March: A quiet Sunday morning. A phone call turns the quiet into a soul wrenching pain. The diagnosis, a brain tumor- the prognosis- yet to be determined. An emergency medical transport from the blue ocean white sand beaches of Mexico to the tree covered hill tops of Portland. A caravan of friends and family await. Some carrying tokens of healing from recent travels. The first visuals of my Uncle Michael the Patriarch of our Elkan family for the past 35 years are familiar. Balance is off but charm and smile give his worried onlookers comfort. The hospital room overflows- the travelers give a Buddhist prayer necklace. Can't hurt. Within days the diagnosis is made. Small cell lung cancer that has spread to the brain. Radiation, chemo, hope, visitors, family, crying, dinners in the hospital room, why do we keep forgetting a bottle opener for the beer? radiation, chemo, hope, tests, crying, visitors, constant visitors, in and out of the hospital, temporary furnished apartments, more permanent apartments, chemo, back in the hospital.
June 7th: my dads birthday- his older brother has only months to live. The cancer has spread to the liver. My aunt and dad inconsolable leave us - we make a decision. No funerals, no feeling sorry, no regrets. " I feel lucky that I know how I will die." "I want to see my death as a creative project." No standing around your grave in black. I see tequila bars, Jewish deli, family, friends and life. The iPhone recorder quickly becomes an oral archive. His organizing begins. My organizing begins. We're making a time capsule. What should I bring? There are no rules. One hundred people spanning 71 years of living. Friends- Family- Silverton- Philly- Portland-- Punta Mita. The day came.
June 21: Stories from the beginning and stories that helped mark the end. Laughter, tears, hugs, memories, music, toasts, photos, goodbyes, mementos and offerings to be discovered by his ancestors. Eagle feather, Eagles jersey, heart rocks, baby shoes, poems, sand, letters, tasty cakes, FUCK CANCER, closure.
My Uncle was an artist. First a clothing designer then a master woodworker. His final project was his death.
July: I sat with him. Tears flowed down his face -- - "it was the best day of my life" " I never knew how I impacted people's lives." He had no idea till then. Hard to imagine he didn't realize till then. Every letter read and re-read, a lifetime of photos and taking in his life. "It was the greatest gift I had ever received." You were one of our greatest gifts.
Two days later with me asleep next to him he died. No regrets.