Saturday, November 30, 2013

Scenes from my brother's wake

I bled at my brother Dan’s wake.

Dressed for an 85-degree Florida Saturday. Flowered baggies and a “Life is Good” T-shirt. Barefoot. Speaking on the phone to my wife Chris in Wyoming, I wandered among the people gathered for the send-off in Dan’s backyard.

"You’re bleeding,” said a young woman not of my acquaintance. She pointed at my left leg.

I looked. On the back of my left calf, a rivulet of blood flowed amongst the islands of freckles spawned during my long-ago beach days.

"I’m bleeding,” I said into the phone.

“How did that happen?” Chris said.

“I don’t know.” And I didn’t.

“Better get a bandage.”

We hung up and I set out to get a bandage. I was distracted along the way. Old friends. Family. I stopped to talk with a first cousin John I hadn’t seen in decades.

“You’re bleeding,” said my sister Molly. She looked concerned.

“I bleed easily these days,” I said. “Blood thinners.”

“Better get a Band-Aid.”

Such helpfulness. I didn’t care about my leg. But others did. It was a day of caring. A day we said good-bye to my brother. I could suddenly see what others saw. A 62-year-old man carting around a cardiac device, circulatory system pumped full of drugs. He sports a nifty goatee but we’re not fooled. Take care of yourself, old guy.

I hunted for a Band-Aid. Rifled the drawers in the bathrooms. Didn’t want to bother Dan’s widow Nancy. She was busy.

I wandered into the garage in search of a beer. This was an Irish-American wake, after all. Found the beer and talked with my brother Tom and some of his friends out front in the smoking section. Today, I think mortality. Why are these people smoking? Heart patients dwell on smoke and mortality.

“You’re bleeding,” Tom said.

I explained the blood thinners, heart disease, etc.

“You have blood on your right leg too.” He pointed. A fist-sized copper smudge marked my right calf.

This was getting ridiculous. I found an open restroom and wiped the blood clean. The wound was less than impressive. Two dots the size of pencil points. Looked like a very short vampire had sunk his fangs into me in the bright sunlight of the Florida afternoon. I unrolled some toilet paper to carry around with me. First aid.

“You’re bleeding.” I looked at my leg. The blood river was back.

“These blood thinners are ridiculous,” said the 62-year-old heart patient.

I was walking around a wake with my leg drooling blood. Bad manners. Bad juju. Blood on the tracks. Blood on the furniture.

Nancy found me some bandaging equipment and a warm towel. I wiped the blood clean again. Put two Band-Aids on the wounds. "There,” I said. I put away the first-aid kit.

Hours later. It was dark. The tiki lamps were lit.

"You’re bleeding,” someone said.

“You must be kidding,” I said.

But it was no joke. The blood was back. I was woozy from blood loss. Or maybe it was the three beers I’d managed to imbibe during the course of the last four hours. Could have been stunned by the fine homemade food – Boston beef, hot wings, pasta salad, cookies. Fortified blood. Healthy blood yet thin.

This is when my nephew Thomas came to the rescue. The first-year med student took me by the arm and told me to sit. Nancy again fetched the first-aid materials. Tom snapped on gloves and proceeded to patch me up. It was a spectacle. I sat at the dining room table as dozens looked on. The operating theatre. Tom removed the Band-Aids and cleaned up the wound.

“That’s it?” He pointed at the tiny wounds.

“Blood thinners,” I said.

Doctor-like, he furrowed his brow. “I see.” He was practicing his bedside manner.

He slapped a dressing on the wound. He wrapped it tight with gauze, enough gauze to patch up all of the wounded in that Atlanta depot scene from “Gone with the Wind.”

“There,” he said, obviously pleased with his work. I wasn’t bleeding openly any more. Everyone seemed relieved.

At Blake’s urging, we all went outside on the dock to sing a rendition of “Goodnight Irene.” This is an ancient ritual with Blake and I. Old friends singing old songs late into the night. Blake was Dan’s good friend for 40-some years. My friend too. We sang for Dan and for ourselves. My sister filmed us. Somewhere on Facebook, that film is entertaining the multitudes.

I bled at my brother’s wake.

That was only the bleeding you could see.

1 comment:

Autumn Doulong said...

Thank you for this Michael. My heart hurts. If it weren't for Danny and Nancy my husband of 25 years and I may not have married. They played match-maker for us. Our first "date" was at their home. Much love to your whole family.