Friday, October 27, 2006

Long Entry To Fill In Some Of The Blanks

So I have a little time to type up an entry that’s more than just a quick update, but I find I don’t know what to say or where to start.
Obviously a lot has happened since my last proper entry, much of which most of you are aware of, and it’s difficult to decide what to include, what to leave out, and what to focus on.
I guess I’ll start with some details about my dad’s passing.
On October 12th my dad had a massive heart attack while packing up for their winter trip to Tucson. They’d been going out to Tucson since 2000 and own a small place out there. This was going to be their last year doing so because while they own their home there, they have to pay rent for the lot, and rent had gone up beyond what they were going to be able to afford.
So the plan was to sell the place before the annual rent came due, which is why they were heading out a little earlier than usual. My dad loved staying in Tucson – much more so than my mom – and they wanted to be able to squeeze as much time as possible out of their last trip.
So my dad was packing up and while doing so he collapsed without making a sound.
Understandably my mom was panicked, but she managed to make a call to 911.
My parents’ home is in an extremely rural area and the 911 operator center is located 100 miles away. As a result, the 911 operator had no idea where Twin Lakes was located.
Eventually someone at 911 figured out where it is and attempted to contact the Twin Lakes fire department, but there was no answer.
There is a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) station in Twin Lakes, however, and a couple DNR conservation officers responded to the call. Eventually the fire department responded as did, sometime later, the first responders from a town about 20 miles away, and ultimately they managed to get my dad breathing on his own.
However, by that time he’d been without oxygen for at least 10 minutes, though it was hoped that the fact that he’d spent time lying in the cold and snow had helped slow down his metabolism which might have mitigated some of the impact.
After about 45 minutes an ambulance finally arrived and he was brought to the hospital where they performed a CAT scan and determined that he had not had a stroke or suffered from an aneurysm.
They decided to move him to the Marquette hospital which is 100 miles away. My mom and my sister Kim headed to Marquette. Thanks to the snow storm it took them more than 4 hours, but my dad wasn’t actually there when they arrived, as the ambulance hadn’t left when it was supposed to.
Meanwhile, I had no idea any of this was going on, as my mom wanted to wait until I was home from work to tell me.
The first indication I got of a problem occurred when I checked my mail just before going to bed and found a message from my brother Brad asking if I was going home and saying that he was waiting on an update from mom before deciding.
My brother operated on the assumption that he’s the last to know anything and so assumed that I knew what was going on.
Frantic, I called home and got the answering machine. Next I tried my sister’s, where my nephew Jeremy answered. I love Jeremy dearly, but he often seems to live in a world that only touches ours on the periphery, and so as a source of information he’s less reliable than a vandalized Wikipedia entry.
Still, he did confirm that something had happened to my dad and that he was on the way to Marquette. I called my sister’s cell and got the basics from my mom, but the call dropped shortly thereafter.
I then decided that I should go home no matter what and booked a flight for the next day, then informed my brother that I’d done so.
Somewhere along the line I managed to fall asleep, though it was a fitful sleep accompanied by odd and disturbing dreams.
I was awoken by my brother in the morning, calling to tell me that the doctor’s had said that my dad had been without oxygen too long and that he would never recover.
Kathleen stopped by and offered to follow me around while I packed to make sure I didn’t forget anything. I told her I was fine without her, but once I got back to Michigan and had my luggage I found that I should have taken her up on the offer as I’d forgotten to pack any shirts.
At one point in the day before my flight I went out to get some money from an ATM and to pick up something to eat, even though I had no appetite.
I was sort of like a zombie.
When I’d bought my bed a while back I’d intended to get it from Mattress Warehouse and had gone to where I thought the Mattress Warehouse was located. It wasn’t there, but there was a mattress store, and so I’d bought the bed from there instead.
Anyway, while getting my lunch I noticed that I was at the plaza where the Mattress Warehouse actually was located, and I remember thinking, “Oh, that’s where it is.” That’s the only actual thought I recall having during that time.
I won’t rehash what happened with my flight. You already know that my brother and I were stuck in Detroit for the night.
I’d talked to my sister while I was there and she actually sounded pretty hopeful about my dad’s condition.
However, while were flying in the next day it was confirmed that he would not recover and that my dad no longer had any sort of higher brain functions. Because he could still breathe on his own he was not technically brain dead, but there was no chance that he would ever actually be my dad again.
My dad had a living will stating that he did not want to be maintained in such a state, and so my mother waited for my brother and me to arrive and gave my brother-in-law Dean a chance to bring the kids down to say goodbye before giving the go-ahead to take him off support.
We had hoped to donate his organs – except the heart, of course – but as we were still square in the middle of nowhere, a harvesting team would have to be mobilized and flown in from much further away.
They perform a test – called “The 10 Minute Test” – in which they take the patient off support and see how the vitals look. This allows them to estimate how long the patient would survive without support and allows them to provide a time for the harvesting team to shoot for.
In my dad’s case they couldn’t really estimate, as his vitals were still strong, and so there was no way to ensure the timely receipt of his organs.
Fortunately there was a local organization called The Gift of Life that could make use of his tissue and bone. The person my mom spoke to said that what they took from him would help 25 to 100 people. My dad would like that.
He held on for 14 hours on his own and we stayed with him for much of that time, though we did ultimately go to a motel for a few hours in the night.
Though there was obviously a lot of crying, there was a lot of laughter, too, and I imagine the nursing staff there must have thought we were nuts.
Sitting there and watching the empty shell that had once been my father slowly stop functioning was the most horrible thing I’ve ever experienced, but I had to stay for it.
It was surprisingly peaceful, though. Clearly he wasn’t suffering, which is a consolation, though not so much of a consolation as say, not losing him in the first place.
