Thursday, September 3, 2009
Thirty-three years ago today a young couple stood in a small den on Hondo Drive in Winston-Salem. He was 18 and she was still just 17. He was wearing a white leisure suit and she had on the same white dress she had worn to the the prom just a few months before. He looked ridiculous in the leisure suit and a basketball-sized afro. She was stunning with her red hair falling halfway down her back.
Her mother stood by and watched as her father gave her away. His best man was his old running buddy Frank. Her maid-of-honor was Tina, her oldest friend there in Winston. There were only a few others in the room. Her sister, his brother, the younger of his 2 sisters, Tina's husband Jeff.
Her friend and father-figure Ted did the honors. He was an ordained minister who worked in pastoral care at the hospital.
The vows were short and sweet, the basic repetition lines that have been used by couples for ages. There was giggling and wise cracks, threats of following them to the hotel for a party. It was not a particularly serious event.
Yet the vows, although not spoken very somberly, were taken very seriously. There were countless times in the next 32 years that the two of them could have easily decided that it had gone on long enough , that they had made it longer than they were supposed to anyway, and the spark just wasn't there any more.
But it always was. Sometimes it was hard to find, but it was always there.
I have been to this blogsite countless times in the past 8 1/2 months. I have come here prepared to write a new post each time. There have been numerous events and happenings and experiences that have occurred during that time that I felt I should write about. I have finally seen a game in Fenway Park - with many of my friends from Joy of Sox, no less. My Tar Heels, one of the 2 primary reasons for this blog's existence, won a national championship. The National Championship, even! There have been great musical shows I've seen and a few new friends that I've shared some great times with. And of course, there have been countless bittersweet moments that remind me of my beloved Cathy, and that are testaments to the life she led. Many times I have said to myself - "this is a huge moment, an important milestone. I should really write about this."
But each time I would see that post at the top of the page and would be stopped in my tracks. Some times I would be drawn into reading the whole story again, and would not be finished until I was falling asleep and couldn't even think any more about writing. Some times the subject I was getting ready to write about would suddenly not be very important at all, certainly not important enough to take the place of that story at the top. Somehow the idea of moving that story "down the line" just seemed inappropriate and even a little disrespectful.
Today is the anniversary of our marriage. Well, it is after midnight, so technically it was yesterday. I had been saying to the few people I talk about this with that it ..would have been... our 33rd anniversary. But today I realized that was wrong. It IS the 33rd anniversary of our marriage. This will always be our anniversary, regardless of what the future may hold for me.
I suffered through an agonizingly ordinary day. Even worse, I was working on a particularly tough job. One that really called for undivided attention, and one I could not just leave because I was simply not into working that day. I would have liked for this to be one of those days when I could just catch up on some paperwork, talk with my kids and my friends, run a couple of errands, pick at my guitar, and just not really do much of anything all day. I would have liked to have been able to listen to WFDD all day, so I could hear the tribute I gave when I signed up as a Day Sponsor back in the spring. I never did hear it until that evening late, while in the shower. It seemed all day as though I should be telling everyone I spoke to - "today is my anniversary". But I didn't tell anyone. And everyone treated me as though it were any other day. Why wouldn't they?
A few people did hear the announcement, however, and called to tell me so. Our dear friend Mary, ever the thoughtful and positive one, asked me what I remember about that day. I started talking and might not have stopped if not for an appointment she had to keep. I'm sure my customer was wondering just how long I was going to be on the phone by the time she had to go. But that conversation had already worked it's magic. I spent the rest of the day in reflection, even as I worked. Even as I went to choir practice at the Temple in preparation for the upcoming High Holy Days services. And I knew what I should do.
It is time to start writing again. Cathy encouraged me to write, even more than I ever did. She understood how much I enjoyed it, and wanted me to do more of it. She also knew it was cathartic to me and undoubtedly knew it would be healthy for me when the time came. As I have noted before here, she was always looking out for me.
I'm sure that I will find myself dwelling on stories involving her from now on. But I will write about other things as well. She would insist on it.
Memories are not bad, they just are. The traditional Jewish prayer says "May their memory be for a blessing". A blessing indeed. Although the memories may evoke a wistful longing, or even a tear once in a while, in the end they make me smile. And I hope they make others smile as well. She would insist on that also.
Tina and Jeff did show up at our hotel room that night. That would be at the Holiday Inn about 2 miles away from the den on Hondo Drive where we said our vows. Honeymoons at age 18, when one set of parents has little money, and the other set objects to the marriage, are very cost-conscious. The knock came at the door around 9pm, and I opened the door expecting to see the hotel manager, who just happened to be someone we knew. He had given us a bottle of champagne upon our arrival, and gave us the "honeymoon suite" at regular room price. I had no idea what he might be sending us now, but who else could it be? There was Jeff with a six-pack in his hand, grinning a very wicked grin, saying "hey man, ready to party?". Tina followed him in saying "I told him no, but he insisted." We all had a beer, well all except Cathy, she can't stand the stuff. After one, Jeff asked if I wanted another and I said that another beer was not exactly what I had on my mind, although not in so many words. Tina smacked at him and said "I told you, now let's go!" He replied "hell, we gave 'em 2 hours, how much time does someone need?", then laughed as he winked at me and headed for the door. He even left me the rest of the beer.
I know that no one expected us to last 32 years together. For a long time Cathy would call Emma Bowman every year on Sept 2nd. Emma is the mother of one of her closest friends, Jody. Jody had told Cathy that Emma had made a bet we wouldn't last a year. So Cathy would call and say "guess what? Another year. Hope you're still paying on that bet!" No, no one could have thought we would stay together. Certainly not "until death do you part". We were just kids after all. Who in their right mind would have thought that two people that young had already found the right person to spend the rest of their life with.
I did. I knew it as I looked in those gleaming eyes that evening in that small den.
"I could never love again, the way that I loved you. Where you end, where I begin, it's like a river flowing through" (dave matthews)
Happy anniversary, baby.
I miss you.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
It's a beautiful story.
It may not seem so early on, but trust me.
It's a beautiful story.
This Also Had To Happen
Saturday, January 10, 2009.
Approximately 10:45 am
I still can't believe what she's saying to me. She was doing so well the night before. But somehow it feels like I already knew.
When I left her last night she was actually sitting up in bed. For the first time in over 24 hours. The doctor had said that she had improved significantly since that morning and was not in the imminent jeopardy that had provoked the move down to the ICU unit. If she was no worse in the morning they would probably send her back up to a regular room.
Thank God for that. I hated being forced to leave her. Until the day before, when we were moved to that ICU, I had been in the room with her since the day we checked her in. Monday, I guess it had been. We were used to the routine there, having spent practically the whole month of August in that same room. How ironic that we were back in room 9138 again. Sometimes a nurse would walk in and say "weren't you in this same room a while back? For quite a while too, I believe." Our friends would react the same way. "Isn't this the same room you were in last time?"
I knew that room like the back of my hand. I could turn the chair into a bed in 2 minutes flat. Then, in the morning when the nurse came in and said the doctors were coming, I could fold the linens and return it to it's chair persona in the same amount of time. I could walk around that room in the dark.
I had only left her for brief spells, always during the day. Go to the bank. Maybe catch a short service call. Go show my face at a jobsite or a customer's house to explain the reason for my delay, and maybe do some prep and planning for when I was going to get back there. It wouldn't be long I would say, believing it myself.
But I could and did sleep there in the room with her every night so I would be there when the doctors came by in the morning. I could hear them, and watch them. I could judge for myself if they were really optimistic, or just offering optimism. She, of course, would know right away, but would often not tell me if it was bad. That was why I wanted to be there so badly. I also could find out if, or when, she was going down for a test or procedure, and so be able to plan what time, if any, it would be okay to be gone a while.
