That was how the summer ended.
The summer of hushed ICUs and sombre doctors trying to be hopeful as they delivered hopeless news about my friend Brian.
A summer of sitting at his beside inspecting curious tubes coming out of various parts of his body, trying to make sense of numbers and green lines on video monitors, watching nurses scribble endless notations into ledgers.
A summer saying small, senseless prayers, willing him to wake up and be better again.
A summer of long drives into Toronto, of sitting in family waiting rooms with friends and loved ones, trying to comfort each other, trying not to interfere with the grief of others, all of us jammed together.
A summer that began to take on a kind of weirdly welcome routine, visiting, questioning, worrying, lining up for a strawberry smoothie at Tim Horton’s in the hospital lobby, debating whether to go back to Fran’s down the street for lunch before returning to the hospital for more questioning, more worrying,
The bizarre rhythms and protocols around the awful business of standing watch with a dying friend, the sinking feeling that nothing is working, that each day is worse, not better.
It ended with heartache and tears and laughter, and a great number of well-chosen words from the people who grew up with him, worked with him, adored him.
They came from London, England and from Detroit, Michigan and from Windsor and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to share a last night with a departed friend, to reach out to him one last time.
There were many references to Brian’s shaky grip on a piano and his days, as Kris Kristofferson put, it “running with the devil.”
But there was as much talk about what he achieved as a writer, a television producer, an author, and most of all, as a human being–the lives he touched, the people he helped, the nieces and nephews he influenced.
The summer ended with a lifetime captured in a fine video tribute featuring photos and swelling music, a reminder of how photogenic he was, how youthfully handsome even into late middle age–and also some wonder at how he got to be featured in all those photos, knowing that you’re screwed for your memorial; no one’s ever taken that many pictures of you.
The summer ended with you thinking, as the pictures whizzed past, that Brian had real star quality, and that star quality was undiminished even in the hospital amid the tubes and the video monitors and the increasingly bad news.
The photos and the swelling music ended. The lights came up. Everyone embraced, and then we started for home, exhausted, drained, at a loss for words, realizing that no matter how hard we had tried this night, we could not really bring him back.
He was gone and now we will have to live with that.
And that was how the summer ended.
Life With Billy, Brian Vallée’s classic non-fiction account of a woman’s struggle to save her life, helped changed public attitudes about spousal abuse. It is now available as an e-book. Click here to download your copy.