Friday, May 31, 2019

Sunday - The Longest Day

Everyone arrived, we were all there for the long haul.  By the way Joan was breathing we knew it wouldn't be long.  Praying the morphine was doing its job the nurse found me and pulled me aside.  She looked at me and said, I can give her another morphine injection on top of the drip, just to be sure she doesn't suffer during these last hours.
Her words said pain management, her look said, it will help her stop fighting, it will ease her transition.  The word traitor again flashed in my mind.  The emotions, a deep breath, there was no coming back from this massive of a failure in her body.  Anything that could be done to help her move on, not be stuck in a failing body should be done.  My needs were not important, hers were.  I told the nurse to please do it.
Shortly after the injection her fighting had slowed.  Joans body was done, she needed release, needed the freedom to move on.  Over the next half hour things were fairly quiet, at least that is what I remember.  A friend Joan had met at a local restaurant came in, apparently she was heading to church and felt the need to stop.  She only stayed a moment, she could tell Joan was in her last minutes.  Howard came in and paused, Joan took about two more breaths and it was over.  She was gone.

The next several minutes were a mess, emotions from everywhere, everyone.  Crying, hugging.  The nurse came in, I could hear alarms at the nurses station.  They had a job to do, they had to verify her passing and call time of death.  Her phone went off, she responded, "No, do not bring the cart."  Then a bit of a pause and louder, "NO!  Do NOT bring the cart, she has a DNR."  Another pause, "Her husband is here."  She then apologized, I told her it was ok.  They called time and people were going out into the hallway.  There was no reason left to be in the room.

We contacted the funeral home, I waited and Grandma Pam waited with me.  I needed someone there and she was the most level headed, the most experienced.  The funeral home arrived, I gave them instructions.  The nurse came back in and mentioned to me that Joan was an organ donor.  That just about set me off, I could not picture anyone cutting on her.  I knew it was her body and she was no longer there but I could not bear the thought of anyone cutting on her.  She was very good, I give her credit, I wish I had written down her name.  The nurse understood, gave me space and asked me to stop by the desk before leaving.   Once the funeral home had taken her, Pam and I gathered whatever things were left.  The nurse and I talked, I told her to give the group wanting to talk with me my number.  She warned me there would be lots of questions if I agreed and that I needed to be patient.
I thanked her, already my mind was saying, Joan wanted to be a donor, Joan wanted others to benefit from anything she no longer needed.  Again what I wanted, what I felt I needed was not important.  It was about what she wanted.  I kept reminding myself of that one thing.
Pam drove me home, I think I was still in a daze, but my logical part was running and I needed to do whatever Joan wanted me to do.  And that my friends gave me a very long list.  She was specific about so many things, things she wanted to happen should she go first, things I was to do, things I was to do with her things.  And by God, I am damn good with lists!

Once home, everyone was there, everyone but Joan.  My phone rang, it was the donation center for body parts.  I went to our bedroom, I could not yet call it my bedroom.  I was on the phone for nearly an hour.  Yes there were very detailed questions, a great sales pitch, I gave in, not because of the sales pitch, but because I knew what Joan wanted and the lady was patient with me.  I required one thing of them, and that was communications.  They must call me when they picked her up from the funeral home, when they arrived at their surgical center, when she left the surgical center and when they arrived at the funeral home again.  I also required the funeral home to call me and validate she was there.  Not that I expected her to be lost in transit, but I wanted accountability and my doubts covered.  By the way they did everything I asked of them.

The rest of the day was pretty much a blank to me.  I know I insisted on my brother and his wife having my bedroom.  I slept on the couch.  I didn't really want to be in our bed anyway.  That was going to take a few days at least.

As a closing to Sunday, I feel compelled to add.  Howard who had come in just seconds before Joan passed, told me something months later, and Howard I hope you don't mind that I'm telling this.
When he walked into the room, he felt like he was talking to Joan or she was talking to him.  He was telling her that she needed to relax, it was time to go.  She was concerned about us, about everyone there.  He told her they will adapt and our concern was for her.  She seemed a bit confused but I think he said she understood what was going on.  Then his vision expanded, what he saw was amazing and gave me great comfort.  He said, Keith, you don't understand, or I don't think I can explain, she was here, with her body, with us, worried about us, but at the same time, she was already with her Father and some people he had never seen.  She here and she was there at the same time.  The part of her that was there was already clear, understood and happy, the part of her that was her just needed to let go.  He again told her we would all be fine, it would take time, but we would make it and she needed to let go.  His vision ended.  I don't know if I got it all correct, the way he told me but this is what I have in my memory, my interpretation.

