I spent the weekend travelling to Andover, Massachusetts and visiting with my brother Andy (Andrew Rhodes Bourland), his wife Jeanne and her three daughters, and his three children of two marriages, two of the three wives, three dogs, and my husband. They have a fabulous home.
As we flew into Manchester, New Hampshire, out the window the fall colors were stunning––reds, oranges, yellows and greens. Jeanne picked us up at the airport and on our way back, we stopped half way to have a lazy afternoon lunch at a restaurant in Salem NH on a back porch with a kind of peach haze sky. A fire burned in the middle of the open air patio. The three of us caught up on news over a lovely bottle of wine and terrific lunch. We were coming especially to visit Andy, who hasn’t been doing so well.
Andy and I first sparred with death when I got the brainy idea of taking a shortcut in the Sandia mountains, up above Albuquerque, mid-afternoon, probably 50 degrees and dropping. We got lost. Every mountain and dry river bed at the bottom looked the same. After a while we heard honking, but couldn’t tell what direction it was coming from. It started getting dark and snow began to flutter down. We decided to stay put, Andy crawled up a hill to see whether he could see anything. I started doing the rubbing sticks thing, hoping I could light a fire. And in reality, I was praying. It got darker and Andy came back down. We sat there is silence for a few minutes, impatiently waiting for the twigs to ignite.
Then, down the other side of the mountain, we saw a ranger coming down the mountain with a flashlight. “WE FOUND THEM!” resounded through the mountains. (Andy and I have fondly remembered that joyous sound over the years.) We could have frozen to death, or be eaten by mountain lions: he in the 1st grade, I in 3rd grade. We were children and we nearly died.
I remember riding along in my parents 1933 Dodge. Andy and I were wrestling in the back when all of a sudden the back door came open and he fell out. “Oh shit!” I screamed. My father, about to belt me for swearing realized that Andy suddenly appeared in his rear view mirror, tumbling, and then getting up and running after us. I looked out the back window and saw Andy running behind the car––”Wait for me! Wait for me!” It broke my heart. Blood was streaming down his face. He was rushed to the hospital and just needed a few stitches and was fine. He could have died.
Andy got cancer when he was 17. This was something like 1971 or 1972. His treatment was to receive radiation throughout his torso and attack the cancer that was attaching itself to his lymph nodes. The cancer was eradicated. He could have died.
He had a thrilling ride through a variety of jobs until he gravitated to online marketing. He founded ClickZ, a highly successful internet company that my husband worked for, and did quite well. He was a major player and sold it at the right time. Since then he launched a number of ventures in his retirement, several are still active.
Despite a couple of heart attacks, a few episodes of low blood pressure, a car accident, and a couple of other scary moments, Andy refuses to engage in the final dance of death with the grim reaper. One doctor said that he really should have died two years ago when his albumin level plummeted.
Two days before 9-11, Daniel Shiplacoff, my partner–now husband, came down with bacterial meningitis and fell into a coma. After the 2nd day of not waking up and hearing that he may be dead or permanently brain damaged, Andy called me and left a message that he would fly out to LA to be with me during this difficult time. I was such a mess, I didn’t called him back that day. He almost flew out anyway, but at the last minute decided to wait. Had I called him back or had he decided to come anyway, his plane would have crashed into the World Trade Center on 9-11. He could have died, coming out to be with me in my time of intense grief.
Over the past year, his health has taken a turn for the worse. I don’t need to go into details, but to make a long story short, those radiation treatments have come back to haunt him. There is quite a bit of damage internally that is only lately showing up. There is little that hospitals can do for him at this point. He finds that they exhaust and depress him. Being at home is much better. He has his family, his home, his dogs, his life, and a nurse who will be there in a moments notice. He will go to see doctors, but no more hospitals.
I turned on the Science Channel after Andy went to bed one night. It was about the 11 dimensions of reality and Stephen Hawking was one of the main speakers. A factoid that came out of the show was that Hawking has had two divorces, and lived 45 years longer than doctors originally predicted. Andy’s doctors won’t give a figure.
Whatever happens, and what is so inspiring, is his knowledge that death is closer. And he is very at peace with that possibility. He has family visiting him every week, one at a time, over the next couple of months. The family decided that this is much easier on everyone––like a time-release family injection, rather than overdose and withdrawal/death.
Andy is an amazing survivor and brother. His beautiful blue eyes are like beacons of life and light, lights that will not dim easily. The energy and will to live pulse through him with the same conviction he had when he ran after us shouting “Wait for me! Wait for me!”
[Top photo of Andrew Rhodes Bourland by Roger Bourland (ca.2002) Bottom photo, Late night photos of Andy (left) and Roger (right) on a smeary iPhone.]