When Brian grew very sick,
and I came to spend time with him, Manny was there. He was, and remains,
a person who thrives on being a caregiver. It isn't merely what he does,
it's who he is.
"What do you say when
you walk into the room of someone who's dying?" I asked him during our
first meeting. "'How are you?' doesn't seem quite right."
He didn't laugh at
me, or underscore my feelings of honest ignorance. He smiled and said,
"Ask what they're feeling, not how. Ask what they think about what's
happening to them. Ask, and then listen."
I've heard people discuss
"burnout"...they explain that they have grown so weary of the dying that
they can't go on. Manny has never mentioned burning out. I'm not sure he
thinks it's possible. He behaves as though he were called to be a caregiver,
as if this is his only purpose on earth. He talks about caregiving as I've
heard professional athletes talk about championship games, in terms reserved
for life's experiences that transcend words.
What Manny may do best
of all is listen. When he heard Brian's restlessness that final Sunday
morning, he knew the end was near. When he heard me crying too long, he
came to end my vigil. And when I asked him, through my grief and terror,
"What do I do now, Manny?" he thought for a moment before he answered me.
It was as if he wanted to be sure he had listened first.