I remember when my late brother Peter was lying in a hospital bed on the fifteenth floor of Vancouver General Hospital – the BMT Ward. He had been there for weeks and this particular week he had begun intense chemotherapy.
I think it was a Tuesday morning around 10:00am.
I had just walked into his room and noticed the graying impact of yet another round of debilitating chemo. Peter looked like shit and the mood in the room was somber. He and I had always shared an offbeat sense of humor so why would I not use humor now?
Casting political correctness to the wind I said, “Ahhh, good morning Chemo-sabe.”
Even in his weakened state Peter’s retort smacked of our odd humorous relationship, “Not so good Taunt-o”.
Peter and I laughed our asses off.
The nurse present in the room, doing her numbers thing and checking bags and machines, looked shocked and a bit disturbed by our seeming irreverence. Mother and sisters who were sitting room too looked a little miffed. Mom couldn’t help being mother and said, “Oh Stevie, that’s a little off color don’t you think? Peter is having a tough go of it.”
To which Peter promptly replied, “Not so much any more Mom, I am feeling a little bit better after that laugh.” A wide smile lighting up his otherwise gray pallor.
Humor was very much a part of our personal relationship so why wouldn’t it continue to be? Peter was still alive as were all of us so why wouldn’t I continue to relate with Peter the way we always had?
Not to poke fun at Peter would have been abnormal for him and me. It would have been out of step with the way we had always been together. That would not have been supportive of him or me. Humor in this case actually lightened the mood and brought some balance to an otherwise heavy time for all of us. My use of humor here was intentional as the heavy feeling were actually getting in the way of the family members talking openly with each other.
It was not about avoiding the reality of the situation. It was about being alive and authentic in the reality. Political correctness can be debilitating and really interfere in natural human relations – I use humor to avoid that paralyzing trap of being proper.
The title of my next book – Chemosabe and Taunto – Riding Side Saddle with Cancer arose out of political incorrectness and humor Peter and I shared. What a grand way to remember him.