So you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell?
Blue skies from pain?
October 23, 2010
My husband and I were returning from a much-needed break, celebrating 10 years of marriage. My folks had been kind enough to take on the kids so he and I could disappear for a few days. We toured some wineries and ended up in a sleepy village by the shore and it was lovely and perfect. We went to pick the kids up and spent a little time chatting. Then, as we went to leave, the phone rang. It was my aunt in hysterics - my uncle Mike was in the hospital, and could my parents please come? I asked my father what was up and he said "I don't know, something about his heart? I will call you when we find out more."
Getting an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, I went home and paced the floor for about an hour. And then the phone rang and my ears rang and my own heart skipped a beat and started to beat faster. I answered and it was someone I didn't recognize. "Grace, you need to come to the hospital as soon as you can." I asked who it was - they said they represented a group that helps people deal with trauma, and my parents were too upset to call. They were asked to call me and tell me to get to the hospital. They would not tell me what was wrong, only that I needed to go.
I was too upset to drive. My husband drove me there while I fretted and tore a kleenex up to bits in my lap. He patted me on the knee, told me to keep positive and that maybe it wasn't so bad. It was. Nobody needed to tell me that. You don't get calls like that for nothing. I arrived at emergency and the nurse knew what I was there for before I could speak. She briefed me to prepare me for what was waiting in ICU. Uncle Mike had no pulse for at least 30 minutes before the EMT managed to get him to the hospital. They live outside the city, so even with the emergency team there so quick, they still had to reach the hospital which took 20 minutes. I asked what happened and she said she didn't know the details beyond that. She gently guided me in the direction of the ICU. My husband left me there to go back and take care of our kids. My heart was galloping with every step I took towards my waiting family.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
My mother was crying silent tears in a corner of the waiting room and my father was very pale. My aunt Eleanor was fretting while her friend entertained my little 7 year old cousin Renee, their only daughter. I went to aunt El first. "Grace, I don't know what to do about Renee." I held her for a moment and let her cry into my shoulder as I felt the weight of what was happening press down upon us. I gave an encouraging smile to Renee. She waved at me shyly. I whispered to Eleanor that if she needed to cry, she should do so now while Renee was entertained. She sobbed into my neck and told me what happened.
Major cardiac arrest. 43 years old. My mother's baby brother. He was only 9 years older than I am. He was perfectly healthy. He just wasn't 'feeling well' on Friday night. Saturday he took an extra long nap. My aunt went to shake him awake and he wouldn't respond. She called 911 and they came and worked on him, then she and a friend drove behind the ambulance with her daughter in the back seat. Eleanor asked me. "Grace, should I let her see him?" I didn't know what to say. I told her I would take a look at him first and let her know.
My mother came up to us then. She asked if I would call the rest of the siblings. There are six kids in my mom's family. They all lived in other cities. Every dial of the phone crushed me a little more. But I had to do this, for my mother.
And then they had to bring up my grandma with parkinson's and explain what was going on - he can't breathe on his own, he can't pump blood on his own, he can't do anything on his own, and even if he were to survive, there would be massive brain damage.
And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
My brother showed up. He asked me to see uncle Mike with him. He couldn't do it on his own. We entered the room and I couldn't breathe. He was hooked up to all sorts of machines, wires hanging all around him. His face was slack. I knew, then. I knew. My brother held one cold hand while I held the other. He poured his heart out and begged my uncle to pull through. We knew though. We knew.
I arranged for the priest to come and give him his last rites because we are Catholic and there is no way my grandma would rest otherwise. I arranged for counsellors to come help my aunt explain what was going on to my little 7 year old cousin. Explain to her why her Daddy wasn't waking up. I calmed nerves, comforted the crying, did what I could to make people smile.
October 24, 2010
I was finally bullied home at 2 am by my husband and my mom who could both tell I was at the point of exhaustion. I came home and cried and I didn't sleep very well at all. Later in the morning mom called to let me know, his kidney function is down to 20% and it was decision time. Aunt El was beside herself and she and their daughter stayed at my mom's as she lives 3 minutes away from the hospital.
In truth, the decision had already been made; she just couldn't bring herself to say it until Sunday afternoon. To say goodbye. My uncle is gone. He was only 43. And I was devastated.
I spent the next few days helping with funeral arrangements, death certificates, and other things. I carried the load that my mother and her siblings were simply ill-equipped to carry. This was their baby brother. In many ways my mother practically raised him. He was more an older brother than an uncle to me. But I saw what it did to them, saw it in their faces and in spite of my own failing health, I carried them all.
How I wish, how I wish you were here.
A few weeks later I had a dream about him. He was smiling and hugged me tight. He said he was thirsty, could I bring him a drink? So I did something impractical and a little bit insane: I brought him a tea. Brought it right up to his grave and left it there for him. Talked a little bit to that cold hard ground as though he were there, as though he could hear me. I walked back to my car and sat in it a moment before turning the ignition. I asked nobody in particular if I did the right thing. I turned on the radio. This was what I heard:
We're just two lost souls
swimming in a fish bowl,
year after year
His favourite band. Now I know what you are thinking and you can just shut up right there. Serendipity exists and not everything is a coincidence. Not by a long shot. What on earth are the chances that the very song that I was thinking of as I stared down at his grave, would be the very song to play that day? I cried into my steering wheel, let the past few weeks pour over me. I cried and screamed and cried some more. Until I was empty. I kept thinking about the fact that someone I loved so much and - when I was completely honest with myself - took for granted was gone.
He was hilarious and wonderful and artistic and loved music. He loved children too and his daughter was a miracle - they had lost so many children before Renee came along. He doted on her and my heart is and was crushed at the thought that she would grow up without him in her life. I couldn't imagine it; did not want to. But there it was, the cold reality of the situation hitting me all at once on that cold November morning. And there was nothing anyone could say or do to bring it back. To bring him back.
Want to hear something silly and tragic? In the end it was determined that he died because his heart was simply too big.
Running over the same old ground.
What have you found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.
lyrics thanks to Pink Floyd