That didn't happen in the ICU. Visiting hours.......visiting hours. What the hell is that about? Visiting hours? I'm her husband, dammit! I don't want to visit. Friends visit. The rest of the family visits. I go with her, and I stay with her. I have for 32 years, I'm not about to stop now. Least of all now.
Don't get me wrong. The folks in the ICU were wonderful, for the most part. And they did stretch the rules for me. By a spread of several hours that first night, but less afterwards.
Thursday night I guess that was. It's all a bit of a blur.
Thursday night her breathing had gotten worse. Of course, worse is comparative. It had been a struggle since the episode in August. A real struggle. The pleural effusion that had prompted that stay had never completely cleared up. She could function, but it was taking less and less to make her short of breath. It was unbelievably frustrating for her. She likes to do things. Work in the garden. Take the grandkids someplace. She would still do those things too, but she paid a steep price in terms of difficult breathing and joint pain. It got bad enough to warrant her admission to the hospital Monday. But even on Monday we were oblivious to the impending outcome. At least I was. I took her to the doctor's ofice expecting to get some tests done, get a prescription for something to help the swelling around the lungs, and probably be given a day and time to return for another procedure. Instead we were admitted right away. Then on Thursday night it got ugly.
We had already received what seemed to be the ultimate bad news the day before. Little did I know. The cancer had apparently found it's way into her lungs. This is what we have been dreading all along, but still we were simply preparing ourselves to do battle once again. We knew now, however, that the odds were much more in favor of the disease this time. The fight would be harder. As much as we had hoped the spot that had shown up in a PET scan was just an infection from all the fluid build-up around the lungs, it just wasn't so. Oh, there was still an outside shot, but we knew better, especially her. The cancer had been slowly building up steam over the past year, and then there had been the long hospital stay in August with the pleural effusion, and after all, we were over 4 years into what had been called a "3-5 year expectancy". The procedure to remove the fluid from around her lungs had pulled off a lot, but it had not helped the breathing. And there was no sign of infection in that fluid. So that was undoubtedly a tumor in her right lung and it was largely responsible for her breathing difficulties.
But certainly we still had some time. This wasn't the end or anything, right? We would begin this new chemo regiment. It would be tough, we knew. She talked about the possibility of foregoing the treatment, whether it would be worth the awful side effects. This chemo was much more toxic than the ones we had already been through. We had been through a number of them, too.
And we knew this one had only a 20 - 50% positive response rate.
Still, not terrible odds. Battle on. We started the IV chemo drip Thursday afternoon and began concerning ourselves with getting her breathing back to normal so we could go home. That night, however, as I watched helplessly, her breathing got so bad they called up the ICU Nurse-practitioner to consult and help. There was a call for an emergency X-ray, the hook-ups to the monitor, the sudden appearance of numerous white coats and nurses in unfamiliar uniforms. It took a couple of minutes to grasp the significance of what I overheard at one point. "If we don't get the respiration up, and soon, she'll give out."
Whoa. Not tonight, though. You can't mean that.
Suddenly I was scared. What the hell did they mean? Not now. We're not done yet. Sure, it's coming and I know it, but not now. It took a while, but finally my positive side, aka blessed denial, kicked in. It would be okay. We've been here before. We would get through this crisis and get ready for the next one.
And so we did.
But it had taken the move to the ICU unit to make it happen. Where they had all of the hard-core, extraordinary life-saving measures available if they needed them. They also had the Bi-Pac unit, which was saving her life now by aiding her breathing. And once they got the breathing back to normal then we could go back to our little room and continue the chemo. Good.
I just wish she had not found out while there in the ICU. Because I wasn't there when they told her. I couldn't be. Because, in addition to all that technology, they have.........regulations.
5:30-6:00am. 10:30am-5:30pm. 8:30-10:30pm.
To hell with visiting hours.
Oh, sure they let me stay that first night until almost 3:00. Me and Taylor both. I had called Tay when they said she was going to the ICU, and my sister also. Even though it was close to midnight, and she had to get our sister-in-law to come stay with the girls. Jeanine is a nurse herself, and also Cathy's Health Care Power of Attorney. That damn Cathy always tried to protect me. She didn't want me to ever have to make the decision that ended her life. Looking back, I suppose Jeanine called Jenny, my other sister, to come with her because she knew more than I did how precarious the situation was.
Even though the ICU unit was locked down they let us back with her. The Bi-Pac unit had stabilized her and the girls left around 2:00 or so. Taylor and I left, with a gentle prod, a while later. By the time I grabbed a half-hearted meal in the employee cafeteria it was almost 3:30. No need to drive to Clemmons just to be back at 5:30, so I tried to snooze in a chair in a waiting room until then. It didn't work.
In the mornng they let me stay until 6:30 or so, despite "regulations". Sweet, but she wasn't doing so great. She could barely respond to me. It killed me to go, and not be there knowing what was going on every moment.
When I returned at 10:30 she was much better. By now there was a crowd in the waiting room. A large crowd. They were very nice about fudging the 2-at-a-time rule, and we tried not to abuse it by too much. As the day progressed so did she. Slowly but surely she became more able to respond to people and by mid-day was able to be changed from the Bi-Pac to a more traditional mask so she could talk to her parade of well-wishers. They ran us out right at 5:30 since there were so many of us, but it was OK. She was improving and I was feeling better about things.
When they reopened the doors at 8:30 I was elated. I was ecstatic. She was sitting up with just a nostril tube and we talked at length. It was hard to pay attention to the conversation I was so excited to see her so alert. I had begun to worry. Things were going to be alright now. There were a number of others there with me, but they were all kind enough to clear out a little before 10:30 so I stood a chance of staying a little later. I was able to stay until almost 11:00, but then was asked to leave before the shift change.
Damn ICU. I wasn't there.
It was now Friday night, almost Saturday morning, and I had slept about 2 hours since waking up Thursday morning. That's if you could call what I did sleeping. It really wasn't. There were no decent chairs to sleep in in that particular waiting room and they never turned the lights all off. I had stretched out across two of the chairs and pulled a newspaper over my eyes. Passed out for a few minutes at a time was really a better description than sleep. So now, with her condition so improved, I went home, for the first time since Wednesday morning. I went to sleep in our bed, for the first time since the previous Sunday night, when we were both there. As I write this now, I haven't been back in it yet.
When the alarm went off at 4:45 so I could get up and go back for the 5:30 visitation time slot, I just couldn't move. God I wish I had.
I tell myself that I probably would have had to leave at 6, or at least by 6:30, and the doctors probably would not have come by then, so I wouldn't have been there anyway. I just hope that I can eventually convince myself of that.
She was there by herself when they told her.
I don't know what time that was, but now it's just after 10:40. She had called just a couple minutes after 10:30 when I didn't walk straight in. I was in the break area typing a quick note to some of my on-line friends and just finishing up when she called. She had been great when I left, no rush this morning, right? But I knew when I heard her voice something was different. I went back to the room with an apprehension I didn't like at all.
So now I'm standing here, listening in disbelief while she tells me that her lungs are just too weak. They can't continue the chemo. It would kill her the next time they gave it to her.
"So how long do we have without the chemo?" I'm asking, voice trembling, dreading the answer, thinking "it could be just weeks, or even days".
I'm not quite ready when she says "I might not make it through the weekend".