Howard was given a great gift, something I would have loved to been a part of.  Joan has always cared for Howard and I am not jealous that he saw her, that he was given that experience.  I am happy he shared it with me.  I will keep the picture in my mind forever.  It answered my question about when her spirit left and yes she was there while we talked to her, held her hand and prayed.  That she after that last breath let go and all of her is now with God, with those who went before and when it is my turn I will see her again.  We will catch up, be happy and I will find out what my next task or purpose will be. 

Joan is now timeless and eternal.  Why God took her first I won't know until it is my time.  I am sure things will be clear at that point.  Until then, I have things to do, tasks to accomplish.  I have worked through the bulk of the list she left me.  There are personal things to work out, things she wanted for me and made me promise.  I will accomplish those things over time, maybe not in any way we expected, but they will be accomplished.

We were married, 38 years, 4 months and 1 day.  She passed on my fathers birthday.  I know he loved her and accepted her early in our dating.  If you count our dating months, Joan and I were together from a bit over 39 years.  Nearly four decades.   God brought her to me, he took her away.  I thank him for every moment we had, the good, the bad, it is all a part of life.  We made it to the end of our vows.  I was supposed to go first, it was expected, it was how I planned.  God obviously had other plans.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Saturday June 23rd

Joans mom and brother arrived, so did my brother and his wife.  Various friends came in and out, extended family showed and did what they could to comfort and say their goodbyes.
By the evening it was my brother, son and myself staying the night.  I did get some sleep while they keep watch, talked, held Joans hand.
The nurses were good, they kept up with the morphine, there was nothing else to do.  One nurse came in late that night and commented she was very surprised after seeing the scan of the hemorrhage that she was alive.
That got my attention as I had not seen the scan.  I asked if we could see it and she took us to the nurses station.  The shadowing was massive.  I asked about size and stuck that in memory.  Basically it covered her entire right hemisphere.
Weeks later I would do some personal morbid research on these things and found that a bleed half that size was considered large, fatal in 2 to 48 hours by 97% of those who had them.  So the hospital using words like massive was not a word lightly chosen.  They meant massive. They meant no recovery.
The night went, I was resigned to the eventual outcome which I expected either that night or Sunday morning.  The best I could hope for was Joans comfort until her body could not sustain itself.
Questions in my mind, was she still in there, was she trying to communicate with us?  Did she know the decision I had made?  Did she hate me for it?  I was following our stated procedure for such events, but that didn't make it any easier.
Was she in pain but could not show it?
The bigger question, when Joan had the bleed, did she leave her body at that time and all I was watching was an empty shell or was she in there?  Had she left sometime between Friday and Sunday, would she be there until last breath? 
I have always believed in last breath, but I found myself hoping she had moved on in the restaurant Friday night and wasn't trapped in this dying body, wasn't experiencing any pain or suffering at all.
Sunday morning was arriving, the sun was coming up.  People would be arriving.  My son and brother needed sleep but they weren't leaving either.  We all knew what was coming.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Friday Night

Things got quiet as everyone left.  Joan was breathing slowly, her right hand the only thing she could move and that was very slight.  I held it, talked to her, cried, prayed, offered myself in her place.  I guess in similar situations all spouses would do that.  We all know God doesn't work that way, those kinds of swaps don't happen.  Does that make it hollow?
I left her side only once for a bathroom break, made sure the nurse was there and got back as quickly as I could.  I walked around the bed, the room, nervous energy, I can't remember order, just a blur of the night.
Everything I could picture that I should apologize for went through my head, everything I ever did or thought I did wrong flashed.
Later in the night my mind played every possible way how this could have been prevented.  What if we had pursued a sleep study to help with her sleeping issues, what if she had lost weight and taken her blood pressure and cholesterol meds religiously, how could I have made her do those things or convinced her they were needed. 
Would she still be here?

