On May 25, I took my turn sitting by the hospital bed of my 49-year-old brother in law, Bryan Wise, as hospital staff prepared the operating room for his second brain surgery in three years, the result of weak vessels and two aneurysms.
In the time that preceded the surgery, we watched the food network together -Bryan's favorite channel -- and talked about couscous, one of his favorite dishes. In a hospital, small talk helps fills long hours.
He also had me laughing as he joked about the technician who used a rusty screw driver for a half an hour in an unsuccessful spinal tap, and the housekeeper who flipped on the lights to empty the garbage at 1:30 a.m., just after Bryan had finally nodded off to sleep.
When the inevitability of a risky second surgery weighed down, however, Bryan talked about the two lessons he'd learned during the course of three years of serious health challenges, life lessons that if applied would positively impact everyone whose life we intersect.
He learned first and quickly that when someone is in real need, asking "What can I do, to help?" isn't very effective. Those who really want to help just have to take the initiative. He told me to thank the legions of people who had cooked, mowed, transported, laundered, tended, coached, listened and cared for him and his family without asking or without thought of a reward.
Bryan said the second lesson he learned was ancillary to the first: life's most important responsibility is to learn unconditional love and to find what we're supposed to do for others in order to lift their burdens and brighten their day. The gestures can be large or small, but the impact can make a lifelong impression. Even those who need care have that responsibility. In the hospital, Bryan made a point of learning and remembering the names of all the caregivers who entered his room, even the early morning housekeeper, and then he thanked them for their service.
Kindnesses shared often boomerangs in very practical ways, Bryan was convinced those whose names he knew, learned his name in return and offered better and more compassionate care. How receivers respond, however, is not the point; our job is simply to find out how to make the world a better place for others we encounter.
Bryan's life and experience taught me one more lesson, if you have something to say, say it today because there might not be another opportunity. It's often inconvenient to take the time to share. We have to squeeze hospital visits, compassionate care and service into lives already packed with necessary and important daily activities, but there's no regret in taking the time, and possibly a lifetime of regret for failing.
With many other demands clamoring for attention, I debated going to the hospital that morning, but when I arrived Bryan and I had a great visit; I fluffed the pillows under his back and speeded up the administration of pain medicine. Bryan and I expressed our regard for each other and then the last thing he said to me was, "If I can't tell them myself, tell my children I love them." His wife, my sister, arrived just then for a final embrace before surgery.
Bryan survived the surgery and despite a tremendous headache, laughed and joked for another 18 hours, until his body had enough, and with little warning Bryan Wise left his us behind for his next adventure.
Now it's my responsibility to tell his children about their dad's love, just as it is the responsibility for all of us to learn unconditional love and find ways to share that with others every single day.