That Day

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

From the day Eileen went into hospice, 13 March, 2013, I knew, and she probably did too, that she wasn’t going home again. And once she was in, her energy was so sapped she really couldn’t have more than one visitor a day for more than an hour. It took me a couple of days to realize that, and I had to tell a few people to postpone. That all changed on the 17th.

At around 10:00 that morning, I got a call from the hospice saying I should come in ASAP, as her condition had worsened, and it looked very much like she wouldn’t make it through the day. This was no surprise, as the day before, I’d gone to visit, and she was needing a walker just to go the few yards down the hall to the toilet. She would be completely exhausted by that simple journey. I got to the hospice about a half hour after I received the call.

When I got there, she was being administered to by two nurses, and was barely able to talk, though I assured her I was there, and would be there to the end. (This promise would later be ever so slightly broken, but we’ll get to that in a minute) Shortly after I arrived, her eldest brother showed up, as he was actually scheduled to see her that day anyway. He wasn’t completely aware of how dire her situation had become, and upon seeing him, I started to cry. “She’s not gonna make it,” I sputtered, and he gave me a consolatory hug. As I began to tell him what was going on, I forgot that Eileen still had her senses about her, and after about 30 seconds of my babbling, she managed to say, “Can you go to the next room?” Great, I’m losing my loved one, and to top it off, she’s annoyed with me!

One of the doctors met with me and the brother shortly after to inform us that they would be starting “End of Life Treatment,” which meant the cancer was making its final surge, she was dying, and the hospice staff would only work to make her comfortable in her last few hours. It was not comforting to hear the words “End of Life,” but I suppose that’s better than “Shock Treatment.” In the meantime, my mobile was filling with text messages from people wanting to pay their last respects. I disregarded the edict that she had given two days before, and said to all of them, “Yes, if you want to see her before she dies, it’s gotta be today.”

She would have a fairly steady procession of visitors that day, and some would tell me after they saw her that they got some form of acknowledgement and/or response. This made me a bit jealous, as all her friends were having a semblance of a conversation, while I’d be left with the parting words “Can you go to the next room.” Well, I worked on rectifying that one for a good portion of the day, and finally, after telling her it’s OK for her to go, and that our time together, as limited as it had been, made for some of the happiest moments of my life, she managed to say the words “Thank you.” A big sigh of relief came from my corner, as I’ll cherish a “thank you” a lot more than “can you go to the next room.”

At mid-afternoon, her other brother showed up, and he made plans to stay until the very end, no matter how late that would be. I saw an opportunity to leave for a little while, as I was still living in Dagenham and needed to drop the car back there and pick up a change of clothes. This half-assed plan almost cost me the chance to witness her final minutes!

The drive from Hampstead Heath to Dagenham, while ignoring the cultural difference that one experiences going from one borough to the other, takes about 45 minutes by car unless there’s a traffic problem. Fortunately, there was none, and I made some dinner, chilled for a bit, stayed in contact with her brother, and started back to the hospice via public transit. It was now 8:00, I figured I’d get there just after 9.

Wrong! I forgot two things: 1) There was engineering works on the tube line I would take from Dagenham, and I’d need to take a replacement bus through the first three stops on the line, and 2) I got through one stop on that bus, and realized I’d forgotten the most crucial bit of equipment, my f***ing mobile!! So that meant getting out, waiting for a replacement bus going back the way I’d just come, getting the mobile, then waiting for another bus. By the time I’d gotten to that next bus, I’d killed nearly 45 minutes!

When the bus arrived at Barking Station, where I could catch the London Overground for the rest of my journey, it was nearly 9:00, my projected arrival time at the hospice. At least there were no screw-ups on that particular line. I got out of the Gospel Oak Station shortly after 9:30, and it would be a ten-minute bus ride followed by a five-minute walk to the hospice. Yes, it WOULD have been if I hadn’t had to wait nearly TWENTY minutes for a freaking bus! I frantically texted Eileen’s brother, who had maintained vigil for the nearly four hours I’d been gone, and he assured me that she was still among the living, though it was clear it wouldn’t be for long.

I got to her room at exactly 10:00, by which time she was taking shallow breaths, occasionally opening her eyes, but clearly all her senses were going or gone. There was a part of me that liked to believe she had waited for me before taking her final bow. The end came a mere 10 minutes later, as her brother looked at me, then looked at her again, and said, “I believe she’s gone.” He’s a vicar by trade, so without much fanfare, he recited the 23rd Psalm, which sounded different from the way I remembered it, but then I reminded myself that we Americans do a LOT of re-interpreting. He barely made it through, and I leaned over to kiss her one more time. For those that have never touched a dead body, and in my whole life, I’d only seen ONE (in an open casket funeral), it’s TRUE, the body DOES get cold upon death!

A long time friend and colleague of hers showed up all of three minutes later. That was just weird, for she hadn’t been able to make it by any of the previous days. Her timing was impeccable, but she remained strong staring at the lifeless body of one of her best friends. There was also a problem getting a nurse to come by, as it was a Sunday night, and only two nurses were on the whole ward, both dealing with emergencies as we frantically tried to summon them. She’d been gone about 10 minutes by the time a nurse actually arrived. I must say on their behalf, since I now work at that same hospice one day a week as a volunteer, that that was about the lowest amount of competence I’ve seen there, and I can excuse it since there really wasn’t anything any one of them could have done, unless they had some miracle elixir.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the passing of someone who one of my friends in San Francisco described as “The most real woman I’ve ever seen you with.” She was very easy to like, so much so that one of my other SF friends remarked before I even introduced the two, “I like her already!” She has been the yardstick upon which I’ve measured any future love prospects, and as I speculated in my blog a year ago, she’s a tough act to follow. I have experienced what would pass for two relationships in that year, one of which ended acrimoniously with no further communication, the other which has resulted in a lovely friendship, so at least I’m not totally alone in this pursuit of the rest of my life.

Tonight we gather at my place with about 20 of her friends and relations for a loving remembrance of this remarkable woman and the impact she had on all of us. I imagine that impact will continue to be felt for many years to come.

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