Sunday, June 11, 2017

Breathe


It's unusual for me to spend 4 days in New Orleans without saying a word on Facebook or posting a picture, but recently I did. The visit could have been sad because it involved my cousin in hospice care, presumably near death, and another cousin also living with or in the process of dying from lung cancer.

I directly and indirectly reached out to each of them, with no response at the time I booked my flight.

The first two days in my hometown were spent with first and second cousins I've had little contact with for decades. Conversation, catching up, seafood, mimosas, quiet porch swing chatting next to a calming, lazy river. Unexpected, peaceful, awesome, rewarding family bonding.

Well-timed phone calls on the third day resulted in a well-spent hour with the cousin in hospice care. He spends most days in a dark brown lounge chair in his dark paneled living room, knowing any of those days could be his last. His hair and body are much thinner than the last time I saw him three years ago. He is on oxygen 24/7. Food and drink are carefully consumed due to esophagus issues related to radiation treatments last year. He occasionally stops conversation to catch his breath. Always the storyteller, he describes in great detail the journey from first diagnosis to today. He acknowledges that a life of smoking cigarettes led to what will undoubtedly be the end of his life at the relatively young age of 70.

Despite all of this, he has the most amazing positive attitude about his situation and I'm happy I got to spend time with him. In some ways he is an inspiration. His religious faith is something I knew little about but he gives Jesus credit for his attitude and acceptance.

The other ill cousin I wanted to see does not want to see anyone. He has been a recluse for more than a decade. My guess as to the causes of his very negative outlook ... he lost literally everything on Hurricane Katrina, then a few years later was robbed and shot in the leg while making deliveries for his job, then got cancer. I'd like to think I could have made him feel better with my own positive attitude, but, well, no.

In the middle of this unusually spontaneous trip I got to spend plenty of quality time with my sister. That was a blessing on its own merits.

And I ate way too much awesome New Orleans food. Yum.

Family ties are incredibly strong. I left my hometown nearly four decades ago to chase my career dreams and inadvertently disconnected from many parts of my family. Out of sight, out of mind. I am so lucky that my family members have accepted and encouraged my reconnecting efforts over the past ten plus years.

Something else I learned during this particular spontaneous, relatively unscripted trip is that much can be gained, in mind and body, when you slow down and breathe. It is an interesting experience to gain some of this knowledge by visiting some who struggles to breath with every breath, someone who might take his last breath as I write this paragraph.

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