If you are new to this blog of the upcoming book Viking Funeral, celebrating the life of Dave Linane with booze, words, and fire, welcome. The timeline above shows you where we are in the book. While each chapter can stand on its own if you wish to read from the beginning, click here. More info is available, About Dave or the FAQ section explains who the book is about and the arc of the storyline. If you found me through a grief group, this page of my perspective of why we are all here in this place right now may be helpful. XO M
My Dad had scarlet fever as a young child. It is not uncommon to experience unusual physical manifestations of having had this illness later in life. It likely significantly harmed his eyesight. He wore glasses from late childhood. He also prematurely lost his hair in his mid-twenties and was gray by his early thirties. He was an incredibly handsome man, and the loss of his hair affected him deeply. He briefly considered wearing a toupee, but my mom could not stop laughing when he modeled one for her, which triggered his laughter, and basically, it ended there. He always wore his hair very short. Something of a crew cut back then and later in life a little longer than that buzz cut.
He had been having some prostate issues as many men do after age sixty-something. He had to have an invasive prostate biopsy that required overnight hospitalization. He joked with me when I visited him in the hospital that evening that he had a core sample done. Any core sample invasive enough to require hospitalization seems pretty serious. I laughed at his joke but secretly worried about what it really meant.
Within a week of his biopsy, I hosted a birthday party for my Sven during the brief time, I lived with his Dad at his, our home at the time. It was a small family gathering of just my parents, my sister Anne, her husband Randy, their daughter Jaclyn, Sven, his Dad, and me. Dave did not attend. When it was brutally hot, he often chose to remain at home in bed because it was hard for his body to regulate his temperature. It was August in Southern California, code for it was triple digits and brutally fucking hot.
My Dad arrived with a straw hat on his head. I think he wore this hat to golf, but he never wore it or any hat inside the house before, my Dad had pretty respectful manners that way. Moments after arriving, he made a motion that he wanted our attention for what felt like a formal announcement while standing in our kitchen next to the fridge. Everything about his demeanor was off. I began to worry.
He started with, “I had a procedure recently.” I can’t speak for everyone else, but this further supported my theory of bad prostate-core-sample-biopsy news coming our way. My focus accidentally fell to his general crotch area, BUT JUST FOR A SECOND! It wasn’t a dirty thing, just a “something is wrong down in that region” sort of thing. As he spoke, he took off his hat to reveal a series of perfectly symmetrical rows of small scabs happily healing on his head near his ailing hairline. He had hair plugs installed. That was the procedure he was preparing us for, having had hair plugs! I was so relieved and laughed, “Oh, DAD! I cannot believe you got hair plugs!” It took our minds off of, or at least mine, off of his nether regions and his health for the time being. I mean, he got hair plugs, who does that if they are dying? Exactly. He must be fine.
Fast forward a decade and many haircuts later. For Your Information, our bodies shed and replace old cells with new all the time. However, when you have Multiple Myeloma like my Dad secretly had, your body specifically sheds bone cells more rapidly than normal. The body cannot remove the excess material through normal elimination fast enough, which makes the blood thicken with this excess bone dust for lack of better words, overwhelming the venal system causing it to form blood clots. Subsequently, the body also cannot keep pace with the accelerated bone loss with its bone rebuilding process, so the skeleton begins to completely breakdown. It is a very painful decline.
After that second stroke wiped out most of his speech, and a few of those cognitive skills I mentioned like brushing his teeth with a comb, he was sent to a rehab center for a few weeks before he returned home briefly. He could move around freely, communicate with gestures, smiles, and he could say some words. He always called my mom San, short for Sandra really short for Alexandria. Not Saundra, Sondra, Sandy, or Alex. He could also say, “STEVEN!” when referring to my Sven. With the emphasis of the ALL CAPS and the exclamation point. He no longer said my name but would light up with recognition when he saw me or anyone else. I would ask him my name, and he would say, “The baby.” I teased him, “Technically, that is correct, I am THE baby, but can you say my name?” Nods emphatically, and responded triumphantly, “THE BABY!” For a time, I wore a ring on my pinky that he gave me that had carved cursive letters that said baby on it. I thought it was funny at the time he gave it to me because it was true; I am a total baby. “Ok, I will accept this as your final answer.”
