Post-chair carrying Day 25
Primed the little Fear Chair today. Will paint tomorrow.
Reflecting a bit on the whole FCP. Partly because I've decided to get this "little Fear Chair," and partly because I just went through a few days of Feeling quite a bit of Fear in response to knowing a friend is in a rather unstable place then not hearing from her for days (heard from her today, she's fine). My sister is very good at reminding me that 99% of what one worries about never happens. I know this. I get it. So, why then did I sometimes feel overwelming Fear before hearing again from my friend?
I Love my friend. I Love her very much. I believe Fear is the opposite of Love. But they are flipsides to the same coin. Opposites are not unrelated. If I didn't Love so much, I wouldn't Fear so much at the thought of something happening to harm my friend. I wouldn't hurt so much when she is hurting. I wouldn't be moved to care or to reach out. But the price of Love does not purchase the subject of our Love. Those we Love do not belong to us. And someday, someday, ... someway, that person we Love will be lost by us. This is frightening. When I am able to (or caused to) look at this, it stirs deep Fear. Of course.
We spend the vast majority of our lives going on as if death doesn't happen. As if loss isn't in our future. Inevitable. We get pets. We fall in Love. We have children. We bond with friends. We fight and make up. We work at our relationships, growing deeper and deeper in our connections. And all will someday end. Somehow. Yet we connect. This is a scary thing to think about.
I remember a friend, I think I mentioned him a time or two. He was my mentor and he passed away two weeks after turning 80 in 2005. I was his medical representative, which meant we were very close and that we had talked about what my being his representative might mean. And we had talked about his arrangements for after he would die. Yet, of course, when the time came, I still felt as if nothing could have prepared me. I just went over to his house the day after Labor Day and he looked like hell, still in his pjs at noon. I could see he was not well and took him to the emergency room. It turned out he'd suffered a heart attack over the weekend sometime. He spent the next week in the hospital. Received a splint on Wednesday and was slated to leave the Hospital on Friday. We'd made arrangements for him to stay with my family in the front room until he was fully recovered. Friday, early, we were on our way to pick up a "hospital" bed when the hospital called that he'd gone into cardiac arrest, twice. They revived him and he was in ICU. We went immediately to the hospital.
I stayed in the hospital as close to him as they would allow, sleeping on the (purposefully?) uncomfortable ICU waiting room platforms every night in case he needed someone or incase a decision needed to be made. Late Friday he arrested again, and they estimated a rib broke in reviving him again. At this point I had to listen to what he'd told me a long time ago, that he didn't want extreme measures to go into keeping him "alive," if it meant he would be tied to machines. When he was stable, Saturday morning I talked with him about what to do if he arrested again. At this point his kidneys were shutting down. (His heart doctor took my husband and I late Friday evening, into the bowels of the hospital to where we had to don gowns and booties to show us what my friend's heart was doing. We saw video of his heart arteries literally constantly blocking and constantly creating new pathways to get blood where it needed to go. His doctor was astounded, we were astounded. And we all knew it would not last and was not enough to keep the rest of him going.)
My friend's name was/is Ralph. He agreed there should be no more "code blue" for him. So we settled into just being with him. He had many friends and over the next 2 1/2 (yup) days, dozens of people were buzzed into ICU to see him. Ralph was the kind of person who never met a stranger, everyone became a friend. He told jokes. He reminisced. He rested with friends near and dear. He was so completely himself even as his body continued shutting down. I slept when I could and ate when someone would give me food. But my focus, my complete focus was in making certain Ralph didn't die alone. He had told me once that that was his greatest Fear.
Ralph was a WWII veteran who served in the South Pacific. As a matter of fact, he was in the Marines through three wars. He married 5 times and the final was the love of his life. She was from Japan. Her family adopted Ralph and he them. She died in 2001 when Ralph was in surgery having 3 stints put in for his heart. She had an anurism burst and died before he woke from surgery. It devastated him. His friends rallied to insure he get through the first critical months without his lovely Harumi. But he missed her like crazy. Two months later Ralph's best friend and fishing buddy's boat capsized just outside Tillamook Bay. He hit his head and drown.
On Ralph's last day, he was freed from all the machines but the heart monitor and an IV. He'd called for me at 3 a.m. to sit with him as he was feeling agitated. I sat with him. I massaged his forehead. I read to him. We talked a bit. We sat quietly. At one point it seemed he was nodding off so I lay my head on the bed, still holding his hand. I felt him stir after maybe ten minutes. I looked up. He was watching me. Smiling but with a sad sleepiness of a little boy who just wants to go home but has to wait.
Later that morning, he was moved to his own room out of ICU so people could come and go (there WERE that many) to see him. He continued to hold audience but it was clear he was growing confused and tired. We let him rest frequently. Always making sure someone was with him, until around 3:30 he asked if he could be alone. I assured him someone would be right outside his door if he needed anything. And for the first time since Friday, I left him alone. I did post a friend just outside his door to let me know if anything changed. Around 4, everything changed. She called me and we went in to the sound of a flatlining heart monitor. The nurse ran in at the same moment from the desk. He was still breathing but his heart was stopped. All of us there circled Ralph's bed. I took my place just to his right and held his hand as I had all weekend. We wrapped him in our love and our presence and we prayed and I whispered in his ear that it was time for him to let go. It was time for him to rest. That I, we would love him forever and now it was time he go where Harumi is.
In the wake of his death, family and friends who lived far away were called. Arrangements were made. Another of his good friends stayed the night in Ralph's room with his body. I had fulfilled my promise to him that he would not die alone. So I went home. In a stupor that lasted at least another week, I went home and prepared to publicly say goodbye to my friend.
But a funny thing happened. Family flew in. The wake was small and private. Ralph had not wanted a viewing but some of the family insisted and one very good friend had been away the weekend he'd died. I was there through everything. But I was as if only an observer, though I was very involved in arrangements and activities that needed doing. And when it came time for the service, culminating all we had been through, I only read a letter from Ralph's heart doctor who was back East but was so moved by the man he wanted to say something to family and friends. I prefaced it by acknowledging how much I'd learned from Ralph, most recently and perhaps most importantly was how to "die Living rather than to live dying." but also something I'd learned in the last week after his death, that "We do not own those we Love." We hold them close, we LIVE with them, we watch them grow, we Love them madly, and we even may watch them die, but we do not own them. We only own our Love for them.
I needed to tell this story again. It opens my hands. It opens my arms. It allows me to let go the Fear in Loving someone deeply.