Believe it or not, it is right at this moment that this becomes a beautiful story. That was 4 days ago now, and we laid her body to rest this afternoon. It has been a long day today, after several other very long days, and I must rest. I want to write, but I can't right now.
But I shall continue.
It's actually Friday night now. The 7-day candle is burning on the mantle. I just got in from the Temple. My first service as a mourner. I'm glad Taylor decided to join me. I held his hand as they said his mother's name prior to the Mourner's Kaddish. Last night was the first night I've slept here since last Friday, when I made that ill-fated decision to come home for a night. Ive been staying at April's house. She's been a Godsend. Taylor was concerned, he always is, and he stayed here with me this first night alone here. He went to work with me also. Odd, the hardest thing I've done yet is leave the house this morning. Tay left a little before me, and I was ready to go pretty much right after he left, but I just couldn't drag myself away. Forty-five minutes later I was still there. Tom called. He and Alex were already at the job and I hadn't left the house yet. I'm glad my brother is an electrician also, and can help me with this job, which just couldn't wait till next week. Tom volunteered to do the whole thing without me even being there, but I felt maybe it was time to try to get back to some sort of routine. I found, however, I just couldn't make myself head out that door. I went to get stuff out of the car that I had stuck in the trunk while I was spending all my time at the hospital. I would take something into the house, walk around in circles , move some stuff around, decide I should straighten the countertop since people would be stopping by, check the garbage, go out to the truck, decide to take something else in, go look for something I forgot, check the thermostat, etc. It finally dawned on me that I was supposed to go back to the bedroom, kiss her goodbye, preferably without waking her, then rub the dog's belly before I left. I always did. Same routine every day. Right before I left. She said she loved the fact that even if we were upset with each other, or even barely speaking, I always did that. That's what was different. The last few days I've been at April's. I haven't worked, and I've woke up when I wanted, been coddled when I needed it, and just hung out with her and Haley. So I had not missed that routine. Now to head out that door, get in my van, go get some coffee, and drive out to a jobsite, without kissing her goodbye, well it seems too much like closing the door on a whole chapter. As if I'm starting over now. I guess I am.
So where was I?
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Approximately 1:00 am
I am leading the procession up to the 9th floor. It's a bad sign when you've spent so much time at the hospital in recent years that when the ICU nurse asked her assistant if she knew how to get to the room we were going to, and the PCA frowned a moment, I was the one who said "I do".
Still, I am so happy that we are going back to the 9th floor. The girls there have been absolute angels to us. Sure, the ICU staff was great, mostly, but I imagine they are used to dealing more with trauma type cases. Almost all of the girls on the "cancer floor" are so genuinely concerned and thoughtful. Cathy worked on the Oncology floor herself when she was a nurse, and I can see now why that was such a perfect place for her. I'm sure that she was the same kind of nurse that we have been so appreciative of in these past few years.
The greatest thing about moving from the ICU, however, is the fact that we can now be in a peaceful environment with the ones we love and not be concerned with visiting hours and limitations. Our son Timmy shared what may turn out to be his last moments with her in that big, intimidating room with all those tubes and wires and the monitors beeping and flashing, and a nurse always on the other side of the window in the corner. So did some of her closest friends.
Unfortunately, so did Gage.
Gage and Haley are the two grandchildren we have the closest connection to. That is not to diminish the importance of nor the love we have for the others, but circumstances are different with the others. These are the two that have been a major part of our lives during their entire lives, and likewise we've always been part of theirs. Haley is April's daughter. Gage is Timmy's son.
April.........There are no words to describe how wonderful it is that she is here.
Just as there are no words that can relate how important it was that Timmy got to see his mother and be with her today.
But I wish Gage had not come to that room. He could have seen her after we moved back up to a normal room. Of course, we couldn't say that for certain earlier this evening. His mother brought him down, around 9 or 10 I think it was. The whole day has been a blur. Calling loved ones and telling them that they may only have a day or two to see Cathy has been a strain.
She wanted to see Gage. She needed to see Gage.
They had already gotten the go-ahead to move her back to the 9th floor, but there was not a room available, and it appeared it would be tomorrow before there was one open. I had kind of encouraged her to wait until then to have him come, but she was afraid she would not be aware by that time and that would not do at all. It would probably have been OK, had not his mom brought him. It's not that I didn't want her to see Cathy, it's just that she was uncontrollably upset and she cried the whole time, loudly. The sight of his "Dee" with that mask on her face, the tubes, the wires, the giant swiveling arms on either side of her holding all the equipment that made it look as though she was being held by a robot, all of the lights and beeps and alerts, combined with his mother's sobbing made him terrified. He tried to talk to her but couldn't bring himself to do much more than hug his mom's neck, steal glances at Cathy, and mumble replies to her. He did tell her several times that he loved her, and would hold her hand for a bit, but he wouldn't sit on the bed with her. I guess the most important thing was that she got to keep a promise. Gage has had more than one woman disappear unexpectedly from his life, a hard thing for one only five years old to understand. He still inquires regularly about the most recent one. So Cathy had made it a point to tell him that she was going to have to go away herself some day, but she would never leave without telling him goodbye. That was important for her and I'm thankful she was able to do it, but I do wish it had been in a different setting. At least I'm sure that he will remember her, and I will explain the events of that night to him myself one day when he's a little older. He is undoubtably an Old Soul, and I'm sure he will get it.
But right now Sue and I are squeezing into an elevator with two nurses and the big ICU bed, which they are transporting her in so they only have to pick her up and move her once. Sue is yet another of the "best friends". There are so many. And the fact that there are so many does not lessen the value of any single one of those friendships. That's just the way she is. When she connects with someone there is a bond that lasts through the years, even if there are long periods with no actual contact. The ties remain. And today so many of those ties and bonds have been confirmed as people appeared all day long to say their farewells. I am well aware that doing that is not an easy thing for most people. It would seem uncomfortable, even unnatural with a lot of other people. But Cathy has been preparing her closest friends for this as long as she's been preparing me, and the idea of not coming is unthinkable to them. So is the idea of it being a morbid experience. They all know she has fought long and hard and is just tired, and ready herself. Sure, there are tears, but they are tears of acceptance, not anguish.
Sue and Patsy have been here all day. I have a feeling they will be here until the very end, just as I'm sure Taylor and April will be.
Patsy has known Cathy longer than I have. She is responsible for "us". She introduced us when I was a senior in high school and Cathy was a junior. I can never repay that debt. Cathy was one of her running buddies, and so was I, so it was inevitable our paths would cross. And I did have a thing for red-heads. We dated the first time when we were both "rebounding", and insisted to each other for the longest time that there were no strings attached.
Just 33 years worth of strings, that's all.
She loves to tell the story of that first string. She called to see what time I was coming to get her. I stammered and vaguely said I had made plans with someone else. She asked where we would be at, and said she could get another ride. I finally had to spell it out. "Oh..." she said. So she called Patsy and they showed up at the game room. A bar would certainly make a better story, but I was only 17 and she was 16. She promptly announced that I really needed to take that other girl home.... now. I didn't question the matter for a second, although it did make for a rather awkward drive to the other girl's house. I haven't been with another since.
Sue is a more recent acquisition in the vault of friends, but has become the one she spends the most time with lately. The craft thing, you know. Trips to AC Moore and bead shows and shops. Cathy has become quite proficient with the beads. She has made some beautiful jewelry, some watches, and other works. The beading is something she can do even when the chemo has her energy levels way down. She paints, and still wants to continue painting, but it takes so much more to get out the paints and set up a stand, and then there's the clean-up after. She can pick up a tray of beads and be busy for hours even if she's not up to getting out of bed. And when she does get exhausted, she can just set it down.