When I would visit him in the evening to help him eat at the rehab facility, we would sit at a table in the common room. As previously mentioned, he was a very handsome man at every age of his life. He looked like Paul Newman but was tall at 6’2″ and built like a statue of Adonis, that kind of handsome. Caring for Dave all those decades had kept him quite ripped. It was not uncommon to have a new nurse at shift-change come into his room, see him for the first time, and be taken by how handsome he was. “Oh my God, his eyes are SO blue!” or “He looks just like Paul Newman!” or other comments about how handsome he was. I, of course, being conditioned to how handsome he was and having heard these sorts of comments my entire life was impervious to all of it and would respond with, “Yes, I know he has some amazing blue eyes. He can’t speak now, but he is equally as kind as he is handsome. May we please have…fill-in-the-blank?” whatever was needed at that time, switching us from cocktail-hour-speed-dating-compliments mode to hospital-business-at-hand mode.
On one occasion, we were sitting in the community room alone. There was a patio behind us. A woman, a patient who was fairly mobile, came in from outside and sat at a table some distance away in the large room behind us. My Dad was facing me as I helped him eat. His back was to her. She loudly announced with what sounded like a heavy Greek accent, “I LIKE HIS HAIRRRR.” My Dad’s eyes locked with mine with a look of mild annoyance as he slowly blinked and rolled his eyes. I giggled quietly, hiding behind his large frame so she couldn’t see me. Because we didn’t respond to her, she made the announcement again but even louder, “HE HAS NICE HAIR, I LIKE IT.” I acknowledged her this time with a ‘Thank you.” Across the room. And to him, I said, “Wow dad, those hair plugs are payin’ off in spades, aren’t they?” He chuckled quietly at my comment, and I could tell he was also laughing at himself; he took a slow deep breath, deliberately blinked and rolled his eyes again.
Visiting him required some planning besides what he was going to eat. He was bored with watching TV. It wasn’t really possible to have much of a conversation with him, so I decided to take some sheet music. There was a piano in the common room. There was usually never anyone in there, so after he ate, I moved over to the piano and played some music for him. I took his favorite, Cavatina from The Deer Hunter, which was the only sheet music he ever bought for me or asked me to play. I began playing and just focused on the music. I wanted to give my Dad something, anything familiar from home. Of course, he knew every song I ever played. When you practice an instrument, EVERYONE in the house is stuck practicing, being tortured right along with you.
I hadn’t realized this at the time, but I guess most people aren’t used to hearing someone play an instrument. As the music floated out of the room into the facility, people came out of their rooms to see where it was coming from. I was completely unaware that the room had filled with what seemed like everyone in the facility, maybe 70 people, patients, staff members were packed in the large room and in the hallway just outside the sets of double doors that were always wide open. They were all behind me watching and listening with my Dad, who had moved from the table where he had been sitting when I started playing to right behind me.
When I am particularly stressed or in problem-solving mode, I often decide that is a good time to add one more thing to my to-do list and try to learn a new piece of music. When my Dad was in the hospital, I would go home and work on this new piece instead of allowing myself time to think about or face his impending doom. It forced me out of my head for a while as I focused on the music. I played that new song for him. When I finished, I turned around and was startled by the crowd and my Dad having moved right there behind me. I obviously tune everything out when I am focused. My Dad proudly stood as if on stage one last time, facing the room like an emcee, he pointed at me, then patted his other open hand on his chest communicating to everyone via informal sign language that I was his. He was smiling from ear to ear with tears of pride pouring down his cheeks. That last song that got me through many after hospital visit decompression sessions was called The Gift.
I burst into tears in front of all those strangers and thanked him for lessons-that for an entire decade of my early childhood I hated. Both my parents independently, repeatedly stated, “You’ll thank me one day.” To which I ALWAYS vehemently clarified, “NO, I WON’T!” ALL CAPS. Well, he was right; I was grateful to have that escape from reality to run to when I couldn’t face it. And I thanked him, publicly in front of all those strangers who had no idea how hard-won that “Thank you” had come to him. I am pretty sure the memories of how much I bitched about having to practice were lost. I hoped they were. He couldn’t say my name, but he knew I was his and he was so damn proud, so happy at that moment. That music was a gift. He was released from the rehab facility soon after.
At some point, he revealed through gestures that he couldn’t read the paper anymore, something he previously loved to do every day. His speech never really returned. He was a very active participant in life and wasn’t used to sitting around. He was bored out of his mind, not being able to work, or help with Dave, do the yard, write, type, or really do anything with his hands. He had been a very talkative man in the best sense. He loved people, loved talking to them. He loved telling stories. He was depressed. Who wouldn’t Be? Every once in a while, he would surprise us with a completely clear sentence. My sister or brother found him sitting on a step halfway up the curved tile staircase of their home looking out the window much farther away than the neighborhood outside where he lived for more than 40 years, he said, “I’m not long for this world.” Clear as day, followed by many more days of mostly silence.
