"With every friend I love
who has been taken into the brown bosom of the earth,
a part of me has been buried there...
but their contribution to my being of happiness,
strength and understanding
remains to sustain me in an altered world."
- Helen Keller
When I watched the film "Truman Show" several days after Ernie's burial, there was a scene there which reminded me of a real life incident between Ernie, his wife Lanie, and me. For those who haven't watched the movie, Truman (played by Jim Carrey), didn't know that every detail of his life since he was a baby was being televised live. He also was not aware that all the persons he knew in his whole life, including his parents, wife, best friend, neighbors, and officemates were just players in the show.
However, several incidents made Truman suspect that his daily movements were being monitored and that his life was being manipulated in a way that he couldn't understand. In desperation, he threatened his wife with a knife to tell him what's going on and the wife got so scared that she shouted for help knowing that the director of the show will send somebody to stop Truman. Her plea for help (when there was nobody else in the house besides them) further strengthened Truman's suspicion, however.
Just in time, somebody knocked on their door and Truman was sure it would be somebody who was involved in what he suspected was a conspiracy. He was therefore surprised when he opened the door to find his best friend beaming at him and holding some beer, supposedly dropping by for a visit. Thinking that his friend will never be a party to any scheme against him, all his anger and suspicion evaporated, his tense body softened, but his confusion grew more than ever and he could only cry helplessly wondering if he was being neurotic over something which he only imagined.
The next scene was a subdued one showing Truman and his friend sitting side by side at a dock drinking beer. Truman was earnestly listening to his best friend as the latter skillfully eased his worries, nostalgically reminded him of their good times together, and told him how he considered Truman like family that he would never lie to him. Truman trusted the person very much that he believed him completely and was deeply touched by his friend's concern.
Here's the similarity:
When Ernie's biopsy confirmed that he had cancer, I asked his physician brother, Noel, about the prognosis. Noel was open enough to tell me that it was very poor and that their consultant even told him that Ernie had only six months to live.
Not to dampen his spirit, we all agreed to keep his real condition from him and to tell him that his cancer was discovered early hence perfectly curable. Ernie's subsequent chemotherapy sessions stopped the back pains he experienced earlier and he felt much better that he was even able to return to work three months later. On the fourth month, he married Lanie and still continued working for another month. He became weak again however, and though he never became bed-ridden, had never recovered enough to be able to work again until his death. When his bone-scan results showed metastasis of the cancer to his ribs, Lanie, Noel, and I made sure that he wouldn't see the result even when he asked for it.
One day, Ernie and Lanie's younger brother who's studying dentistry, pored over the latter's textbook which discussed cancer. From there, Ernie was able to decipher the medical jargon which were written on his hospital release papers. He discovered that his case was not in the early stage as he had been led to believe and that it was in fact already terminal.
He at once called Lanie at work and demanded to know what the doctors told her about his condition. Lanie replied that everything was okay and that the doctors didn't say anything about his case being serious. Lanie then immediately called me to warn me about Ernie's call for she knew that he would also call me.
Just a few minutes after Lanie's warning, Ernie was on the phone. When I asked how he was feeling, he sounded a bit depressed and sadly answered that he had something to tell me and that it was something serious so he warned me to compose myself. As I knew what was coming, his thoughtful warning to prepare me for what he was about to say would have sounded ridiculous under other circumstances. I could feel the burden in his voice, however, and felt guilty realizing that up to that time, he never thought I would be an accomplice to all the lies he was fed about his condition. (Remember that he told me of his back aches and cough even before he went to the doctor, I was with him the first time he was x-rayed, when he underwent biopsy, during his first chemotherapy - all these before his parents and Lanie even knew of his ailment - so I was in a very good position to know his real condition).
I kept my cheerful tone, however, and asked what it was about. He hesitated at first and told me that he'll tell me what he was about to say only because I'm his best friend, but asked me not to reveal it to any of our other friends. Then he said "Ferds, I just discovered I'm terminally ill. Only the Lord can cure me."
I immediately began to disabuse his mind of his "new discovery" and insisted that I knew his real condition because I was in constant touch with Lanie and Noel and have done some research about his cancer on my own. He sounded exasperated and said that he wanted to see all his medical records and he would have them explained to him by Noel and his doctors in detail. He felt like an idiot not knowing what his real condition was, he added.
I comforted him, gave him assurances, and spoke gently about anything which would have a positive effect on him. I sensed him calming down as he listened silently to my lengthy monologue. I told him to consider that though his doctors and everybody else may choose to lie to him about his prognosis to keep his spirits up, these people will not lie to me because I wasn't the patient. I assured him that Noel and his other doctors had indeed told me about his real condition which in turn, I was telling him - that his case wasn't terminal and was easily curable.
I knew that Ernie trusted me completely that he would never think that I could keep the truth from him on such a delicate issue. It helped that he also was the type who dismisses negative thoughts. If he ever kept any suspicion of his real condition until his death, I guess that he'd first believe that the doctors also lied to his friend before he'd think otherwise.
The few months before Ernie's death, I was very busy with school and work that I seldom was able to visit him personally though we talked on the phone frequently. He would end these calls with "When you are not entirely busy, please come over and visit your friend. I'll just be here."
One time, I was reading a poignant poem "Life" from the Internet when he called. I've just read a few lines when his call came so I told him to listen as I started from the beginning and read the poem to him. He listened intently.
At the portion which goes:
he interrupted me and good-humoredly said , "Pare, that's exactly what I want to tell you."
I just laughed off his remark and finished reading the poem quickly.
Looking back after his death, I realized that I had not been very generous in giving my friend enough of my time. My inadequacy made me feel undeserving of the almost exclusive friendship he gave me. Here I am, very blessed to find a friend like him, yet I failed to sufficiently show my appreciation to him when he was still alive to receive it.
As you may have figured out by now, creating this web site is a way to assuage my guilt over my shortcomings to such a rare and wonderful friend. But knowing Ernie, I know that I again don't have to explain or apologize for anything.
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