For the most part, he appeared to simply be sleeping, complete with snores.
There were some truly disturbing moments in the first few hours, though. For most of Saturday he kept opening his eyes, and though it was clear that this was reflexive and there was really nothing there, he just looked so sad whenever he did it. I’ll carry the memory of those sad, lifeless eyes with me until I close my eyes for the last time.
And then there was the gurgling and gasping of the first few hours.
As my brother Brad said, it sounded like something out of The Exorcist. It was horrific.
Fortunately that stopped pretty early on.
As we waited at his bed side we watched the monitors and every time he would stop breathing and his oxygen levels would drop to nothing we wouldn’t be breathing either, but then he would suddenly gasp and everything would shoot back up.
Eventually, though, after a long period of not breathing his heart rate began to slowly drop. My mom suggested we say the Lord’s Prayer, which we did, tearfully, and by the time we finished, he was gone.
(Yes, I did join in, and yes, I do know that it seems hypocritical coming from me, but it was for my dad.)
As I mentioned, the memorial service was held the following Saturday.
My friend Gretchen and her husband Jeff came up for it, which was very nice of them considering the distance they had to travel.
No other friends of mine showed up, which was hardly unexpected.
My parents weren’t active in the church around here, though they did attend in Tucson, so there was no minister available who actually knew my dad. We considered the local Lutheran church anyway, since that’s where we used to go, but decided against it.
The mortician recommended a Methodist minister whom my mother had heard speak before, so we went with her.
She was a very nice, very funny woman – 81 years old – and she met with my mom, my sister, my brother, and me to get a feel for who my dad was.
She did a good job at the service, though she was perhaps a bit long-winded.
My brother-in-law Dean’s mother is active in the Salvation Army, so she recommended that the Captain of the area chapter sing, which he did very well. He was also the one who read the memorial I wrote up. I was a little concerned that he might not read it properly and was almost willing to try to read it myself, but my concerns were unfounded as he did an excellent job with it.
After the service we had a lunch at the Salvation Army.
My dad touched a lot of lives and there are a lot of people who are shaking their heads and wondering what they’re going to do without him.
We suspect – it’s all that we can do – that my dad was sicker than he ever let on and that he simply refused to talk about it or give in to it. After his surgery last year he’d said that he never wanted to have that tube down his throat again. Of course, in his obstinate refusal to tell anyone he was having trouble – as he must have been – he ended up not getting his wish anyway; the tube got put in while he was at the hospital.
I know we did the right thing in taking him off support because he had stated – in conversation and in his living will – that it was what he wanted, but it was still a difficult choice for us to have to make.
The fact that he held on so long makes it even more troubling. As I said at the time, I found it puzzling that he was holding on so hard when he couldn’t come back, and then wondered, conversely, why he couldn’t come back when he was holding on so hard.
I have to admit that since I’ve been back I’ve been hitting up my niece Jourdan for cigarettes.
They taste absolutely horrible and there’s zero chance that I’ll be picking up the habit again, but it has been somewhat comforting. Brad, who has been a non-smoker even longer than I have, had also been bumming a few off of Jourdan, leading her to feel guilty for contributing to the delinquency of her uncles.
When I went out to smoke for the first time at the hospital, I touched my dad’s arm and said, “If you want to wake up and lecture me for smoking I’ll be more than happy to stand here and listen to it.”
But of course I had no such luck.
Drinking, at least, hasn’t been a consideration, as I know it’s the very last thing my dad would ever want me to do, but I have to admit that while I was waiting for my brother’s plane to arrive in Detroit the sign for Hefe-Weizen displayed in the bar I was standing by looked pretty damned tempting, even though I was never really a fan of wheat beers.
Anyway, now the funeral is out of the way, my brother Brad has returned to Rhode Island, and now we’re turning our attention to my mom and dealing with what’s left to be dealt with.
Since I left off on this entry we’ve managed to find an apartment for my mom.
It’s very close to my sister’s house (and even closer to my niece Jourdan’s apartment).
My sister was determined to get my mom moved before I leave on Tuesday and her determination paid off.
My mom isn’t thrilled at the idea of moving, but she knows she has to, as it will be too lonely in the house once I’m gone and the fact of the matter is that the house is 3,000 miles north of BFE. Even the middle of nowhere is closer to stuff than Twin Lakes.
For those wondering, there has been no news on “Zalfiro” at this point. I’m not holding out much hope.
Anyway, I really should post this as doing so over this slow dial-up is already going to take seven to one thousand hours and adding any more would only make matters worse.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jon... I don't have words, there is nothing that I can say. I could tell that you were a little numb, from the email I got and the time I saw you in Houghton.

My father's passing hit me hard, really hard. It was many years ago, and I can't imagine what you are going through; I can barely imagine what I was going through at that point.

And yes, I was praying for him and you and your family. It's a rule of mine, I do not ever go to funerals. I don't, I can't, not ever, after the last one. I can't take it, I'd prefer not going to it, and just remember life.

When my father passed, I was scarred by the funeral. We had an apostolic lutheran (bunner who didn't know my dad) preacher perform the service, and he railed on me, and I broke down. I was a zombie, but he actually had the audacity to hint to the (congregation? grievers?) that I could have stopped events, as they were. I broke down.

There is one funeral that I have went to since, and that was for Jodi Watts. Many others have passed, since, but I can't go anymore. I refuse. I will remember them in my own way, but it is too awful, the funeral ceremony is awful.

Jon, take care. I loved your parents; and your dad was a shining star among many. I remember a story that you told me about how he lost a finger or two because was holding on to the top of his pickup truck, on the roof. Your eyes always lit up when ya told that story, could tell that you two had a deep connection.

He knew how much you cared about him. He always will.

Stay strong, bud. I really don't know what else to say.