Not long after returning home, he had a surgical procedure to place the vein catheter in his lungs, mentioned in the previous chapter. He was supposed to be in the hospital overnight following the procedure. Not exactly a core sample, but they kept him because of the clotting issue. We, my husband and I had been to dinner with friends in Los Angeles. I knew he was in the hospital recovering. It was late in the evening, after 10 p.m. As we were passing the hospital in Fontana on our way home to Redlands, I asked my husband to stop so I could just quickly pop in and check on him because the hospital is right off the freeway. My husband pulled off.
As soon as I walked into the room, he lit up but not from joy; he lit up with an energy that conveyed something was very wrong, and finally, someone had come to help. He was pulling at his hair, the hair that resulted from those expensive, ridiculous hair plugs ‘installed’ a decade of years earlier. You hear about people pulling their hair out of frustration, he was doing just that, and he was not one to waste good money. His mannerism was alarming and shouted of wordless frustration. He couldn’t tell me what was wrong, nor had he been able to convey to the staff that something was wrong. They also didn’t really check on him since they didn’t realize he was not of the mental faculty to use the call button if he needed something. I turned to my husband and said, “I can’t leave him like this. I am going to stay with him tonight. You should head home. I will let you know as soon as possible what is going on.” My darling husband reluctantly left.
I had to think quickly to help him and ran through a list of questions that I thought could be the problem. He shook his head, “No” to each question. “Are you in pain?” Emphatic nod, yes! I thought he may have been in pain from the site where the catheters had been implanted in his lungs but had no idea where that site was, on his chest? Down his throat? I didn’t know. I asked, “Is your pain from the surgery?” He shook his head, “NO!”
I was standing next to his bed, holding his hand. I happened to look down and notice that a urine collection bag was hanging off the side of the bed. Oddly it had nothing in it. I noted the tube that ran from the bag under the sheets. I grew up looking at Dave’s urine bag. It wasn’t coming to me just yet, but the bag was bothering me, it was brand new with zero urine in it. That is not typical. I asked, “This bag is empty, are you peeing?” EMPHATIC NO!!! “When did they last empty the bag? He shook his head, “NO” again. “Have they emptied this bag?” “NO” “They haven’t emptied this bag this evening?” “NO” “Have they emptied this bag at all?” “NO!!!” I realized in short order what was going on.
There was an almost empty bag of I.V. fluid hanging above him being pushed into his body and zero urine in the bag. He wasn’t peeing, and that was the problem that he could not convey. His blood pressure was up, also a sign that something is wrong. I am sure he had a terrible headache besides the pain of having an overfull bladder and body. When we can’t pee, our blood pressure goes up because we are designed to hold a pretty specific range of fluid, including blood, plasma, and waste in our bloodstream, including a normal amount of bone dust. I learned this growing up with Dave living with catheters and urine collection bags. You have to pay attention to the volume of urine output all the time, but especially when people using a catheter are not feeling well. I am not indirectly saying its a good thing. Dave broke his neck, but we all learned unusual things through his life experience. Catheters are a common place for problems to start. Serious problems.
He obviously hadn’t peed since his procedure early that morning when they put in the catheter. Likely through moving him around between Operating room, recovery, and now this ward, staff changes, no one had noticed that he hadn’t peed. They had probably changed his fluid drip three times at this point. I have no idea what time the surgery took place, but it was now after 10 p.m.!
I ran and got the closest nurse and explained that something was wrong with my Dad and that I feared he wasn’t peeing. I asked, “When was the last time his bag had been emptied?” I didn’t get an answer from the nurse, a younger man than me. I was emphatic, “Something is definitely wrong. The bag of fluids that you’ve been pushing into him is almost empty, and the urine bag is empty, as in dry! The fluid volume in should almost equal fluid volume out!”
Not only had I learned this basic observation from the time of about seven growing up with Dave having a catheter, but I also knew about medication that helps people pee when they have problems with their renal system because of using a catheter. Paralyzed people often have problems peeing, it is a very common concern and creates a high risk for infections and much worse, stroke. I asked the nurse to give him Ditropan. Without blinking, he responded, “Only the Doctor can prescribe new medication, and he will be here in the morning.” I was in no mood to deal with stupid rules and laid out the reality in front of us, “My Dad doesn’t have until morning to wait! This has grown into a medical emergency. I know about this stuff; he needs Ditropan to help him pee NOW.” The nurse was used to dealing with upset family members, no surprise there. He calmly continued, unruffled, “I’m not going to call the doctor and disturb his sleep.” Ya, he was calm but had never dealt with assertive me before. I responded without a moment’s hesitation, but instead of raising my voice, I lowered it, which can be so much more alarming to whoever is on the receiving end, they know you mean business, like maybe even murderous business. “I don’t know what time zone this doctor sleeps in but, it is 10:30 p.m. not the middle of the night here on the Pacific Coast, and I am certain the doctor has more nights on this Earth to sleep than my Dad. I need you to get on the phone (I pointed the general direction of the phone) right now, get a prescription to help my Dad avoid a medical emergency from not peeing ALL DAY, and help HIM sleep comfortably TONIGHT.” The nurse took less than a second, taking in my logic and contritely apologized, “I am so sorry, you’re right. I’ll make the call.”