It used to be both Sue and Chris, almost constantly. The three amigas. Painting classes, painting get-togethers, then scrap-booking for a while, then the beading thing. All three of them usually, until Chris's work took her to Gastonia, near Charlotte. She still comes up as often as she can and hangs out, spends the night, whatever, but you know how it is. It's never as often as you wish. And now Chris is stuck at work. She works weekends at the hospital there. Ironically, she's been an ICU nurse most of the time I've known her. When you only work on weekends, they frown mightily on you not being there. She has called numerous times since I got in touch with her, usually crying and heartbroken that she's not already here.
But she's here in spirit, as are several others who cannot be here physically. And she will get here in time, I'm certain. Well, I'm hopeful.
I'm so very, very relieved that there is not that chance of missing her for Timmy and April. Taylor has been here on and off all week. He is the "mommy's boy" of our brood, always has been, and so this is extremely hard for him. But at least he is here, and has been here, and he takes comfort in that. Not so with Timmy.
Timmy has been the wayward son. He had his demons in his youth, he and his sister both. There were the drugs, the run-ins with the law. Nothing really that I never did in my youth, he just got caught. More than once. Yet he was such a "good kid" that he always got a lenient judgement. He had pretty much cleaned up his act in recent years, especially since the split with Gage's mom. He has primary custody of Gage, and was well on his way to being a very responsible parent. But he had reverted to old habits after a personal loss last winter, which is no excuse, as he will tell you himself. When he got caught with the drugs, again, the lawyer told him point blank. No way out, no probation, no house arrest, you're gonna do time this time. The idea of being seperated from Gage seems to have done what nothing else has been able to do. He has taken full ownership of and responsibility for his problem. He has taken his struggle for recovery 100% seriously. He attended meetings every night for the 3 or 4 months while awaiting trial. He has apparently been the model prisoner, if there is such a thing. He went through a treatment facility first, and did well enough there to be "rewarded" with an assignment to the minimum security facility right here in town. Here we can bring Gage to visit him and eat lunch on Sundays at the picnic grounds.
But all that means nothing when you learn your mother is dying and you can't be there with her. When he called on Friday I of course did not know the news I would be recieving the next morning. Apparently, however, he suspected. Or maybe his mother did and had shared that. For whatever reason, he had talked to the supervisor about a visit. He was told that if he played this card, and visited now, that would probably be it. There would not likely be another time, even if there was a funeral. Given the choice, he wanted to see her and talk to her, not see a casket. He got to spend about an hour and a half with her today. It was wonderful. Sad, because it couldn't last longer, but still wonderful. She was still completely awake and aware, and they took off the bi-pac mask and put on a shield type inhaler so she could talk to him.
And kiss him.
I had to tell him after he arrived here that this would almost certainly be the last time he would ever see her. That was hard. It's a shame that he and his dear son both saw her for the last time in that room. But so very much better than not seeing her at all.
While he was here we pretty much cleared the room out and sent everyone to the waiting room. Even the other kids and I let them be alone most of the time. I thought it spoke well of him that when he asked the guard who was with him about going to the restroom down the hall, she didn't bat an eye. She just said "well go on, then. You're gonna come back aren't ya?" Patsy told me later that she thanked that guard for making the visit happen, and the guard replied that it was Timmy who made it happen by being the kind of guy he was. She insisted that not everyone who makes these requests gets an OK, it has to be earned, and that "if she had a camp full of inmates like him, she wouldn't even have a job". She let us stretch the hour visit into an hour and a half, and even allowed him a few minutes in the hallway and waiting area with the rest of the family as they were leaving.
Thank God it's just 6 more weeks. Cathy had tried so hard to hang on until he got out. She has been the primary care-giver for Gage for quite a while, and she wanted there to be a smooth "transition" for Gage from her to his dad. I believe she got close enough to qualfy for having suceeded.
By the time he arrived this afternoon, April was already here.
Oh, how wonderful that happened also. I was afraid maybe it wouldn't.
Where do I begin about April?
There are too many levels to that story for anyone to be able to fully grasp.
Cathy may not have given birth to April but she may as well have. They are as alike as the proverbial peas in the pod. We have always given her the same love and treated her the same as the two boys. She and Cathy share the same childhood, the same relationship, or lack thereof, with their biological mother, the same abusive men in their early years, the same mistrust of those who were supposed to be looking out for them.
And the same absolutely immovable stubbornness as well.
Cathy has always been able to develop deep, long-lasting bonds with people who are open to those ties, but she has also been slightly wary of those closest to her, because those are the ones that can hurt you the deepest. She and April have hurt each other many times over the years, and the hurt has indeed been even worse because of how strong the love is, but there has always been the eventual healing of those wounds, and an even stronger bond afterward for having gotten through the pain together.
This morning I was afraid that they might not get the opportunity.
They had not spoken, except through some snipy letters, for quite some time. Once again, they were both claiming they were "over it", and ready to move on without the other one.
I knew better. Not a day went by that Cathy didn't talk about April. She may have been insisting she didn't need her anymore, but she was still talking about her. Over it, eh?
I was afraid though that the timing of this hurt would make it impossible to repair, especially now.
I have always stayed out of their arguments. As mch as possible, anyway. They are both vital to my life. Daughter or wife. That's not a choice, that's hell. I would usually just be mad at both of them for disrupting my life and would anxiously await the repair of the relationship. This most recent time, however, I had been forced to choose. As much as I loved April, my wife of 32 years, my high school sweetheart, was in pain. Serious pain. And she was nearing the end. We knew it. No one else really did, but we did. We never suspected, or should I say, I never suspected just how near we were, we knew we were getting closer. It was obvious. Her body was wearing out, and the decline was picking up speed. I had to be there for her. I would get my chance someday to reconcile with April, but I didn't have much time with my wife.
I had written April letting her know Cathy was in the hospital, but when I wrote the letter I did not know just how short our time remaining was. Taylor told me last night, after they moved her to the ICU, that April had replied. I didn't have time for that now, and I told him so. I told him to have her call me, and if I was satisfied with that conversation, she could come. I was not about to allow any chance of adding stress to Cathy's situation.
But then came Saturday morning. The numbness.
A day, maybe two, she said.
I read the letter April had written in reply and called her.
She was on her way to work, she told me later. She went right past where she works and drove straight to the hospital. I'm not sure she even called in.
She was respectful of my wishes and talked to me first. I knew as soon as she spoke it was good. All good.
I cleared out the room except for Taylor and myself, and even we gave them some time. I can't say exactly what was said, but I knew it was a lifetime's worth of apologies, and whys, and why nots, and that it went both ways. Lord knows Cathy contributed to their differences herself, and was well aware of it. And this morning, just as later with Timmy, Cathy was still completely awake and aware and they talked and cried and hugged and loved for the rest of the morning until Timmy showed up, then did more of the same with him.
She has not left the hospital since. She has been in the room almost the whole time, occasionally giving up her spot so that someone else can get in. Her husband, Tim, has come and gone with Haley, but she has not left. She is not in this elevator right now only because she and Tay took off to get some food, but they will be right back.
She and Taylor were there when the respiratory therapist talked to me. Talked to us, actually.
He talked about the lack of strength remaining in her lungs. The downright tiredness. Because we were now in a "do not resuscitate" mode, the drastic measures equipment there in the ICU would not be needed. And he could see that Cathy was not going to be left alone, so the constant watchful eye of the nurse there was also not needed. Therefore he was recommending the move back to the oncology unit.
It will be so much better in the room.
