My brother, George Riley, an esteemed lawyer who’d spent thirty-five years living and working in San Francisco, died three years ago today. Fifteen months before his death he’d been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. After George called to tell me that he was ill and that our brother John was preparing to donate stem cells for a transplant, I suddenly realized that all those years he’d been living on the West Coast I’d always had an innate fear of “something” happening to George without him having anyone nearby to care for him. I slept badly after receiving the news and often awoke convinced, at least for a moment or two, that my brother’s illness was nothing more than a bad dream.
The diagnosis and indeed the entire situation seemed so unreal. George had been a triathelete and a marathon runner and had always eaten carefully and rarely drank even so much as a single glass of wine. He was well known throughout the San Francisco area, having served as outside counsel for Apple for nearly twenty years. During that time he’d also become personal counsel to the company’s founder, Steve Jobs. Assisting his friend and client through his own illness as well as arranging Jobs’ liver transplant in Memphis and then staying with him until his death from pancreatic cancer had clearly taken a heavy toll on my brother, emotionally and perhaps even physically. Still, no one could have predicted that George would succumb soon thereafter to such a rare and lethal cancer.
So many of us have—and will—face devastating loss during our lifetimes. We will have healing, but it may well be only partial healing, partial closure, if indeed closure is even a possibility. I am sitting at my desk as I struggle to comprehend the loss of my brilliant and incomparable brother on this, the third anniversary of his death. And yet there’s a comfort, rather than despair, in what I’m doing since I know from having experienced the death of my older son that the grieving process cannot—and indeed will not—be rushed.