Within five minutes, my Dad was given Ditropan, and not long after, he peed and peed and peed and peed some more. His urine was full of blood. A little blood can make urine look like something is gravely wrong. I wasn’t too worried. I have seen plenty of blood-tinged urine in a urine bag but asked the staff about it just in case. They, too, confirmed it was not abnormal for men to have some bleeding with an internal catheter.
His overall color changed from bright lobster red to his normal healthy olive complexion. His blood pressure obviously lowered. The tension left his body, and he fell into a very deep motionless sleep. I slept with one eye open; my feet stretched between his bed and the very uncomfortable chair in the room. When the doctor arrived in the morning for his early rounds, I thanked him for prescribing my Dad the meds, and I gently repeated my observation I laid on the nurse, “You have many more nights on this earth to sleep than my dad, and if I have to call you in the middle of the night again if there is a problem, I hope you understand.” He was gracious enough and said that he did.
I was with him until my mom arrived in the morning. She was surprised to see me and horrified to learn what he experienced. He was so relieved to see her. He wanted to go home, and he should have been able to do so, but now thanks to the stress on his bladder, he likely had an infection because he was running a fever so he could not be released. He was confused and disappointed.
Likely before I got there, he had tried to get out of bed and must have tweaked his catheter. He tore something somewhere up in there and was running a fever from this injury. I had spent the night keeping him in bed knowing by the wince on his face that the few times he stirred and tried to get out of bed, the catheter tugged at him, down there.
The next night when I arrived, he was tied to his bed and still had a fever. He was so confused about what was happening. He was peeing, so that was good, but there was more blood in his urine than before. I went and found a nurse to ask why he was tied to his bed. She explained that he kept getting out of bed and tearing out his catheter. “We had to tie him for his protection.”
He had been in a recovery unit, but he was soon moved to another unit in the hospital, not exactly critical care but certainly more care that the recovery unit. He tugged at his catheter if he wasn’t tied to the bed. He was probably in pain; he wanted to go home; he was confused and frustrated. My sister Anne, my mom, and I resumed our schedule of feeding him morning, noon, and night. For months.
He could stand and walk when he entered the hospital, but spending so much time lying down was taking a toll on him, and he got weaker by the day. I insisted that he get up and walk around the unit. He actually said, “I need to do something with my hands if I could just do anything with my hands. I’m going crazy.” These were the most words I had heard him string together since the end of January; it was now April. He had been in the hospital for months. He still didn’t say my name but said he “needed to do something with his hands.” clear as day as I forced him to walk around the unit. “Here, hold your gown shut. Your ass is hanging out. I don’t want any of these nurses getting ideas from seeing your cute tooshie.” He laughed and held his gown closed tight behind him. I had momentarily distracted him away from his frustration.
I made him get in the shower, the first shower he had had in weeks. He was cute in his modesty. I told him, “It’s fine, Dad! (awkward pause) I have seen a naked man before. (even more awkward pause) Just let that water run all over you; you’ll feel better when you’re clean.” Then added, “I will avert my eyes.” With a southern accent. He smiled, but I don’t think he got my Little Big Man reference to Faye Dunaway’s line. Typically, he would run lines of any movie like that with me and would have never missed me dropping a line like that. At least it made me laugh to myself to have an opportunity to use it because I was, in fact, not usually around all that many unexpectedly naked men.
When he was finally back in bed after a change of bed linens and bedclothes, I was combing back the expensive hair plug soldiers standing up straight on his head, “I’m so glad you got those hair plugs, Dad. If you didn’t have them, what on Earth would I comb over the top of your head?” He laughed; we both really cracked up. It was the last funny moment in a lifetime loaded with many funny conversations that I had with my Dad.
Instead of getting better, he just got weaker and weaker. His fever grew more intense. Again, I noticed that his bag was not filling like I thought it should after sitting with him for several hours. His blood pressure began climbing, as did his discomfort level. I asked the nurse if “He could have a Ditropan because it didn’t look like he was peeing.” The male nurse on shift said he would call the doctor. A few minutes later, he returned and said the doctor had given the prescription we requested.