Family and friends came all day to the ICU, but they had to share the time left, had to parcel it out. They made sure the kids and I got as much time as we wanted, and they alternated between standing in the room and sitting in the waiting room, along with standing in the hall when the waiting room got full.
My Mom, my Dad. My two wonderful sisters, Jenny and Jeanine, and my "baby" brother Tom, who towers over me. His wife Kay, and Jenny's husband Roger.
Cathy's sister Kelly, and their dad.
All here, for the duration.
Cathy's Aunt Wynn is catching a plane from Indianapolis, probably even as we are moving down the hall. She and her daughter Marty, Cat's cousin, are due in around noon.
Then there's that whole, vast, extended family.
Sue and Patsy were here all day, and Patsy's sister Kim has been in and out. Talk about family, Cathy actually lived with them and "Mama Foster" for a while during one of those numerous rough spots with her own mom.
Mary and Starr, wih whom we have shared some special New Years Eves in recent years. Just the 4 of us last year at the new farm. The wonderful farm in the country where we feel as if we're right at home, and we act like it too.
Marian and Wayne, whose son Neal has been like a brother to Taylor since 2nd grade. Another almost other-worldly connection. Mare and Cathy can go without seeing each other for a year or so and then, when they do get together, it's just like they've been together every day.
Tommy, who along with his wife Tori, were our dearest friends for so long. Tori is out of town on business, but is returning early. After all, we're family. Well, same as. Every weekend we were playing spades at one or the other of our homes. Into the wee hours of the mornings. Our kids would take baths together, like the siblings they practically were, then go to bed together and feign sleep while we drank and laughed. They have always just treated it as though they all had 4 parents.
And then there's Chris, the other Chris, the male Chris, and his wife Alice. Chris, like Patsy, has known her longer than I have. Cathy and Chris have competed for decades over whose relationship with their mother was the most dysfunctional. They have loved each other like brother and sister forever it seems. The first time I met Chris, he was actually living with Cathy and her parents during one of his own rough spots. Platonically I might add. Cathy had mentioned that there was a guy, an older guy, who stayed there at the house. I just assumed she meant, you know, older. When I met him and realized he wasn't that much older, certainly no older than someone she might date, I must admit to being a bit threatened. But it only took watching a little interaction between them to be reassured that this was much more of a sibling type relationship. Chris has been there for us more than anyone else, in so many ways.
When we found out that Cat's diagnosis was Stage 4, we vowed to do some of the things we've always wanted to, even if it meant breaking the bank. But some things were just out of our reach. For Cathy's birthday a couple of years ago Chris and Alice sent us on a 7 day Alaskan cruise. They're not wealthy or anything, this was a sacrifice for them. But they wanted to do it, and I knew there was no point in arguing. I simply vowed to do my part and saved like crazy to do some of the off-ship excursions I knew Cathy would want to do, and to have enough spending money to relax and treat her to a week of whatever she wanted.
What an experience!
We chased whales. I shot a bear - with my camera of course. We ate freshly caught salmon in a lodge on an uninhabited island. We flew in a helicopter over the wilderness to a remote glacier where we felt as though we were on a different planet. It was one of the most memorable experiences of our lives together, and Chris made sure it happened.
All through our lives together Chris has been there for us, in more ways than one. And I know, and appreciate, that when Cathy and I did have our own rough spots, he was there for her. I know he is hurting almost as badly as I am right now.
There are also several people who are here in spirit, if not in body.
Her best friend from 7th grade on, Carol, who is dealing with a crisis of her own, involving children and grandchildren and exes in Rock Hill. In August, when things had been a little calmer at home, Carol had come up and spent two nights at the hospital with Cathy so I could have a weekend of semi-normalcy with Gage. What a blessing that was. Carol has this almost psychic, no, not almost, just psychic connection with Cathy. I cannot even begin to relate how many times over the years I would hear the words "I've been thinking, I need to call Carol", only to hear the phone ring a few momnts later and there was Carol. And this might happen after they hadn't spoken in a year or more.
Our dear friends Jan and Pat, who are in Florida at this very moment, tending to Pat's father who suffered a stroke on Thursday night. They were going to come up to the hospital on Friday night with a bottle of wine, just as they had done back in August. Let's make the best of a bad situation, they said. And so we did. But when I called on Friday afternoon to tell them of the move to the ICU, which would put a damper on those plans for a repeat, I found them in a state of near-panic, halfway to Tampa Bay. I hope things are going a little better for them than they are here.
Rabbis Mark and Josh have been here on and off all day. Last night Rabbi Mark brought his guitar into the ICU and sang some prayers. Right there in the damn ICU. At the time I believe it was just Taylor, Patsy, Sue, and myself. He sang several of the traditional shabbat prayers, including the birchot havdallah that begins with a beautiful lilting melody and no words.
Lai lai lai-lai-lai-lai lai lai, lai lai lai-lai-lai-lai-lai lai, lai-lai-lai lai lai lai, lai-lai-lai lai lai-lai-lai......
I've always had a hard time keeping the lump out of my throat when he plays that one. Now it won't even be possible. I'll just blubber like a baby every time.
As he was leaving I believe it was Sue who told him that, even though she didn't know a word of the Hebrew he had sung the prayers in, she still seemed to know what was being said, and it meant every bit as much as anything that could have been said in English.
At least now we are going to a place where I, and the kids, can spend the night there by her side. Given the prognosis they had let us stay in the ICU room later than they were supposed to, but I was sure they were going to send us packing any minute. We were thrilled when, around midnight, they instead told us that a room had come open and they would be taking her up as soon as it was prepped. I could not have beared the thought of leaving her again tonight and not knowing what was going on in that room while I was not there with her.
I'm leading us now down the hall to 9144, just a few doors down from our old haunt. They had to take her off of the Bi-pac unit for transport. They have a standard face mask hooked to an oxygen tank on the bed, but her breathing is getting very hard. Agonizingly hard. The nurses are stressing, which makes me stress. I don't like their tone and mannerisms. They are not reassuring.
But we get to the room and a couple of the floor nurses help shift her onto the bed. The respiratory guy does his thing and she drifts back to a good place. Pulse ox comes back up to upper 90s, heart rate goes down.
Within an hour I'm asleep in the recliner chair, stretched out right beside her bed. April is sacked out in the pull-out chair at my feet, and Taylor and Dana are huddled on a cot the nurse brought in. It probably wouldn't pass muster with the fire deptartment, but we are cozy together and as close as possible to the one we love.
It's Tuesday night now, a little over a week has passed. It's been so hard to find the time to spill these thoughts. My family and friends have made absolutely certain that I have had constant distractions. Dinner with my sister Jeanine and her two precious adopted little girls tonight. Spending the night with Jan and Pat and several, yes several, bottles of wine last night. And on and on. I had Gage here for the first time Saturday night. There were some tough moments, but it ended up well. It helped that his Uncle Taylor and Aunt April were here and April brought Haley, the love of his life. After his Dee, of course.
Today was the toughest day yet. I hope it's not a trend. I nearly lost it several times and felt all day like I was just hanging by a thread. Thank the stars above for all the support I have. I'm sure not everyone is so fortunate.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Approximately 9:00 pm
I'm feeling numb again. There is an acceptance growing within me that I felt I might never be able to attain, but at the same time it feels as though it's been there for a long time. There are only a few of us in here right now, and the room has quieted down a lot so I'm having a reflective moment. Saturday morning at 10:45 seems like an eternity ago right now, but at the same time it feels like I just found out. There just hasn't been enough time. There is so much more to do. It is obvious now that we are on the final leg of her journey.
