This is a tribute to my brother, Allen Landon, who died of mesothelioma January 2012.
By Joan Gross
When Allen was diagnosed with mesothelioma, he cried. And he cried often. But he never asked, “why me?” Initially he didn’t want to share that news with others, and did not want to discuss it. Focusing on the present, working on a never ending stack of projects, that’s what he was used to. Not being told that the projects in this life would soon end.
Winning people over with his charm, making them laugh, sharing adventures, and giving them advice, whether they wanted it or not, were all part of Allen’s trademark. Hugging his male friends and telling them he loved them, never embarrassed him. His love was too strong and too important for him to minimize it or hide it.
Watching him suffer, and overcome with sympathy, I whispered that I wished I could share his pain. He answered, “I wouldn’t want you to.”
Allen was demanding. What few pleasures were left to him had to meet the high standards he set for himself and those around him. When coffee was served, it was often sent back downstairs for 10 seconds more in the microwave, and maybe again for another 5 seconds. He didn’t feel that because he was dying he should lower his standards.
“Where’s the napkin” was an often-heard question.
Allen often rested with his eyes closed. One morning my sister, Marcia, peered closely at him to determine whether or not he was awake, he opened his eyes, stared intently at her and with a straight face questioned, “Do I know you?”
When my husband came in from Israel, I was sitting on the bed with my arm around Allen. I said to Mick, “Did you know that this is my baby brother?” Without a second’s hesitation, Allen quipped, “And of the two of us, I’m the smartest.”
Out-of-town guests were given a tour of Allen’s house, a house he was very proud of; he quickly dressed and joined the parade. When his friend Peter demonstrated Allen’s fire pole entranceway leading from his used-to-be-bedroom to his office below, Allen was not going to be second-class resident in his own domain. He quickly grabbed the pole and readied himself for his “fireman show.” Marcia, worried about him in his weakened condition, grasped at his skeletal body trying to stop him. She couldn’t and he took umbrage with her remonstrating later that she humiliated him.
Because in his weakened condition he fell several times, we all hovered over him and tried not letting him out of our sight. He managed to elude us on several occasions. One morning while Mick sat with Allen, and I was downstairs making toast, Mick yelled that I should come up immediately. After yelling back “What” several times, with exasperation I went to the bottom of the steps, “What are you so excited about?” I asked. “Allen disappeared!”
Allen had gone into the bathroom using the bedroom entranceway and then quickly and silently went out the other door and down the stairs to supervise my toast-making.
Mick was on the opposite side of that experience several days later. At 4am in the morning he was downstairs making coffee when Allen suddenly appeared, an inquiring apparition, wanting to know what there was to eat, while upstairs someone else was waiting for Allen to emerge from the bathroom, at the bedroom door exit.
Speaking was difficult for Allen and he spoke as little as possible. One morning when Mick and I showed up in his bedroom at 6:30am to take over our shift, Rachelle told us to leave the room because I was sneezing and Mick was coughing. Although we didn’t agree with this demand (we both suffer from allergies and were not contagious), we obliged and went back to our bedroom. Fifteen minutes later Allen walked into our bedroom and sat at the edge of the bed. We helped him into bed, covered him, and sat there quietly in the dark not wanting to disturb him. This was the first time we had seen him sleep in days. Allen always knew how to make a statement even if he couldn’t speak.
Being the teacher or being the student – those were comfortable roles for Allen. Someone was in charge –usually him. He arose one morning and decided we needed to exercise. Grab some pillows he demanded. I did. Put on socks. I grabbed some socks from his drawer and tried putting them on him. “Not on me, on you.” “But Allen, I am wearing stockings and shoes.” “Put them on.” I did.
Three of us went downstairs; Allen, Rachelle and me. Allen put the pillow down and demanded that we follow. We lay on the floor and he said, “Rachelle, you watch and when you get the hang of it you do it too.” We lifted the right bended knee straight in the air, moved the leg to the right, back to the middle and down to the floor. We repeated this about ten times and then did the same with the left. Now he decided Rachelle could join us.
His pain medicines made him hallucinate and suddenly he said, “I see dogs with golden batons on their tails.”
“What kind of dogs?”
“Golden baton dogs,” he answered.
We recently learned that Allen had taken salsa lessons. Piano lessons we knew about – he became quite accomplished. Singing lessons were also no secret to us and although Allen, unusually modest, said he could not sing, we thought otherwise. What really impressed me though was when I asked him if he would like to learn some prayers. For a person who did everything his way, who took the word “no” as a challenge rather than a door-closer, admitting that maybe someone else is in charge after all, takes more than a modicum of strength. Allen unhesitatingly said, “Yes.”
With total determination Allen learned the Hebrew words and asked me to write them out for him, repeating them slowly after me. Most days he needed all his effort just to breath and speaking was a luxury he didn’t often indulge in but twice a day we prayed together and sometimes it was he who reminded me.
Several times Allen repeated after me the Jewish death bed confessional and he did it from strength rather than from fear. He knew he was getting ready for his biggest adventure ever – meeting his maker. Though God was never a big part of his life, he embraced the preparation of getting ready to meet Him.
In most people bravado is a clever way of masking fear or shoring up one’s self confidence, but I think Allen used bravado to cover up his bravery. And when Allen met his maker, I am sure he passed the test.