Relieved, we waited for what seemed like too long to wait for him to bring the medication. I went to find him out in the hall and asked, “What is taking so long for the medication to be given to my dad?” He explained, “The hospital only gives medications at certain times of the day.” The new nurse was not used to my watchful eye. I debated, “I don’t care what the policy is, I want you to get the medication and give it to him NOW. All indicators prove this his situation is escalating. We’ll fall into the correct schedule with subsequent doses. Do you need me to talk to the doctor? Or the head of the hospital, whoever makes up stupid rules? Because it is ridiculous to force him to suffer because of a policy.” He, like the previous nurse in the other ward, took less than a second to take in my words, consider them, and agree, “Patient comfort should come before rules.” He was in the room with the medication a moment later.
But this time, the medication didn’t help him pee soon after taking it like before. I waited for about an hour. Nothing happened. I had been with him all afternoon; it was getting to be evening, so I knew he hadn’t peed in quite some time. I went and got his nurse again and explained that something is wrong. “He’s still not peeing. You have got to do something now, switch out the catheter, I don’t know what, but you have to do something.” The nurse called and got approval for a stat sonogram. My Dad had to be moved to the basement where radiology was located to perform the sonogram. He was confused as I ran alongside him through the maze of hallways of the old hospital but understood that I, we were trying to help him.
It turns out he had an enormous blood clot that was blocking the urine from leaving his bladder. They had to remove the old catheter and insert a new one, at which point almost 2000 units of urine poured out of him loaded with both blood and enormous blood clots. His numerous injuries to his bladder, combined with his illness of excessive blood clotting, were creating a whole new problem for him.
Brian stopped by when, thankfully, my Dad was quietly recovering from this latest scary moment. I was relieved to tell someone what had happened, like a kid who fell down at school and cried all over again later when they got home and answered the question, “What happened at school today?” When I left the room, I overheard the staff refer to me as “the daughter who is the doctor.” which I thought was hilarious that just because I logically and assertively advocated for my Dad with a tiny bit of knowledge about urine output thanks to Dave, they all thought I was a doctor. Dr. Baby.
His health continued in rapid decline over the next few days. Soon he was completely immobile. It must have been a Sunday because I was there before dark. On this occasion, he actually looked bad. I freaked out. I thought he was dying. I obviously couldn’t stop death from coming, none of us can, but I really didn’t want him to die in that stupid God damned hospital tied to a bed with tubes stuck in him and machines making so much irritating noise. I asked if I could take him outside, something I was mad at myself for not having thought of before then, I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before, but it wasn’t like there were any nice places for patients to hang out outside anyway, but still, I wish I had thought of it sooner. The staff got him a wheelchair, got him propped comfortably with pillows and several blankets so I could take him outside. It was really weird to push him in a wheelchair. I felt my entire childhood officially disappear and usher in adulthood for real. Something I had never felt crushing me until that moment.
I really thought he was going to die any minute. There is nothing natural or even humane about being in a hospital. He was such a gentle spiritual being of nature; I just wanted him the hell out of the building. I wanted him outside. I pushed him out of his room, down the hall, and began to fill with panic as I ran toward the elevator doors. I waited impatiently in the elevator. I ran as I pushed him to the exit, to outside. I ran, having no idea where I was going exactly, with this guy covered in pillows and blankets like a linen cart, but I was getting there as fast as I could.
The sky had been beautiful that day, the kind of beautiful that you know is going to create a lovely sunset. I hoped we could make it in time to see the setting sun from somewhere. We made it to a location on the grounds of the hospital pathway, where the sunset was narrowly visible between two buildings. It was mid-April. The sky had been crystal clear all day; sometimes, we have gorgeous clarity with the right level of humidity that makes the sky a particularly rich deep shade of blue. There was a very slight marine layer on the horizon that grew into a lovely contrast of dark burnt orange against the now cobalt blue, almost indigo purple sky.
We quietly watched the glowing sun melt into and disappear below the horizon. I was silently crying my eyes out, waiting for him to leave. He was watching the sun with a curious sense of calm and awareness. It was a really gorgeous show of those intensely contrasting colors, and in hindsight, if you had to pick a last sunset to see…it was a gorgeous one.
