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Carmel Magazine Digital Edition SU16

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H is once beautiful, olive skin is now an unsettling yellow, tinged with shades of sadness and regret. He can't sit up to greet the six of us—an effervescent gaggle of women who've loved this man for almost 40 years, since we were in 7th grade. Our pal, I'll call him "Benny," is dying of liver and kidney failure. His extreme, rapid decline, at such a young age, shocked the doctors who've treat- ed him. But the basis behind the illness didn't: alcohol abuse, brought on by years of who-knows-what kinds of pain. Benny had dealt with a job loss, a divorce, a lifetime of masking feelings by being the funny guy, 24/7. He kept any sorrows deep within the caverns of his soul. From the looks of it now, they've surfaced. What do you say to a loved one who is fighting for their life? Whose chance of dying outweighs the chance of living? Do we say hello or goodbye? Both, maybe. Five of my lifelong best friends and I went to Portland to see Benny. It was my 51st birthday, a bittersweet occasion. After land- ing, we went straight to Benny's brother's house, where he is con- valescing. When we walked in the door, Benny's eyes told us what his voice couldn't: that he was scared, but that he was still here and was so happy we were, too. That, despite hardly being able to stay awake, he badly wanted our company. The first few min- utes were awkward. Benny was the one guy our parents allowed to sleep over at our houses because he was everyone's "brother." He was never not in trouble at school. I use a double negative to emphasize the mean- ing of always. The principal probably had a desk set up for Benny in his office. He made authorities laugh hard and often. Whether it was by crossing one eye while having a serious conversation, or showing up in a costume, he was impossibly funny. And mischie- vous. He used Cheez Whiz to fill-in the grout lines on my mother's tiled kitchen counter. My dad came home one day to Benny wear- ing my underwear on his head like a bonnet. Although he was straight, he paraded around in one mom's gold lamé jacket and h eels. When we were in 10th grade, he colored on my eyelids with a black Sharpie pen, and I didn't speak to him for a total of 24 hours. (Yes, he got a school suspension for that one.) B enny, always loving and loyal, had a great wife and two daugh- ters. He was well respected at the brewpub he managed. But then the bottom fell out. The job was gone, then the marriage. Then went the normalcy of life; its commitments and mundane routines that seem to keep people's lives in order and with pur- pose. All of a sudden, on July 11, we were all sitting around our dear friend who was jaundiced, bloated and immobile on a couch. We prayed we weren't saying goodbye to him, but feared that, in fact, we were. What do you say to a friend who knows he may not be around much longer? Who, effectively, did this to himself and would likely rob his children and family, and us—his friends—of his jokes and his joy for the rest of our days? In our case, it was something like, "Hey goofball! That couch does NOT look comfy." Our emotions settled quickly, and so did our comfort levels. Two friends helped Benny's frail, shaking body to the bathroom. One got him a fresh glass of water and foraged through kitchen drawers until she found a stray straw. One tidied up the coffee table, which now contained all Benny's belongings. After teasing that they were stinky, I rubbed his feet then clipped his toenails. We all subtly nagged him: "Benny, you gotta eat. Please, your body needs nutrients." "Come on, you must walk. Every day—just a little bit. Don't let your muscles atrophy." "Please fight, don't give up. We need you." "We will kick your ass if you die. Do NOT die." We went back to the airport and headed home to Carmel with much lighter hearts than we had expected. We'd acted nor- mally with Benny; joked around; reminisced; told him how much he meant to us and how much we loved him. When this is pub- lished, it will be just short of a miracle if Benny is alive. Fortunately, I believe in miracles. Dina Eastwood is a former news anchor at KSBW TV, past host of "Candid Camera" and has starred on a reality show on the E! Network. She is a writer, editor and yogini. She resides on the Monterey Peninsula with her daughter, Morgan. BEHIND THE SPOTLIGHT D I N A E A S T W O O D What do you say to a friend who knows he may not be around much longer? Hello to the Dying 52 C A R M E L M A G A Z I N E • S U M M E R / F A L L 2 0 1 6

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