I am so glad to be home. No stress. No arguments. No fighting.
We got a call from the VA hospital on Long Island saying that Lou’s father was in intensive care, and was not doing well. He had named Lou as his next of kin and as the person who should make medical decisions for him if he were unable. We hadn’t spoken to anyone in his family in quite a long time. He stopped talking to his dad because he wouldn’t have a serious honest conversation about their past and the lies and pain. I can’t even remember why he stopped talking to his mother and sister this time. But all the same, his father was on his deathbed and wanted to see his son, and asked the nurse to call. Lou took the information and lay down to sleep again. He didn’t want to go, and told me he would think about it the next day. But the hospital called again, looking for permission to administer treatment to alleviate the fluid that was building up or something. This time, I talked to the nurse to find out more details, and told her to tell him that his son and daughter-in-law were on their way. I didn’t care that Lou didn’t want to go. If I let him stay home, and his father died alone, and Lou didn’t see him when he had the chance, he would regret it someday. And I would feel responsible that I didn’t make him do it. I told him I was going by myself even if he wouldn’t go. Nobody should be alone in a time like that. I spent time with his mother without him when she had cancer surgery. She totally disliked me before then, but after that, she was always nice to me, even when she was feuding with Lou. Anyway, Lou conceded to making the drive from Delaware that night to see his father.
Before we left the house, we called his sister, Debra and her husband, Bill. She wasn’t talking to her parents either, and had even less interest than Lou did in going to see her father. But I think Bill talked her into it. They had a baby that her parents had never even seen. Once we got on the road, the urgency finally kicked in, and Lou was in a panic that we wouldn’t get there in time. About 3 hours later, we met up with Deb and Bill at the hospital, and went to the ICU. His father was still alive, but not awake and not responsive. The nurse said that they had found cancer in him again, and that it seemed his organs were slowly shutting down, and his abdomen was swelling up with fluids. Other than that, though, I must say he looked pretty good. He was very tan and his body appeared quite strong and healthy. We learned later that he was working as a grounds keeper and doing maintenance for a church.
Lou and I talked to him quietly, and I held his dad’s hand and stroked his hair and arm, and tried to moisten his lips so they didn’t dry too much. Bill was really good at talking upbeat and loudly to him to try to get a response, but there was none. Debra was doing her very best just by being there. She stayed in the room, but kept her distance both physically and emotionally. She had been essentially abandoned by the dying man both physically and emotionally most of her life. I give her credit for being there, and yet not being phony about her emotions.
We called Lou’s mother, and explained that her ex-husband was probably not going to live much longer. She told us that she had seen him recently, and was wondering how he was doing. She decided not to come to the hospital since he wasn’t conscious anyway, and personally, she wanted to remember him as he was, rather than dying in the hospital bed. I guess they ended up being good friends to each other over the past few years. They had even been joking around about his being sick, and how he shouldn’t buy any green bananas.
He was hooked up to monitors; we just watched his body slowly shutting down. It was hard not to stare at the heart rate and blood pressure stats dropping. Bill had a beeper on his belt that went off once in a while. I have never known anyone with a beeper, and had thought only drug dealers used them, so I jokingly asked if he had to meet his connection. Wrong thing to say. I was just trying to be light during a tense time. I heard about that comment later.
Eventually, his stats dropped very, very low. I was still holding his hand, which was clasped tightly around mine, even though he was not conscious. Lou and Bill were on the side of the bed also, and Deb was at the foot of the bed. He then opened his eyes, and slowly and deliberately looked around the bed at each of us. Even though he didn’t say anything, he appeared to have clarity and recognition in his eyes. We told him that we were all there with him, and that we loved him, and that it was ok to let go and be at peace. He very peacefully closed his eyes and the stats dropped and dropped until the solid line and steady beep indicated his heart and breathing had stopped.
That was the end of the calm and peace, because suddenly there were alarms going off, and out of nowhere, came what seemed like a dozen doctors and nurses jumping in the room with equipment and insisting that we clear out of the room because it was a code blue. I practically had to scream at them to leave him alone because he was DNR. I don’t know why the unit nurses didn’t step in. They were the ones who had shown us his card, where he gave his preferences for treatment and specifically requested for them to let him go. Personally, I think the interns and doctors enjoyed the excitement of the crash. Just as quickly as they had come, they all dejectedly disappeared, and the ICU was quiet again.
We went out to dinner with Deb and Bill that night and talked about what we should do. The nurses gave us his few possessions, and his home address, which sadly, none of us knew. He had an old car, and lived in an apartment near the church. Debra said she really didn’t want any of his things. We said we would bring the car to his mother so she could sell it for past alimony due her.
Lou and I had to go on our own to his father’s apartment to take care of his belongings. At first, Debra wanted nothing to do with anything of his. Later, when we called from a pay phone at the beach we had stopped at to relax and reflect, she told Lou that for the sake of her child, she wanted what was due her, and would meet us at the apartment to “clean out” the place. That phrase sent Lou over the edge, and he reamed her out for being disrespectful and picking over the paltry few remains of his life for financial gain. It was a moot point because their father literally had nothing but the old car we gave their mother. They had a screaming fight over the phone, ending with her saying she would not be going to the funeral. It seemed that was going to be the end of it, but later, Debra and Bill showed up at his mother’s front door with the grandchild she had never seen. His mom, who had just been talking with Lou about how disgusted they both were by Deb’s attitude, was quite skilled at building, burying and unearthing grudges, resentments, and feuds spontaneously, and welcomed them with open arms, excitedly doting over both her grandchild and daughter. She didn’t notice the anger on Lou’s face, and his sister’s smirk of satisfaction with her game changing move. Lou immediately tried to regain control, and ordered them to leave the house. Deb rightly stated that it was not his house, and he could not tell her what to do. Their argument grew more heated about the whole situation with their father’s estate and each other’s behaviors and intentions, and Bill stepped in between them to tell Lou to back off. Lou grabbed him by the shirt, which ripped apart in his fist. Sensing they were about to start throwing punches, I covered my ears and yelled for them to just stop it, and stormed out of the house. I hoped that would startle them out of the physical altercation, but even if it didn’t, I could not tolerate being around all that anger one minute longer. I walked down the dark street and sat on the curb where I would not be easily spotted, but could still see the front of the house. It was a long time before I saw Deb and Bill leave. I waited awhile longer, expecting Lou to look for me, and eventually went back to the house on my own. Lou’s mother was distraught and torn because she wanted to resume having a relationship with both her children and families, but Lou was fuming that she would even consider forgiving Deb’s behavior. In the end, Debra did not attend her father’s wake, funeral, or burial, although most of the New Jersey relatives that his dad had been estranged from for years came to pay their respects.