I am not exaggerating when I say one minute after the sun set; it grew cold. It turns out he was not dying quite as fast as I thought, and taking him outside really perked him up. But I didn’t want to freeze him to death out there, so I broke the silence, “It is getting cold, I guess I should take you back in.” He looked at me with a magnetic stare and moment of clarity I hadn’t seen since before his first stroke. He asked in an unusually deeper, gravelly tone of voice, nothing like his actual voice that I knew, “I have a quostion, (long pause) am I going to die?” I tried to stop crying so I could answer, “Pretty sure we are all going to die, dad.” My Dad who taught me everything about what is really important in life, about choosing joy when I was way too young to understand but he told me anyway, and about letting the universe know what I specifically wanted when my heart was broken so what I really wanted could be delivered, followed my comment with, “I cannot tell you how to die.” I know he wanted to impart some sort of meaningful wisdom equal to the two most important lessons I definitely already got, but he could not tell me how to die. The tears were pouring down my face even more, “I know you can’t, Dad, pretty sure no one can. I’ll figure it out.” I wiped off my face and took him back to his room after our big adventure, and he fell fast asleep.
I was still glad to have gotten him outside those uninspired walls of the hospital to look at that gorgeous sunset. I appreciated the sun’s cooperation for giving him one last curtain call for a life so thoughtfully lived. As I drove home, I thought of that same scene in Little Big Man that I described in the first chapters of this book, Dustin Hoffman’s character taking his grandfather to the top of the mountain to die as I realized the similarity in what I just tried to accomplish. I love how movies, songs, books, art, may remain with us long after our initial experience and may come to mind in the parallels reflected in our lives. For the record, sometimes the magic does not work. But I knew it really wasn’t long now. I called Dave on my way home and told him everything that had transpired. He was so grateful I took our Dad outside and agreed that sometimes the magic does not work. If anyone could relate to being stuck inside a hospital or Little Big Man, it was Dave.
I got the call at work the next morning from his doctor telling me to, “Come now; he has fallen into a coma, it won’t be long.” I told the doctor, “We are on our way, please keep him alive until we get there.” I called my mom to let her know and hauled ass the 20 minutes to the hospital. I parked my car in the loading zone and left it. I don’t even know if I closed my door. I didn’t care if it was stolen; if I got a ticket, if I got towed, I didn’t give a shit if they burned it-TAKE IT – KEEP IT! I ran all the way to his room. I didn’t want him to be alone when he left this Earth! The doctor was there assessing my Dad. His pupils were fixed; he was bright red from the septic fever caused by the injuries to his bladder and fuck-all complications therein. My mom and sister Linda arrived right after me. The doctor reiterated that my Dad was “in a deep coma. We will keep him comfortable, but it really won’t be long now.”
We sat by his side, silently staring at him for hours through the late morning, afternoon, and into the evening. He laid there quietly breathing, in a coma, red as a lobster, but otherwise, he looked comfortable. My mom was beyond tired. Linda and I talked her into going home to get some rest, that I would stay through the night. With some reluctance, she agreed, and Linda took her home. It was a quiet, uneventful night. I put my feet up on his bed and just held his really hot hand.
The next morning Jaclyn drove my mom back to the hospital. My mom climbed in bed with my Dad and cuddled beside him on his left side. I asked to have all the tubes removed from his body. I wanted no machines in the room, nothing beeping, tethered to, or poking him, just his original human parts and some quiet. I climbed in bed on his right side. Jaclyn sat next to him. We all noted how good he looked, but in reality, it was the fever that gave him his ‘healthy glow.’
Within about an hour of them arriving, my Dad made a noise like he was clearing his throat. Both my mom and I sat up a little and looked at each other, excitedly thinking that he was waking up. He was not clearing his throat. Apparently, that was his last bit of air on this planet leaving him. We both realized what had happened, and we laid back down a moment feeling the gravity of the situation. Pretty sure we were in a bit of exhausted from worry type of shock.
Jaclyn got upset. It was a lot to take in. She loved her grandpa, he was so very loveable, and he was close to his grandchildren, well, to all of us. My mom and I tried to console her with the idea that we were lucky to be with him at this time, that it was an honor to be able to be with someone when they leave this life. We asked her to focus on the fact that he was no longer suffering. For the moment, she was able to stop crying.
My first call was to Dave, who was en route to the hospital with Linda driving.
