20 years.”
They’ve reminisced, shared gratitude and forgiveness, and in deeply heartfelt ways expressed their love for each other. And they “make time to hang out when he simply can't get out of bed, can't utter a word, and I have no clue what to say,” he says.
For a man who makes his living helping others connect, Dave’s reconnection with Hal has had some rewarding ripple effects.
“This whole imperfect and human experience of being together in an awkward and clumsy way has somehow been a blessing,” he says. “This reminder of the impermanence of life has strangely increased my life's quality. My marriage and my relationships with my daughters have improved as I've slowed down and made a little more room to be a bit more present a little more often with those that matter most to me.
“Being open to the pain of Hal’s experience has deepened my experience of being alive, what matters in life, and what it means, more fully, to be human.”
Here are six lessons Dave has learned thus far in his journey with Hal:
Thanks for your compassionate wisdom, Dave. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and Hal.
© 2014 Warren Harbeck