It is a blessing that there has been enough time to allow almost everyone who meant the most in her life to come and see her and talk to her, and to do so while she was able to acknowledge their presence and sometimes even converse back, although that ability has slowly lessened over the course of the day.
Since early afternoon she has rarely been able to do more than smile slightly and nod, and maybe whisper a word or two. But the smile and the nod say mountains. It is enough to know that she understands what is being said and is thankful that you are there and saying it. I have sat at her side most of the day. Occasionally I have gotten up and moved so someone else could sit in the best seat, the recliner right at her head. Especially if someone new arrives.
And arrive they have.
Wynn and Marty got in this afternoon around noon and have been here ever since. Wynn is the favorite aunt, and Marty is her daughter. OK, Wynn is the only aunt, but she would be the favorite regardless. Wynn and Cathy are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, as well as the religious, and most of the social spectrum. Yet they share bonds and memories from Cathy's childhood that surpass all of that. Marty relates in the room how Cathy and she used to sneak out to smoke. Cathy's very best memories from childhood are of the times in Highlands with her own "Dee", that was her grandmother, and her Aunt Wynn. She relished every opportunity to return there and wished nothing more than to share that beautiful place with everyone she cared about. Often she would pack a bag, grab a friend, and say goodbye for a day or two just to go do that. That was a sure sign she really cared about you.
She had talked for a long time of wanting to be able to take Gage there when he was old enough to remember. Just a few weeks ago, after Thanksgiving, we made the trip up. It was cold, but beautiful. I think maybe she knew she had better not chance waiting until spring. When I poo-pooed that thought she said, "well, we can certainly go again in the spring if I'm able". We got pictures of Gage and her behind the Looking Glass Waterfall, and drove by the old K-12 school she attended and the old Mobley house where she stayed with her own Dee for so long. Wynn mentioned earlier this afternoon that even though she was certainly weak then, it just didn't seem possible that she was only a few weeks from being at this point.
Maggie and David came for a while earlier. Oh, the weekends when we just wanted to get away, and there were a lot of them. Cathy would call Maggie and pretty much just announce that we needed a day or two of escape and reflection at the lake and we would be there on Friday, or Saturday afternoon if it was Little League season and I had a game. That is the nature of our friendships. Part of the family. Don't really ask, just say. You're always welcome, and you know it. The escape would be aided by the secluded locale, the late night card games, and a healthy dose of alcohol. Sure, there would be the occasional time when there were prior commitments that got in the way, but they were the exception.
Tommy returned with Tori as soon as she got back into town. Ashley, their daughter who has to endure all the embarrassing "naked" pictures we have of her and our kids as children, came in from Raleigh. You would have thought it was her own mom in that bed to see her. She and our boys always did consider their parents to be kind of interchangeable.
Our next door neighbor came to say his goodbyes. The two of them had butted heads the first few years after he moved in, but eventually he found himself taking her with him to Bingo on Thursdays. Things started to change between them after she came over and just hugged him upon the death of his brother a few years back. The last few years he had always come up when she was in the hospital and brought in the latest beading magazines from the newstand he manages. This evening he walked in, sat down by her, then just hung his head for several minutes and got up and walked out, his eyes wet.
My bud Bob was here. He is a fixture at our home, and was there the night before she was admitted to the hospital, eating a pot roast that she had fixed for us that night to enjoy while we watched a Carolina basketball game. You know Bob is just part of the family by the way she simply says "night guys" and heads back to the bedroom while he's here watching a game with me, never giving it a second thought.
Both of our rabbis were once more in and out all day. Rabbi Mark, whom she has come to lean on so much since he arrived here about 7 years ago, and Rabbi Josh, the new kid, the young man who just recently joined our community and was officially "installed" as our second rabbi just last night, while we were down in the ICU. Last night when Rabbi Mark came to play and sing for Cathy he had been doing so at the peril of being late for the dinner honoring Rabbi Josh. He knew that Josh would approve.
All of the family, and most of the friends, who were here yesterday returned as well, thankful for the softer, more peaceful environment of the 9th floor room.
There were so many, I know I cannot recall them all. I would occasionally have to explain to one long-time friend just who another long-time friend was if their paths had just not happened to have crossed before. And then were the young folks as well. Aunt Wynn asked me a little earlier who one particular young man was, and I replied " Oh, that's just another of the many kids who call her Mom."
And they do. So many of them. All ages, colors, and sizes. It is unbelievable how many kids around this town call her Mom.
She is a firm believer in social justice and supports many groups that advocate for those ideals. But she has never belonged to a whole lot of organizations. A few, yes, but usually not for very long. She has always done her charity work one on one. She will speak out in a minute, or less usually, on behalf of a group, but she takes on the work one child, or person, at a time. Our home always had, and still has, a well-known reputation as a place where one could go when you felt like there was nowhere you belonged.
Right now Chris, the female Chris, is sitting by her side, sobbing and talking ever so softly in her ear. She had been so distraught yesterday that she could not come. She had gotten off work as early as she could this evening and came straight here, still in her nurse's scrubs.
She and Cathy met at the Little League field, where her son and Taylor played together. She was my scorekeeper, and she and Cat would sit at the scorekeeper's table, critique the umpiring and my coaching, and get closer to each other every game.
Chris looks up and asks if they will bury her in her shawl. I hadn't thought about it but assure her they will.
The shawl. The talit.
What a beautiful thing. Chris is a very devout Christian. She and Cathy have sparred through the years over religion. Yet it was always done with the utmost respect for each other's beliefs. Then one year Chris showed up, at Hanukah I think it was, with the shawl. She, the devout Christian, had researched the exact specifications of the talit and had hand-knitted one for Cathy. It was done according to all the commandments, right down to the tassle strings with the knots and single blue thread interwoven in them. It was one of the most meaningful gifts Cathy ever recieved.
Of course she will be buried with it, I say. It and the crystal healing wand that April had made for her some time ago. Cathy had packed that in her bag every time she went to the hospital since it was given to her. She was clutching it now, as she had been almost constantly since April's arrival.
I said she would be buried with those items even though I have no idea what all the restrictions and requirements are for a Jewish burial. I'm still becoming a Jew. I've never even been to a Jewish funeral, much less been directly involved in one. I've been to several shiva minyons, but never to the actual burial. But the rabbis have made it clear that even though there are centuries-old traditions, they will honor the wishes of Cathy and the family. This is a reform congregation after all.
I'm glad we got to have the conversation we did yesterday. I want nothing more than to honor my wife and her wishes. She deserves it. The rabbi had said that there was no "wrong". If we did not get to talk to her, whatever we felt was the right thing would indeed be the right thing. But I felt differently. I cursed the fact that my feeble mind could not say for certain where she had finally settled down on the question of burial. I'm sure she had made it clear, but I was undoubtedly pushing the conversation out of my mind at the time because I didn't want to acknowledge it's implications.
I knew she had talked about wanting to be cremated for most of her life. Then, recently, she started to question her own desire. She had really embraced Judaism and was concerned about the fact that cremation is not an accepted practice in the Jewish faith. She had read about, and was moved by the beautiful, loving rituals performed by the members of the Sisterhood before burial. She had also voiced a concern that I and the children might be comforted by having a place to go and be with her, a site to engage in whatever routine act of remembrance we may come to embrace and take comfort in. It was a hard conversation, but Taylor, April, Rabbi Mark, and myself gathered around her and ran everyone else out. I talked, since I was the one who hadn't listened as closely as I should have before. I told her that I knew she was having second thoughts and feeling some indecision and asked if she felt confident now about what she really wanted. She asked if her ashes could be buried in the Jewish cemetary. Only in the non-traditional section of the cemetary was the reply. She nodded and then asked the kids if they wanted somewhere to come visit or if they were OK with just knowing she was out there somewhere. They hesitated. That was all it took. She smiled and said she would like a true Jewish burial.