. I think I said something like, “He’s gone.” And hung up. I don’t remember his response. Less than a minute later, I got a call back from Dave in his process of making the obligatory calls I mentioned earlier, letting people know the bad news. In his rush of bad news adrenaline, he was temporarily consumed by time and space, or the realization that I had literally just called him to let him know. He forgot that I was with my Dad all night or at the time that he had gone or that I JUST called him. He blurted out, ‘Mardi? Dad died!’ Nothing else. I was lying next to my Dad when I took the call, and calmly said, “Ok, thanks.” He advised that he was on his way to the hospital, which I also already knew. Again, I said, “Ok. Thanks.” I hung up. My mom wanted to know who called “Dave.” “What did he say?” “Dad died.” To which she responded with an, “Oh…” as we both snorted a little giggle. I looked at her and said, “I know.” Not about my Dad, but that it was funny. We were fine at that moment in our relief at the end of his suffering. And it was funny that Dave called me right back, repeating the news back to me.
Jaclyn called her mom (and Dad), Anne, who was with her husband Randy on the east coast, having just arrived for the equally important milestone, the pending birth of their first grandbaby by their older daughter Jennifer. I spoke to her briefly a little later; she had, as I expected, quietly absorbed the news.
Dave and Linda arrived about 15 minutes later. Dave and I never talked about that call, not sure that he ever put it together when he arrived to find me somehow in bed with both my mom and Dad. We lose our minds a bit in the undertow of the shockwave of bad news as it shoves its way around and through you like a tsunami leaving nothing quite the same in its washed away aftermath.
That same shock can remove the filter of manners that most of us have and what I believe to be the real reason people behave so badly in the days and weeks that follow a disruptive change like the passing of a loved one. The shift of dynamics in a family that is created by the vacuum, the rift of the black hole left by the departure from the existence of anyone forces restructuring, change that not everyone is prepared for or wants or desperately wants but is not qualified for and thereby behaves badly when things don’t go their way. In the absence of our Dad, our superhero legend, demi-god of strength that none of us had ever visualized his departure possible, and what we had to endure in that loss as we were obliged to move forward without both that strength and his driving force was a shock to all of us especially my mom since he was always there to talk her off the ledge of fill-in-the-blank with hundreds of things one can worry about enough to end up on that ledge, to begin with.
Scott lived in Arizona at that time. He had been back and forth in the past months. He got the call from Dave to come because time was short. He began heading toward Kaiser Fontana as soon as he could. Brian was called too. He was at work when he got the news and had to call for a trade to come in and work so he could be with us. We were there most of the day. My darling husband brought us all lunch. After several hours, my mom, Jaclyn, Dave and Linda decided to go. I asked a nurse for a pair of scissors and something to put a lock of his hair in. She handed me scissors and an envelope. I cut a lock of his hair; I don’t know why, but it seemed important at the time. I assured him, wherever he was, “Don’t worry, Dad, I’m not taking the expensive stuff.” I am so grateful Jaclyn remembered that moment. I had forgotten. I handed the envelope to my mom, hugged her, and they left.
I wasn’t ready to leave him alone or leave him, yet I suppose. I waited for Scott and Brian to come. Scott arrived first. I left the room to give him a moment alone with his Dad. Our Dad understood who each of us was and what we needed. I understood in time that he hovered over those of us who were more needful and allowed those of us who were brave and strong to stand on our own without much interference. But his love for each of us was equal and infinite and openly filled his heart beyond breaking. My Dad’s relationship with me was different from Scott’s or anyone else’s. Scott left directly after for our parents’ house as there was nothing to be said here. Brian arrived as Scott was leaving. They acknowledged each other. Brian hugged me. He had his own time alone with his Dad as well, because he and my Dad loved each other for many reasons as well as like a father and son. When he was done with his private moment, I went to return to the room, but the nurses stopped me and suggested it was time for me to leave. I understood. It had been maybe 8 hours since breath had left him. Everyone who could have seen him saw him. There was nothing more for me to do or any reason for me to stay.
Brian and I took the elevator down and out of the hospital together. For every milestone in our family, Brian was there with us, the hilarious made up milestones and the awful ones. We had been with him during some of his worst life experiences as well. He was our nuclear family. I so appreciated walking out with him even though we didn’t say anything. Sometimes there is just nothing to say, and you just keep moving. We headed toward the parking structure where I had parked every night for months when I realized out loud, “Oh shit, I left my car over in the loading zone at the entrance of the hospital… YESTERDAY!” I left Brian without looking back; I literally forgot he existed as I ran over to where I had ditched my car, in my what the fuck do I care(?) mode in the of the worst day of my life hoping it hadn’t actually been burned or more likely towed.
Thank GOD, there it was, thank goodness, my stupid car was intact, but a very expensive $450 parking ticket was proudly displayed on the windshield. I lifted it from the wiper blade of ticket holders and got in. I didn’t give a shit; in the grand scheme of things, nothing was important right then. A piece of meaningless paper, demanding a made-up currency earned by doing random shit on a big rock hurtling across the universe in comparison to a guiding soul of my life that left my presence forever. It was stupid, and I laughed at it as I threw it on the empty seat. Nothing, and I mean, nothing compares to the significance of that moment even now as I write, nothing.
