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Unvarnished excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral…
As polite as the crew was, they were just strangers on our patio to me. While I appreciated everything about them, their response, what they do, I didn’t want to see anyone, I didn’t want to be here, be awake or be alive at that moment. I wished I could go back to sleep and wake up having forgotten all of this intense dream.
I turned away from the crew and headed up the wheelchair ramp into the back door. My eyes had to adjust from the pleasant subdued morning light on the patio as I walked into the back hall of the house, then into Dave’s painfully bright room. The shades were all the way open on his large bedroom windows. The sun was pouring in most rudely imposing unwanted light. His former body lay flat in what I joked was his turbo electric home hospital bed. He looked…relaxed.
He lived with uncontrolled muscle spasms as a result of the paralyzing college football accident that broke his neck almost four decades ago. His damaged central nervous system behaved like a loose live wire. He jerked in response to being touched. His nerve signal messages were scrambled, misinterpreted and responded to protectively, innately as if he were being burned. This type of reaction was almost constant and permanent. One muscular response usually triggered another and often a full body muscle flexion reaction. Not always, but more often than not.
These muscle spasms required that he be stabilized in either of the two places he lived between, his turbo bed or his turbo electric wheelchair. He had to be tied into his electric bed. He had to be positioned a certain way, with a combination of slings and pillows to keep the level of spasms as low as possible. When he was in his wheelchair, he had to wear braces on his arms and legs. The braces helped him have fewer spasms. He had to sit with his legs straight out in front of him, having his legs bent like most of us sit would cause him to pass out from circulatory overload. If his legs weren’t straight, his spasms would cause him to slide right out of the wheelchair. In general, he appeared very stiff.
I had not seen him so relaxed, ever, well, ever since his accident, ever. He had no straps, no slings, no pillows, no braces on, the bed was flat, he was flat. I put my hand on his bare leg. He was still warm with the fiery energy of the life that just left. He didn’t flinch or move AT ALL. I knew he shouldn’t. Former reality had not completely recalculated the reality of the right now, and I anticipated the typical response, a reaction, that which depicts life. I thought with an irreverent tone to myself, Well… obviously, you cannot get more relaxed than dead. I couldn’t feel bad for thinking this because he would have laughed hard at that.
Then I panicked and wondered, “Oh God, does he know what I am thinking right now?” He loved funny stuff. Even slightly inappropriate, no, especially inappropriate “too soon?” funny stuff. I looked around for him in my thoughts for the shared acknowledgment of a VERY well placed, too soon? joke, but he was not there. I didn’t see or feel him. Damn it. He really loved good gallows humor that way. Like I said, we can’t control what pops in our heads. I kept my thoughts to myself.
Shock takes a while to percolate through the layers of the mass and obscure that comprises the human psyche, mind, and physical body. My mom and oldest sister Linda were wound up by their own coursing surges of adrenaline. This was not unexpected based on their experiences of the last hour. Everyone hugged. They recounted what happened, speaking a mile-a-minute. Still looking for him in my thoughts, I half-listened while standing next to him with my hand on his leg that still felt so alive other than the not moving because he was dead aspect. Really? Nothing dude? I know you hear this.
My mom didn’t blink as she recounted the details of her experience earlier that morning. Her eyes were fixed looking down and to her left. I watched her looking into that part of her brain where this memory will be stored forever. I could see everything she described playing on one screen in my mind on my left. All my other stupid, random and weird thoughts of the morning were impossibly layered on another screen on my right.
She had awakened him to let him know it was morning, that she would be back in to wash his face after having her coffee. He said “Ok.” This was their routine every morning; She initially woke him, then left his room to have her coffee and toast. The time in between would give him a chance to get himself waked-up before she returned. She would then proceed to get him ready to face the day; wash his face, brush his teeth, give him a sponge bath. All the braces mentioned above and a body brace would be put on, they would get him dressed, with the help of a friend and neighbor Denise. Her son Poncho would help put him into his electric wheelchair and ultimately Dave would head out the back door almost immediately when the weather was nice.
