The Clock is Ticking

Written by Lydia Benedict.

When my 17-year-old son was a little boy, he ran around the house quoting Reverend Ford (Karl Malden) in Pollyanna, “Death comes unexpectedly!” Earlier this month, I received news from a friend that her husband had died. It was an aneurism. One minute they were camping. The next he was gone.

Nothing prepares you for the sudden loss of a loved one. Last summer I feared I would lose my brother Doug to leukemia. He spent six months in the Huntsman Cancer Center in Salt Lake City. Following bone marrow transplant, he was so miserable that even breathing caused him excruciating pain. He was convinced he would die. More importantly, he wanted to die.

My youngest sister Callie, Doug’s bone marrow donor, spent weeks away from her family to be with him during and after the transplant. She called me daily with reports on his condition. One day his temperature was 105 degrees. The next day, he was hallucinating. The next day, his temperature hit 106. And so on.

“He’s in so much pain. It’s getting hard to watch,” Callie told me at one point.

There is nothing like watching a loved one suffer. I’m reminded of a passage from Oliver Twist.

…the fearful acute suspense, of standing idly by while the life of one we dearly love is trembling in the balance—the racking thoughts that crowd upon the mind, and make the heart beat violently, and the breath come thick, by the force of the images they conjure up before it—the desperate anxiety to be doing something to relieve the pain, or lessen the danger which we have no power to alleviate, and the sinking of soul and spirit which the sad remembrance of our helplessness produces,--what tortures can equal these…

Many of my siblings took time off work, bought plane tickets, and headed to Salt Lake City. Doug’s wife and five children made the eight-hour drive from New Mexico regularly. Even my mother and handicapped father made the drive from Washington. There wasn’t much any of us could do—except let Doug know he wasn’t alone. One day he woke up in the hospital and his wife was sitting there.

“How long have you been here?” he asked.

“Two days.”

That was one year ago. Douglas is still with us. He survived the cancer. But the treatment did a number on him. Last month, he flew from New Mexico to Connecticut, where I met him at the airport and took him to see my doctor. He treats patients in a more holistic way. No radiation.

“They killed me,” my brother told the doctor, tears streaming down his sunken cheeks.

Doug in the Atlantic

I never know how much longer my brother will be around. So in the 36 hours I had with him in Connecticut, I made sure to take him to the beach. Doug had never been to the East Coast. Our walk along the shore marked the first time he’d seen the Atlantic Ocean. While standing at the water’s edge, I told him about the first time I touched the Atlantic. It was the summer of 1988 and I was 18 years old. I had bought myself a ticket to Hartford on Eastern Airlines. I was already enrolled at BYU. The plan was for Jeff to meet me in Provo. We were going to attend BYU together. But when I arrived in Connecticut, Jeff told me he hadn’t been accepted. I doubted our relationship would survive the distance so I withdrew from BYU, got most of my tuition money refunded, and gave up my scholarship. Days later on a warm August night, Jeff proposed to me on the beach near his childhood home. That was 25 years ago.

That decision charted the course for the rest of my life. I thought a lot about the quality of my life when I visited my parents earlier this summer. My mother and I were talking and she reminded me that she lost her mother soon after my parents married. Over the past few years, she has lost all of her siblings except one: her oldest brother Keith.

It’s ironic that Keith should be her only surviving sibling since he had filled his life with cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. And he often got into brawls. “He was hell on wheels,” my mother said.

I remember as a teenager when Uncle Keith, his wife and their three children came to live with us. Their whole family crowded into one of our shoebox bedrooms in our shrinking house. Between our two families, there were 16 individuals living in our home then. At the time, I just thought my parents were helping out my uncle who was down on his luck. My parents did stuff like that. What I didn’t know was that he had been attacked after leaving a bar one night. His attackers, in an act as violent as any Hollywood film, left him for dead. And he should have died. Yet he is still alive today.

Now my uncle is in his seventies and he has found his way.

He recently called my mother on the phone. “Baby sister! Guess who came to me in my dream last night!”

“Who?” my mom asked.


“Well, what did she say, Keith?”

“She said, ‘You’re on the right path. Keep going.”

“Did she say anything else?”

“Yes. She said, ‘I’ll see you someday.”

At the top of this post I mentioned a friend whose husband suddenly died last week. A few days ago I met up with her. We talked about things like hope and fear. It reminded me of a line from Hope Floats: “Beginnings are scary. Endings are usually sad, but it’s what’s in the middle that counts.”

Per her spouse’s instructions, my friend had her husband cremated. She put his remains in a special container and then placed it on a mantel in her house, right next to her husband’s favorite Shaker clock. The clock, she explained, was a gift she had given him on their first anniversary and it had never made a ticking sound.

“You know, it’s funny,” she told me. “The clock is now ticking.”