Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dec. 8 a sad day in so many ways

Rarely do I go more than a few days without posting to this site. Now here it is, a week later, and nothing from the writer, editor and sole proprietor of hummingbirdminds.

A week ago I was in Florida zooming down a rainy highway. My sister Molly, brother-in-law Jamie and I were on our way from Tallahassee back to Palm Bay for my brother Pat’s memorial service. Right behind us was my sister Mary, husband Neill and their son Morgan. Along the way, we all stopped in Orlando to have lunch with my sister Eileen and her husband Brian.

That’s what made my week a spiritual one – time with my family. Funerals bring us together when vacations and weddings and graduations cannot. Grieving unites. That’s when you most need the support.

I’ve made many such trips from the Rockies to Florida. A mad dash to Denver’s Stapleton in April 1986. Trying to get a flight out to be at my dying mother’s side in Daytona. Approaching spring storm caused cancellation of one flight after another. Before my flight finally left at midnight, I called my brother and he told me that Mom had passed. I phoned my wife Chris, at home with our toddler son, and choked on the bad news.

Before we took off, the plane had to be de-iced twice. Once airborne, the cabin began to fill with smoke. Tendrils of smoke drifted through the beams of overhead reading lights. At first, I thought it was cigarette smoke (yes, children, you could smoke on airplanes back then). But the smoking lamp wasn’t lit. The plane was still climbing. A flight attendant rushed down the aisle to the cockpit. The smoke thickened. A few minutes later, the captain got on the horn and told us no to worry, that ice had clogged some intake or outtake and that had caused a gizmo to overheat, thus the smoke. We’ll get the air cleared in a jiffy, he promised.

I wasn’t comforted. Smoke was now as thick as it was in my favorite bar. My thoughts turned to gruesome thoughts of death by smoke at 30,000 feet. Mike Shay, 35, Denver, Colo., died while flying to his mother’s funeral in Daytona Beach. We are aware of the irony so don’t go pointing it out.

The cabin air cleared, but not before I contemplated an array of death scenarios. Rosy-fingered dawn crept in from the east as we landed in Atlanta. I was in Daytona by 9 a.m.

For this trip, I made it to my brother’s bedside 24 hours before he passed. We spoke, even though he was in a coma and machines breathed for him. He was surrounded by machines. But we spoke. I put my son Kevin on speaker and he spoke to Pat, his godfather. My daughter Annie did the same. Chris didn’t get a chance because the room began to fill with people again and she felt uncomfortable. She got her chance later.

The following afternoon, the family heard the grim assessment from the ICU physician. Massive infection. Organs failing. Brain damage. 90 percent chance he won’t recover and, if he did, on life support or in a coma.

Pat’s wife Jean and daughters Katie, Maggie and Erin decided. Take Pat off life support and let him go.

We all said our farewells privately. Chris said farewell via cell phone. I bawled out my goodbyes. Family members moved into the vacuum created by the silenced machines. We were all with Pat at 10 that night when he slipped away.

That was Dec. 8. The same day that John Lennon died 30 years before. Someone pointed that out to me, wondering if that had been the inspiration for the header on my Dec. 12 post, “Sunflower fields forever.” Not Strawberry fields, but I heard that song in my head as I contemplated my eulogy. Here’s to you, Pat. Sunflower & strawberry fields. Forever.

On Monday, Dec. 13, we held Pat’s memorial on softball field number three at Fred Lee Park in Palm Bay. More on that next time (with photos).

1 comment:

Tani rabbitmoon said...

Absolutely beautiful! Tani