This was my parents’ routine every morning since Dave returned home from spending 18 months away, between the hospital and a rehabilitation center for paralyzed individuals roughly 38 years ago. He preferred to be up in his wheelchair as much as possible. Some days he did not get out of bed. It is hard on a paralyzed body to be in the same position for long periods of time. It is also hard work for the people moving him.
He weighed in at over 220 plus pounds dead weight before he was dead. The dead weight of a paralyzed individual is shockingly heavier than one thinks. This process and all of Dave’s care was very well coordinated, it had to be. My parents were very organized about everything but especially Dave’s care. After my dad passed away at 72 a few years prior, a series of people helped my mom. Denise and Poncho were the last people to help with Dave’s regular personal care. More on Denise and Poncho later.
Denise arrived about the time my mom had finished her coffee, as per usual. They entered the room to begin their routine as outlined above when they found Dave still asleep.
It had only been 10 minutes, 15 max since my mom had awakened him. My mom shouted for my sister Linda to come help. Shortly after my dad passed away, Linda came to live with my mom and Dave. Linda took over the recounting from here, she came in and immediately began C.P.R. She crossed her hands one over the other mocking the C.P.R. position as she described performing the chest compressions. She briefly motioned with one hand to the other side of the bed, explaining that Denise had been standing there, crying, while she continued pantomiming the chest compressions. She saw Dave, after just a few compressions standing beside his body. He told her “Let me go.” My mom, who saw nothing, was beside her saying, “Let him go.” Linda stopped the compression motion, her shoulders, arms lowered, as she described knowing he was gone.
Dave had been paralyzed when he was 18 and had lived as a healthy quadriplegic for almost 38 years with the dedicated care of our parents. That is a very long time to survive as a quadriplegic. He may be the longest surviving quadriplegic in the state of California. Many chronic illnesses usually plague those living in a paralyzed body; pneumonia, bed sores, strokes, renal infections, blood clots, blood pressure issues. Dave was lucky, he had always been so very healthy. It is possible that his muscle spasms that were a total pain in the ass also kept his blood flowing and muscles working rather than atrophying like most paralyzed individuals.
He hadn’t been sick. He along with Elvis, just “left the building.” Damn it, he would have really loved that joke too. After Linda’s account, my mom realized that he hadn’t asked her the time and must have died mid-sentence. “He always asks me ‘What time is it?’ when I wake him as I head to the kitchen for my coffee, and today he didn’t ask. He just said ‘OK.’ I thought that was strange as I opened the door to go out, but then I didn’t think anything more of it. And I just headed to the kitchen for my coffee.”
A Police officer entered the back hall into the house interrupting our conversation. As part of his official death report, he had already spoken with the fire personnel, he now had to observe their home, the scene surrounding Dave’s departure, and speak to my mom to understand what had taken place. All of which is standard procedure to determine there had been no foul play since Dave had not been in the presence of a doctor when he died.
I didn’t hear a word of how he began his interview with my mom. I did not want to listen to the story again. I headed out of Dave’s bright room back to the shimmering shade of the elm trees and relief of the patio. My mom asked me to call the people who needed to be called before she turned her attention to the officer.
I doubt they shared the part about Linda administering CPR until she saw Dave standing next to his body with the officer but thought it would make for a very interesting statement if she had. “Decedent’s sister administered life support until she saw decedent standing next to his dead body.” Dave would have laughed at that too. Not everyone is open to that sort of experience.
Later Linda talked about having a déjà vu experience from a dream she had about a year prior. She and Dave were on opposite sides of a pool. We do not have a pool by the way. He drove himself in the pool in his wheelchair and sank to do the bottom. Linda dove in to help him. When she was face to face with him, he shook his head and said underwater, “Let me go.” The feeling of the dream and the morning, his readiness were the same. I don’t know what to say about any of this because I am no expert on the afterlife, paranormal or whatever. I don’t think anyone really can. I will have to let you know when I get there myself and get back with you. Interesting, yes. I will leave it at that.
© Mardi Linane Copyright 2019
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