I asked the rabbi later what kind of financial considerations I need to be arranging for that. I've never thought about a burial plot, much less the price of one. Heck, I'm not supposed to be thinking about these kinds of things for a few more decades yet. He was his typical self, assuring me that the cost was the last thing I needed to concern myself with. He knew that I would do everything I could, and would make sure that that would be enough. Cathy's desire would be made reality.
She is still responding, but not so obviously. I have to look for the response most of the time now, worried that maybe she's not hearing me. And I have so much more to say. All the regrets. All the things I didn't get done. All the things I didn't say. But then I sit back and think, and decide that there was more that was right than there was wrong. I think she knew that she was the center of my life. And that would be the most important thing to me. That she knew that.
I have sat by her side most of the day, occasionally leaning over to kiss her forehead and whisper in her ear. "It's OK, hon. I'm here. We're here. We're going to be all right." I know her. Like I know myself. Maybe better. She is not afraid of dying. She is worrying about us. Are we going to be all right? Will we grieve too much? Who will stay on me and remind me of all the crap that I procastinate so badly about? Who the hell will make sure I eat something besides the frozen, packaged microwave crap I always fix for myself when she's not up to cooking or eating. Who will make sure I remember the appointments, and the birthdays, that I forget on my own?
If I leave the room for a bit, whoever is there jumps up as soon as I enter to give me the chair. They all know how I adore her. I hold her hand and stroke her forehead. April keeps wetting the washcloth and cooling her head and neck. She has a bit of a fever.
The conversations ebb and flow. Someone heads down to the waiting room for a while to make some room for someone else. The room gets quiet with the new arrival for a while. Then the conversation turns to memories, which inevitably leads to an amusing story and laughter and an increase in the volume. Occasionally this seems to upset April. Understandably so. She and Taylor are losing their mother. There is certainly nothing to laugh about. But I remind her that her mom would want us to share fond memories of her and would be happy that those memories evoked laughter.
Earlier today Cathy looked around at the sea of loving friends and family and said "I'm so lucky. Look at all the people I have who care enough to come and see me off." A little later she raised her head, lifted her hands, and said once again "I'm so lucky!" At this point it is the last thing she said out loud.
Right now, though, there are just a few of us here. Wynn and Marty have gone back to their hotel. All of the friends except Patsy, Sue, and Chris have departed. Taylor and April have taken a short walk. Cathy's breathing has slowed considerably and her responses are becoming weaker. I am feeling numb again, and yet, content as well.
She would approve.
It is Saturday night now. Gage is asleep in his room. He's spending the whole weekend here, just as he would have done if she were still here. He is getting more accepting of the idea all the time. He and Haley both spent the night here last night, and April stayed with them while I went to Temple. My second Friday as a mourner. I also went to service this morning. It's such a smaller, more intimate group that it was even more moving. I have the Mourner's Kaddish just about memorized now.
The seven-day candle burned out yesterday. April was here at the time, doing some cleaning. I told her I could do it myself, but she wanted to. For some reason, I'm glad she was here. It didn't seem right that it would go out while there was no one around, while it was alone. She certainly didn't. I had hoped to finish this within the seven day period, but I have been unable to condense it. It seems to cry out to be told in it's entirety.
So it shall.
It's been almost a month now. I've been unable to make the time to sit and write the final segments. Partly because my time hs been intentionally kept filled by friends and family who are doing everything they can to keep me from being alone. By the time I can sit and write at night I can't keep my eyes open any longer. And partly, I'm sure, because this may be the hardest part to write.
And yet it shouldn't be hard at all. I have described it numerous times as being the most beautiful end to a journey one could possibly imagine.
I hope I can do it justice.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Approximately 2:30 pm
The numbness is starting to fade. There is no doubt now that we are very near the end of our journey, the end of our life together, at least on this plane.
Taylor, April, Patsy, and myself are gathered around her, holding hands over her tired body. Tim is standing behind April, and Dana sits by Taylor. My brother and sister have also just happened to stop by at this time and they are sitting on the cot which has doubled as a couch to increase sitting room the last couple of days.
I am fairly certain that we actually lost her around 2 or 3 am this morning. That was when I leaned over and kissed her forehead and did not see any sign of a response at all. There has not been any since.
At the time Patsy and Sue had gone on home for a few hours sleep. Chris had stayed for the night and was asleep on the chair that April had occupied the night before. I'm not sure, but I think Taylor was on the cot and April and Dana were snoozing in the waiting room. I said her name several times and never saw even the slight crinkle of the forehead that had been the least response I had seen previously. In the morning I tell the kids that I think she is gone, she is no longer there. We are simply keeping vigil.
Now her respiration has slowed to not much more than a breath per minute. The respiratory therapist told me this would happen. I'm glad that not everything he prepared me for has happened.
He told me the signs to watch for that would signal we were nearing the end. He told me that I would probably stop seeing any signs of response. He also described several possible reactions her body might go through that did not sound at all pleasant. Fortunately none of that has happened so far.
He told me this as he described his desire to remove the Bi-Pac unit and switch to a regular mask. He is very gentle and caring. He says the Bi-Pac unit is not keeping her alive, that she is breathing herself. But the unit is "slowing down the natural process" and that she could go on in that state for days. He is very explicit in saying that if there is the least sign of any distress or pain when the unit is removed it would be put back on, immediately. There is a genuine sense that the sole focus is assuring that she is comfortable and peaceful. I have already conceded that she is no longer using that body and am agreeable to the idea. Even as I am agreeing, though, I feel the numbness. "This is it," I realize. We are in essence "pulling the plug."
Jeanine is in the room while he explains all of this, and after he and whoever else was in the room leave, I find myself finally ready to have a good sob. I look up and ask her if I can "have a minute". Jeanine understandably thinks that I mean with herself, and starts over to sit by me. So I say "actually, I mean......with her", nodding at Cathy. She gets the classic "oh, yeah...." kind of embarrassed look and rushes out, leaving me to grieve in private, just Cathy and me. Apparently she runs interference in the hall for a while, because even after I've had my time no one comes in until I finally go out and show my face.
A little earlier Aunt Wynn and Marty had to leave to head back to Indianapolis. They had come back early this morning and stayed at the hospital until about 1:00, leaving just in time to catch their flight. Wynn said that she doubted they would be able to turn around and come back immediately for the funeral as it was getting apparent that there would be one very soon. We all agreed it was much better that they had come when they did and been able to actually visit with Cathy while she was still able to visit. Chris had also had to leave to go back to Gastonia. She would have liked to have stayed and been there with us, but again, it was so much more important that she had been able to say her farewells.
As the morning progressed her breathing has indeed slowed down steadily. Very slowly, but steadily, until it hit a pace of about 4 or 5 breaths per minute. Every so often our nurse, whom I absolutely love, has popped in and asked if we need anything. She asks if we want to her take the scheduled vital signs. We decided not to after about 11:00. She reminds us to not hesitate to use the morphine drip to insure that Cathy is comfortable. The drip mechanism is set to only allow a "push" every ten minutes. And indeed, whenever the cycle nears the 10 minute mark, her breathing seems to get just a little more strained. But a quick push on the button seems to settle her back down almost immediately.
The respiratory therapist had returned about noon and asked about switching to a nostril tube. He didn't come out and say it but I know what he was asking.
Are we ready?
