Facing Death, Elvis fan enjoys life to the hilt
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series about how those dealing with serious disease find the positive.His dream, Michael Bryant says, is to simply live life to the hilt.
If that means climbing up on stage tonight with an oxygen tank, just so he can belt out the songs his idol Elvis Presley made famous, in front of an audience for what might be the last time in Bryant’s 49-year-old life, then fine.
His journey just may be complete.
“I faced death a long time ago,” Bryant said, taking a long drag on a smoldering Marlboro outside his rambling brick-and-stone home recently, “and I’ve come to grips with it. I’m not afraid of the end.”
No one knows exactly when the end will come, but the tall, lanky brick contractor who moved to this hilltop house in hopes that he would transform it into his family’s dream home, isn’t making a whole lot of long-term plans.
“This is my peaceful place, where I do a lot of my thinkin,'” he said, looking east from his deck that overlooks towering pines and the Sierra Nevada mountains.
What Bryant thinks about is spending time with his wife, Kathy, who he met in a Roseville karaoke bar six years ago, wooing her with his rendition of Elvis’ “The Wonder of You” as he sang on bended knee; of his granddaughter, Hope, who knows her grandpa will soon “go see Jesus in the clouds” and of his ongoing house renovation project.
“My wife says I’ve got to work on this house ’til I’m gone. She’s got a pretty big honey-do list for me,” said Bryant, who was diagnosed with cancer in February.
Bryant has spent these days under the care of Hospice of the Foothills, whose nurses and case managers are focusing on now, not then.
That means Bryant wakes up every day, calls his crew in Sacramento to keep tabs on his brick contracting business, then lays brick and performs odd jobs to build his house. On weekends, he heads out to karaoke, where his wife will often play Patsy Cline to his Elvis, delighting the crowds.
He still smokes – the one vice he says, aside from singing, that may be too hard to quit.
“The doctor told me the horse is already out of the barn and there’s no point in traumatizing yourself anymore,” he said.
At this point, keeping Bryant comfortable is hospice’s main goal, said Jerry Farrell, chaplain for Hospice of the Foothills.
“The sense that this is a death sentence isn’t what we’re trying to do,” he said.
Farrell said Bryant’s spirit and verve keep him alive. In July, Bryant performed as Elvis at a benefit for Hospice of the Foothills, singing nearly every standard “The King” made famous.
“Here’s a guy five years older than me, short of breath before he even takes the stage, and he’s having the time of his life, changing people’s perception about what it means to be a hospice person,” Farrell said.
“To see Michael doing Elvis, that’s what we want his life to be.”
This isn’t the first time Bryant, an Ohio native and Marine Corps veteran, faced death.
In 1972, he was on his way home when the brakes failed on his car, which skidded off a freeway offramp and fell into the middle of another intersection. His car was then hit by another oncoming vehicle.
The crash busted his ribs, broke his collar bone and caused a concussion. He was in the hospital for nine months. Doctors feared he’d never live. The experience back then has solidified his resolve today, Bryant said.
“That’s why when the Grim Reaper knocks, I don’t answer.”
Wife Kathy Bryant knows the day is drawing when she won’t wake up next to him.
“That’s the hard part,” she said. When they married six years ago, Kathy “always had this feeling that we weren’t going to grow old together. But I said I was going to go for it.”
But they don’t talk about the end – much. “It hurts,” she said. “I don’t want to do it. I’d rather look forward to the time we have left. I can’t imagine my life without him, so I don’t.”
Bryant, who has performed as Elvis in Lake Tahoe, Reno and in Las Vegas, and has met the Jordanaires, Elvis’ backup singers, said his dream would be to meet Priscilla Presley, Elvis’ widow; Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis’ daughter, and Joe Esposito, the singer’s road manager.
He promises not to do any impersonations for the former Mrs. Elvis, though, if the two ever meet.
“She’s already had the best,” he said.
Bryant’s on a mission now, one that will continue this afternoon at another hospice benefit.
“I want to show people that you don’t have to stop living,” Bryant said, “just because the doctors say it’s over.”
Monday: How the bond between two women is working to save a mother’s life.
KNOW & GO
WHAT: Two benefit shows for Hospice of the Foothills
WHEN: Today at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
WHERE: Nevada County Fairgrounds1 Northern Mine South Winds Room, 11228 McCourtney Road.
ADMISSION: Tickkets are $15 in advance, $17 at the door.
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