Two Weeks In May
Note: I expect this will be a long an involved post, and is highly personal, and emotionally charged, so please, bear with me.
In the course of two weeks in May, 1997, I experienced the following: My brother died, my father had a heart attack and my mother died. This is an accounting of how that all transpired.
I moved to Central Florida in April of 1997. I decided that my future lay somewhere other than Michigan, where I was born, raised, and lived until that point. My parents had been spending the winters on the gulf coast for many years, so Florida was not completely foreign to me, but Central Florida certainly was. I used the internet to find a job in the IT department at Universal Studios Florida, and started working there in April of 97. My mother had been in failing health for some time, and immediately after returning to Michigan in mid-April, she went into the hospital. I immediately shifted my work schedule around to allow me an opportunity to return to Michigan to see her. During that trip, it was obvious that she was near the end of her life. When I returned from my long weekend trip to visit her, I told my employers that it I was going to have to return home in likely short order for her funeral. A couple of days later, I received an emergency page from Michigan, and steeled myself for the news. I was not prepared for the news that was delivered though, as I was informed that my brother, who had just flown home from Texas to see our Mother, had died the past evening in our family home.
My brother and I were, for lack of a better term, estranged. He was in a familial situation that for reasons I did not understand, prevented him from returning to Michigan to see our eldest sister when she was dying from cancer. Several members of our family had begged him to come home, as our sister was asking to see her siblings when she (and all of us) were aware that she was losing her battle with cancer. Our eldest sister and I were very close, and I had repatriated myself in our family’s eyes during her illness. That another long story for another time, but the point of our relationship is important for what is to follow.
As I mentioned, Mom was dying, and we were able to finally convince my brother that he had to come home to see her. He flew in that evening, and by the time he got to the hospital, Mom was asleep, and they decided not to wake her, and they would see her in the morning. Sometime during the night, my brother passed. Chaos ensued, the likes of which I can only imagine, as I was a thousand miles away, literally. We really don’t know what caused my brother to die. There were numerous factual inaccuracies in the autopsy that leads all of us to question the findings. I made arrangements to fly home to Michigan, and I joined the chaos.
My brother was very close to my youngest sister, and they both lived in Texas. My sister did not get along with his wife, for numerous reasons. After he died, we were making preparations for him to be buried in the family plots at the cemetery where my father had purchased plots for his family. Its where my sister was buried, and ultimately my parents as well. We found ourselves in a bit of a quandary now. Since my brother was married, my father (our family really) was no longer next of kin. My brother’s wife wanted to have him cremated. Well, there’s no way to aptly describe this other than. My sister freaked out. So, I can’t really imagine what my father was going through, all of us really, but it had to have been hardest on him. The second of his children had just died, wife in the hospital, and now this. Since I had some friends who were attorneys, and experience making things happen on the telephone, I was drafted to speak to some folks on the possibility of starting a court challenge to have custody of the body. This went on for the better part of the day, and finally, we were able to decide that the exercise was likely futile at best, so this was dropped, and we went ahead with a memorial service for my brother.
By this point in time, we were basically taking shifts at the hospital, and home, just trying to get a chance to spin down a bit, as best we could. I returned from a shift at the hospital where my Mom was, and only my Aunt was at home. I then learned that my sisters had taken my father to another hospital, closer to the homestead, because he had a heart attack. I then had to call my new employer and give them an update, basically that I couldn’t come back to work. We had a pointed conversation, understandable so, about whether I was ever coming back to work at all. I told them I was, just really couldn’t answer when. They were understanding, to a point. I really didn’t care then about the job…the world was collapsing around me. Dad was stable, but he remained in the hospital for several days. About mid-week (the exact days are fuzzy now) I was really feeling the pressure to return to Florida, to keep the new job I had. I was probably also looking for the release valve too, to be honest. I really didn’t know what to do, or even how to make this decision. I asked everyone, my Dad, sisters, anyone, and really there was no right or wrong answer. After another day, I decided that I needed to go back. One of the toughest decisions I ever had to make, but I made it, and got a ride to the airport from either friends of the family, of extended family, I’m really not sure who it was as this point.
While at the airport, I had the sudden realization that I didn’t have my keys, and I knew exactly where I had left them. They were on the top of the refrigerator at home. I called back to the house, and told them what I had done, and the extended family went into action, and the neighbors were dispatched to bring me my keys…Crisis averted. I had 40 minutes or so until I had to meet the folks brining my keys to me, so I went to the food court and grabbed some food. While sitting and eating, I was paged over the airport system, that I had a call. Mom had taken a turn for the worse, and I should not fly home. I returned to the airline check in, and told them I needed to retrieve my bag I had checked. Since this pre-dates 9/11, I was able to do so without issue. When my keys got there, I had them take me back to the farm.
I got home, and was brought up to date on the situation. I don’t remember if Mom had been released to hospice care yet, or if that happened the next morning, it’s irrelevant now. I had to go the hospital to tell Dad that Mom had taken a turn for the worse. My Aunt and Uncle had gone to the hospital to visit my Dad, and when I left we called the hospital, and advised the nurses of what was coming. They told my Aunt and Uncle, who stayed with Dad until I got there. Another fun conversation for me to have, as you can only imagine. Fortunately, for me, they had given Dad a mild sedative before I got there.
My middle sister and I were home when Mom died. She had been home under hospice care for a time. I remember a short time before then. When I was home alone with her (sorry for the vague timelines here, years have passed, and this entire period is really one long blur for me) Mom woke up, and for a 30 minute window or so, it was like she was never ill. We chatted, I got to make her some lunch. I felt like a little kid again. It didn’t last long, and she went back to bed fairly quickly. I remember after that that I was supposed to give her some meds. There was a fairly rigorous schedule of meds; and I couldn’t wake her up. I felt so helpless. I wanted her to rest; wanted her to be comfortable; didn’t know what to do. I don’t recall if I called the hospice nurse, or if they came on their regular schedule. We were very very close to her passing at that point.
I don’t know if I am doing a good job of telling this story to you or not, but its working on me…I feel like I’m going through much of this all over again.
We got my Dad discharged from the hospital to attend the visitation at the funeral home, and the funeral. He was more or less out of the woods at that point. We had a second visitation/funeral/memorial service in as many weeks. We were all just wrung out.
After a few days, I returned to Florida. I still had a job (thankfully) and the employer was wonderful about the entire experience. No conclusions or great meanings from this story, at least not yet in the arc of this blog. It’s more just an illustrative piece, about me, and something that happened in my life many years ago. I’m fairly certain the subject will come up again.