Later came the regrets for all the vacations we never took, opting for the rational approach to spending money.  Then the house we had just purchased, we always wanted a rocking chair front porch, it had it, and two rocking chairs.  We always wanted a screened in back porch, it had that too.
A kitchen she liked even if she did want it updated.  A yard we could work together on and manage.
Basement apartment with its own kitchen.  Close enough to her mother to go over every day, close enough to our son to visit as well.

Then the joke we always made came to haunt me.  We got married on Feb 23rd, I started with IBM on March 3rd.  We always kidded if I lost my job I would lose her, if I lost her I would lose my job.  I had left IBM 22 months earlier.  Yeah it's not like that makes the events linked but out of 38+ years, 22 months is nothing, it felt like our joke came home to bite us.

Here is where things get out of order as the morning arrived.  I think Joans oldest brother arrived.  Afterwards my son arrived.  It may be out of order but that is what I remember.  They convinced me to go lay on the couch for a while.  They also needed time to be near her, talk with her, say things to let her know we were there.  Sometime later my daughter arrived, she hates hospitals and this wasn't helping things.  She would stroke Joans hair, talk with her.
It was now Saturday mid-morning.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Traitor

I asked my children, "You've heard your mother and I talk about a situation like this?"  They both replied, their statements were clearly, mama wouldn't want to be like this, not having a life.  I am sure the words were varied and it was most likely unfair to put them on the spot, but I was about to make a life ending choice for their mother, my wife.  Bear in mind my children are adults, my daughter with her own nearly adult children.  I am sure the comments were as hard for them as it was for me.  Joan and I had discussed this, discussed this, joked about it, talked about various options many times.  It always ended with, if I can't have a productive active life I don't want one.  We would also make comments about the costs of such long term life support when the chances of recovery were slim to none and neither of us wanted money spent that way. 
Never, under any circumstances did I expect to find myself in this position.  I always expected she would be making this decision about me.  Statistically, logically, everything said I would die first.  My plan was to die while traveling on business, accidental death, traveling death, the bonuses to insurances, card payouts, airline death benefits, rental car payouts would have left her more than comfortable no matter how long she lived.  That was the plan.  I guess God had another.

I gave the doctor my decision.  The word burned, it was visible in my mind, it hurt.  Logically I know it was the right decision, emotionally it will never be.  All our planning, all of our discussions still didn't help make it feel right.  Maybe those conversation aided me, I don't know.  Spiritually it still feels right.  I cannot imagine my unresponsive body slowly dying with my soul attached, not being able to move on.  Picture being inside a room with no windows, doors, you want out but you can't leave, not until that last breath and the people who put you here only meant the best for you.  In our desire to keep her, we would have imprisoned her until the machines could not keep her body alive.

Next came phone calls, family and some friends. Joans mother and her baby brother arrived, her younger brother was in Washington state and was getting a plane.  My brother and his wife were packed and in a car heading up from Florida.  I can't remember over the next 39 hours who arrived, when, how long they stayed but many came.  Joans mother was hurt, angry, she sat at Joans side with her rosary.  She commented that she held me responsible because her daughter was perfectly fine when she gave her to me 38+ years ago.  There was nothing to say but "I'm sorry."  Later I heard her stating God had a lot to answer for.

I am not sure what I said, to who, the next couple of hours were a blur.  The hospital staff was amazing.  The nurses main concern was getting Joan settled for the night in a room and on a morphine drip to ensure minimal to no pain.  At some point Val and Cory brought in the grand kids.  I could see how hard this was on them.  I asked them if they wanted to talk to Nana, hold her hand and say their goodbyes she wasn't leaving this hospital, it would be their last chance to see her and talk to her.  Austin walked over and what I remember is he commented through tears that Nana would never know his children or they her.  After a while Joan's mom had to go home so Scott and she left for the night.  I told my kids they might want to go home get sleep because it was going to be a long weekend.  They were concerned about me being alone with Joan, but that is what I wanted.  Friday night was going to be my night to make as much peace as I could with her.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The next hour.

