As I responded to my old friend Frankie, “I would not like to be defined by my worst behavior but rather, remembered for my best.”
My husband kept repeating, “It’s a shame, the worst case I’ve ever known. They just don’t know any better.” He was the catalyst for kind reflection. No, they don’t know any better but that doesn’t mean they love any less. My husband is a far more forgiving person than I am. He is quick to anger and quick to forgive. I am quite the opposite.
I don’t want to hear I’m sorry. I can’t accept I’m sorry. I’m going to try to think of something new to say in the face of death. I hope I can do better than that. I just want to scream, “No shit, we’re all goddamnedmotherfucking sorry!” My heart hurts and I RAGE.
Joe died. He insisted that we two were tighter than the rest of the kids in our family, he was the baby and I was the first. There is no doubt that I loved him. My other siblings have noted individually, on various occasions, that Joe took a disproportionate amount of my time. We shared the same irreverent, happy, temperament and the same nose profile. I loved Joe’s profile but I didn’t realize it was so similar to mine until he got hurt.
He broke his neck in a car accident, after a lunchtime errand to buy pharmaceuticals, on a Monday afternoon when he was jonesing bad. He did not deserve what he got but he did ask for it, he got right down on his knees and he begged for it and he took all of us with him on that trip. I loved him but I did not put up with any shit.
He got me, he knew just exactly who I was and I didn’t have to tell him. He knew I didn’t much care for his wife. He told me the things that came between them because he trusted me to be on his side and to keep my mouth shut. I wrote something nice about her in his obituary because I respect the fact that my brother chose to spend nearly 30 years of his life with her. Joel fell hard for the first, and only, love of his life, the former Cindy Smith. His heart belonged exclusively to her.
I guess I am grateful for the events that allowed me to help him on his way. I wasn’t speaking to her. I was so angry that I told her, two years ago, specifically, in no uncertain terms, not to call me ever again under any circumstances. Yeah, those are the circumstances I meant. That didn’t stop her. She called me, last Thursday night, to say Joe was going to the hospital because he couldn’t breathe. I asked her if he was going to die, should I call my siblings? She didn’t think it was that bad, just not good. I told her I would be available if anyone needed me. At 3A I got a phone call from his daughter, distraught, crying, “can’t do it myself, not fair, Mom can’t come because she has the kids, will you come?” I went.
(Despite the fact that I did not talk with his wife, I talked with my brother often and at length. I never mentioned the unpleasantness between his wife and me because it wasn’t something he needed to worry about.)
He’d been sick for a week or two. He made his wife promise not to send him to the hospital. He didn’t want to go to a nursing home and, I think, he was afraid to die in the hospital. She didn’t send him until he began to experience respiratory failure. I found him in ICU, vented and plugged in. If you’ve never seen someone dying on life support, just take my word for it- it’s sad. I got an assessment of his condition while I stood next to his head with his sweet Joey nose and I touched his shoulder.
(He was paralyzed from just below his shoulder down. He could feel me touch his shoulder.)
I picked up on our conversation about death and dying, where we left off the last time. I told him I was wrong and the neurologists were also wrong in their belief that the near death experience is simply the result of misfiring synapses. I told him that all over the world people of all faiths and levels of sophistication report the very same experiences. I told him not to be afraid that Mum, Gram and Gramps, and Brian and lots of people before them had died. I told him that something happens when you die. I talked a little bit to the medical people who were there, then I looked him over some more.
He was skin and bones. All of your muscles atrophy if you become paralyzed, if you are sick too, you get skinny fast. The medical people left us. I looked at the monitors. I touched him and I said, “It’s just you and me Pal, if you want to go, now’s the time to do it.” He went. I hope he went because I made him feel safe enough to go. I hope he trusted that I would not steer him wrong. At the very least, I hope he knew I was there because I loved him with all my heart.
He did not have a Do Not Resuscitate order. The Code team came and they started to work on my frail, tired, little brother to bring him back. His poor body was just bouncing off the bed from their efforts. I asked the doc if she’d accept a verbal DNR. I called his wife and told her she had to do the right thing which would be the hard thing and I handed my phone to the doc. I stood at the foot of his bed and I said in a calm, firm voice, “Go Joe, you don’t have to stay, you can go.” His wife gave a verbal DNR and the Code team stopped. They unplugged all the machines and I went and stood by his head. I kissed his perfect little nose, that is broken in the same spot mine is, and I told him I loved him and I said, as it sunk in, “But you’re not here anymore.”