It was April 15, 2007, death and taxes day. I picked my Sven up from school and told him about his beloved Tom, that is what he called my Dad, both my parents, by their given names, Tom and Sandra. He has always been oddly more adult than me, and I thought it was funny that he addressed them that way. They didn’t mind either. I then headed to the grocery store to get food since I had neglected shopping for months; it seemed. I made dinner, cleaned up, then realized I had to START my taxes that I didn’t give a shit about ever anyway. Death and Taxes were chaffing me terribly at this moment. I was so irritated that I had to deal with stupid taxes on this of all fucking days. Damnit. Damn it to hell as I turned on my computer and tried to figure out where the fuck to start. I grew so overwhelmed with the stupid Turbo Tax questions, stupid numbers…why do we have to do taxes anyway? I began to spiral into hysterics, crying for the first time since that sunset with my Dad.
My darling, calm fiancé now darling husband came in and took over, quickly devising a plan to file for an extension and filling out the form for me. I had the simplest taxes back then, the one-page thingy, but I had no idea where all my supporting documents were. I could not think about looking for them. Not tonight, nope. Fuck taxes! We printed out the thing, the extension form. My darling Lovie drove to the post office to mail it before midnight.
We grow up hearing the adage, “People don’t change.” It’s not completely true. My mom described my Dad as respectfully in charge, and subsequently, he made all the decisions like men from that era did. She was fine with that dynamic of their relationship. She had been working with outside help for Dave’s daily care for a few months when my Dad died. While she was grieving, afraid of the change of every aspect of her life, I watched her not only keep her shit together but pull it together too as she learned how to make decisions a new way, she asked questions, bounced ideas off us, she hired people to do physical things my Dad used to do like the yard, handymen to fix things around the house when they needed fixing. Things may have actually been fixed faster once she was completely in charge compared to waiting for my Dad to fix whatever with duct tape. Her opinions about everything in the world were open to new interpretations without my Dad there to share his ideas whereas before, she basically had mirrored him.
My mom hid her grief as she is from that same stiff upper lip generation who does such things. I can’t possibly comprehend that sort of grief until it’s my time in that pit. While I definitely miss my Dad on every level imaginable, I am so proud of her personal growth, something we don’t expect in people way beyond their college days, career development, or their early days of parenthood. Few experiences in life help foster personal growth like change, throwing us an anvil and pushing us off a fucking cliff into the valley of grief.
Dave was not only down one of his two most critical advocates; he had to fill the role of patriarch of the family. And he did. His job at this point was to call everyone he could think of with the news, as previously mentioned. I assume he got better at it as he made more calls beyond his call to me. Within a day, his job changed to invite certain people to speak at my Dad’s memorial, which was also a lovely and epic celebration that was perfect for who our Dad was, also in our backyard and packed. When the time came for me to announce our friend Jamie Daniel, daughter of Billie and late Jim Daniel to the podium to speak, it was the first she heard of such a request but jumped up to speak beautifully off the top of her head about my Dad as if she had prepared for a year for that moment. Dave and I thanked her for her kind words afterward. She laughed, “I was a little shocked, but I have plenty of kind words to say about your dad, so it was fine.” I was then shocked, “You didn’t know we wanted you to speak?” I turned and looked at Dave and said way before it was popular, “You had ONE job!” to which he dropped his head sheepishly because he KNEW he messed that one up. It was fine. We all laughed hysterically. But hey, he talked to me TWICE that morning at the hospital… I still never said anything to him, and it is still really funny to me.
Brian changed too. I hadn’t noticed how he seemed more grown-up than ever. I mean, those guys were 50. I knew he was grown up from that kid who rode his bike to our house when I was a toddler; we all understand and witness everyone physically grow up and mature around us. But his calm adult presence was never more appreciated than that time in our family history.
There is exhaustion worrying about someone you love even when all is perfect, we worry. When a loved one is suffering, that worry gets inflamed to a whole new horrible level of stress and unpleasantness that robs you of sleep and often of rational thought as we panic about how horrible it might get ‘in the end.’ Before grief really sets in, the relief from that exhaustion of worry has to run its course. When you catch up on your laundry and everything else that has been set aside in one’s life about a week after the memorial service, that is roughly the time the reality of grief, one’s inescapable shadow catches up with you and moves right the fuck on in.
© Mardi Linane Copyright 2020