It took forever in my racing mind for the ambulance to arrive.  I am sure it wasn't as long as it seemed.  During that time there was nothing we could do but hold Joan and talk to her while she would murmur "it hurts". 
After a few minutes her food started coming up a bit and we were afraid she would choke or not be able to breath so we laid her on her side on the floor.  I hated putting her on the floor but breathing was more important.
In my mind I kept hearing the words stroke, massive, bad.  The ambulance arrived and I rode with her to the hospital.  The driver kept trying to get me to face forward and his prompting only heightened my concern.
As soon as we arrived at the hospital they took Joan off one way and me to a waiting room.  Knew it was going to happen, nothing to do but wait in the room.  Valerie and Brian arrived, the doctor and nurse arrived.
The doctor in a long winded way was trying to explain to me what was going on.  I finally stopped him, again my mind racing so maybe he did better than my mind allowed me to understand.  He explained she had a massive hemorrhage and I had a decision to make.
I asked what decision fearing the worst and he said, "We can take all measure necessary, or let nature take its course."
Pausing, I asked, what do you mean all measures necessary?  He replied, we can put her body on machines and keep it alive.  Yes, I heard, body and it.  Nowhere did I hear in his statement we can put her on life support and keep her alive.  Asking further I said, and what is, nature taking its course?
He said, she will die in the next 2-48 hours.
More panic, more breathing, I asked what happens if we put her on life support?  He replied we can keep her body alive for a long time.  I interrupted him, asked, will she ever wake?  Is she in there?
He replied, "We can keep the body alive for a long time, until the organs begin to fail but I do not believe she will ever regain consciousness."  He continued with something about the size of the hemorrhage.
I looked at Valerie and Brian, I heard every conversation Joan and I had on this topic over the decades in single moment.  I knew where my rational mind was heading and one word screamed in my head, one word I couldn't push away.

"TRAITOR!!!!"

Saturday, April 27, 2019

20 Months!! I have been very remiss

Much has happened since my last post.  I won't take the time here to detail things, only summarize until I can get around to making a more complete accounting of things.
The rest of 2017 flew by.  Joan and I continued to decide what kind of house we needed, what price, location and such things.  Having 7 of us to house and a specific school district of course narrows the options.
We finally located the house, directly across the street from the rental we were in.  It cost more than desired, it was bigger than desired, but had all the features checked off so yeah, we bought it.

My real estate career moves about as fast as I will let it, or pay attention to it.  I have no real desire to put 60 hours a week into a job/career and I like working with people one on one so a large volume of clients is not what I want.

We moved into the house May of 18, asked Howard to paint several rooms for us and he painted wonderfully.  Joan and I started tearing the yard out.  When I say tearing the yard out I mean it.  The prior owners kept the yard neat but the over abundance of plants and the size covered most of the house.  Kitchen and dining room windows you could not see out.  11 holly bushes some 15 feet tall and 12 feet across.  Things that should have been bushes were now neatly trimmed jungle 10 feet deep from the house.  A cherry tree that was completely hidden and being choked by weeds. 
Joan would work with me from about 6AM to 10, get cleaned up and go stay with her mother the rest of the day.  We were having a blast!!  We could see the results of our work and we were striving for a common goal.  It didn't hurt that she knew the money we saved on the yard work would go directly to the kitchen upgrades she wanted.  
Neighbors would stop by and say things like, "Wow, we can see the house!, I can walk on the sidewalk again, thank you!, It is so beautiful!, Now we have to work on our yard!"  The compliments kept coming in.

By late June 2018 we had 80% of the ripping out completed.  Things that didn't get ripped out were severely cut back, shortened, thinned.  We were already planning what would go where and how the final product would look.  I felt pleased, content for the first time in a very long time.  Felt like something useful had been accomplished.  We had taken over 47 truckloads of brush out of the yard, stomped them down in the truck, strapped it all in and each load was over full.

Friday June 22nd I had a closing to attend, had sold my good friends the Wackerlys home.  It would be time to start hunting for their next home.  The day was going well, the next stop that afternoon/evening was a big family celebration.  We must have arrived in 4 cars, Joan coming from her mothers, me from the house, Val, Cory, the grandkids, Brian and Kat.  We met at the Mellow Mushroom.  The meal was great as their pizza always is, we were getting ready to leave, Joan stood up, she was on my right, Val on my left looked right past me and said "Mom?" with a confused look. 
I turned in time to see her holding the back of her head saying, "it hurts, it hurts!".  Our eyes met, I saw them lose focus and she started to collapse.  Val and I kept her from falling into the floor, Brian and Kat called 911, Cory took the grandkids out of the building.