He said just about the same thing he said earlier about switching to the face mask. I hear all of his words but it's as if they are being spoken somewhere else, and echoing through some distant chamber into my ears. The nostril tube would be even more comfortable for her. It would allow her lungs to operate at their own capacity, which to me also implies to not operate if they are not capable. We would keep hitting the joy button on the morphine drip and if there was any sign of pain or distress he would reconnect the face mask. I told him that I think that would be the right thing to do, and that she would want that. My words coming out of my mouth sound much like his did, a caricature of themselves. Taylor agreed but at the moment April had gone downstairs and I did not want to act without her being a part of the decision. When she returned she agreed as well, and I could see the acceptance in their eyes.
Patsy returned about that time, so now the four of us are circled around her, literally holding hands over her body. For the last hour or so there has hardly been a single word spoken. Tom and Jeanine, my brother and sister just happened to stop by a while ago. I'm sure they had not planned to find the events going on that they found. They have been sitting quietly, almost reverently, on the cot for almost an hour.
As her children and I look on, Cathy's breathing slows to one breath at a time, with long lapses in between. Several times I am certain she has taken her last breath, only to have her suddenly inhale once more. Cascading breathing, the therapist had called it. Very long inhales, then a long pause, and a sudden quick exhale. But it is not at all violent or distressed. It is as peaceful and natural as it possibly could be. She has a peaceful expression on her face, and I know that she is not feeling any of this. The tuth is, at this point the peaceful passing is more important to the kids and I than it is to her. She has already left the building.
At one point she inhales very quickly and her eyes fly open. April gasps. I gently rub her forehead and close them back. I lean forward and kiss her and stroke her forehead, mindful to keep a slight pressure down so the eyes don't shock the kids again.
Finally there comes a time when the next breath just does not come. There is no jerking. No movement. There are no monitors hooked up to flash or beep or do that flatline sound you always hear on TV. I am so glad of that. She simply exhales and then does not inhale again. We squeeze each other's hands. Hard. Harder. We wait a minute. Still nothing.
"I think that's it," I hear myself saying. I stand up and hug Patsy, who is beside me. Then I go around the bed and hug my children. For a long time.
I wish Timmy was here.
I hear myself sob a little. I lean over and kiss her forehead, and the kids follow suit. Tom and Jeanine have joined us now and everybody hugs each other for a minute or two. I finally head toward the door and everyone follows. I go to the nurse's station and tell the nurse she's gone. As I head back down the hall I start to call the people I feel I need to call first. My mom and dad. Then the rabbi. Rabbi Mark is away, but Rabbi Josh takes the call and is at the hospital in minutes.
When he arrives we gather in the waiting room down the hall so the nurses can do whatever it is they have to do. There are ten or twelve of us by now, and Rabbi Josh leads us in a couple of prayers, including the prayer with no words. Poor Josh is getting quite an initiation. He has been our rabbi officially for less than three days, and here he sits with exactly two Jews, one semi-Jew, and a roomful of Christians explaining Jewish burial traditions and customs and answering a host of questions he is usually not being asked.
After all is done and my beloved wife's body has been taken to await it's final resting place, I leave and go to my parent's house. I need a good hug from my momma. Both she and Dad have been ill which is why they did not come up to the hospital. It is a very nice hospital but it is not very friendly to elderly visitors, especially not elderly visitors who are in poor health. It is a very long walk to anywhere in the place. After that I go to April's house, where I will spend the rest of the week.
As strange as it may sound, her passing was absolutely beautiful. If she could have scripted it herself, there was only one thing she certainly would have changed. It would have happened six weeks later so that Timmy could have been with us. Other than that it happened as perfectly as it could possibly have happened. Of course, I would be much happier if it had not happened at all, but since that was not an option for us, I'm so grateful that it happened as it did. She did not spend weeks on end lying immobile or unresponsive in bed. That was the one thing she always insisted she would not do. She did not suffer, or lie in pain, or experience any traumatic final moments. She was able to say goodbye to almost everyone she wanted to say goodbye to. And they got to say goodbye to her. Then she simply closed her eyes one last time, and left this world while surrounded by those she loved. And those she loved were in turn surrounded by each other, to comfort each other and sustain that love.
I'm sure she approved.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
I have said for weeks that all these people bringing up the U-word (undefeated) should shut their fat traps. There is no way in today's world that a team will go undefeated in college basketball.
I just wish the Heels' first loss had not come at home in their ACC opener.
Now we start out behind the proverbial 8-ball. Duke and Wake Forest are both playing great basketball in their own respective rights, and both were already looking like potential roadblocks on our path to an ACC crown. Now we've gone and spotted them a game to start the season out.
I don't think they really needed that helping hand.
Boston College is a great team themselves. They are probably deserving of a Top 25 ranking despite their 2 losses, and will probably recieve that accolade with this win. Tyrese Rice himself should earn a team a Top 25 spot even if he had no help from his teammates at all. After torching the Heels for a simply SICK 46 points last year, he scored a mere game-high 25 in this year's contest. On this night however, unlike last year, when Carolina prevailed in the end, he got plenty of help.
Enough to add up to an 85 - 78 win for the Eagles, and an 0 - 1 start to league play for the Tarheels..
Rakim Sanders scored 22 points from the other guard spot. The X-factor, though, was Reggie Jackson. Jackson came off the bench to play 26 minutes and add 17 points, which exactly equaled the production of the entire, vaunted Carolina reserves. For a team that supposedly goes 12 deep, this is not a statistic you expect to see. One BC bench player matching our whole bench. Not good.
Also not good was Ty Lawson's 4 turnovers set against only 4 assists. He has averaged 5 assists to every one turnover so far this season, that average helped by a ridiculous 5-game stretch when he had 38 assists to only 3 TO's. In the last 5 games, that ratio has "slipped" to 4 to 1. Tonight's 1 to 1 ratio will not get the job done in ACC play.
On the positive side, the Beast, Tyler Hansbrough, had his usual 20 point night, 21 to be exact. And Wayne Ellington seems to have finally found his mark. After being a virtual no-show the previous 8 or 10 games, he has scored well in the last two, including a nice 16 point outing against BC tonight. He hit 5 of 9 2-point attempts, but only 2 of 7 from behind the arc. Danny Green was just 2 of 6 from 3-point land himself. We sure could have used a couple more of those treys.
We also could have used about 8 of the 12 damn free throws we missed. Only 15 of 27 free throws were made, with Deon Thompson making just 1 out of 6. Even Tyler missed 3 tonight. That had better improve before next week's big showdown with Wake Forest.
Also in need of improvement is that bench play. Will Graves, our boy from Greensboro, did contribute 7 points and 7 rebounds, but that was about it. Lawson may have had 4 turnovers, but Larry Drew, his back-up, added 3 more of his own and he only played 9 minutes. Bobby Frasor didn't help much, either, with just 1 lone 3-pointer and 1 assist.
For the first time this year, Roy has some serious points to address in practice this week. The real test of this season is how well the guys respond to this setback, and if they actually use it as a learning tool.
So, the Heels get a midweek game against College of Charleston before coming here to Winston-Salem to face Wake Forest. It will be Wake's ACC opener and, as hard as it is to believe, almost a must-win for Carolina. A loss would make us 2 behind the Demon Deacons in the loss column to start the season. Wake is too good to give them that kind of head start. Not to mention the fact that Duke is already 1 full game up and should be 2-0 by the time we play Wake, as they play Florida State next Saturday. The only consolation is the fact that, as tonight's game proves, anybody is susceptible to a loss at any time in the ACC.
Here's hoping that the other contenders get their share of those surprises, and that it happens soon, so I can relax a little.