The decision has been made. Marlene is to be removed from life support. We start the process of releasing her. The case manager leaves to start the wheels turning. And the “funeral” begins.
Stories are told that make us cry…and while the tears roll down our cheeks a tale is told that makes us laugh. The chaplain steps in. He catches us in the midst of laughter. His eyes show his uncertainty. “Do these people understand the seriousness of the situation?” Tony explains this is the way we are handling this. Marlene would want us to laugh. The chaplain doesn’t stay long and offers no prayers.
As we leave the conference room next to Marlene’s room, we say “goodbye” one last time. I take my turn. I glance at my nephew, Ron, and brother, Bob, standing there and say “I don’t want to go in alone”. Immediately they are at my side. I take Marlene’s hand and give it a squeeze. Kiss her on the forehead and say, “Goodbye Sis”. Ron and Bob both have their arms around me as I leave the room. I will not go in again.
We are given a corner area in the waiting room. Friends, Margaret and Jerry, bring muffins for us. As the procession travels down the hall, Tony and Marlene’s daughter, Viki, snatches a carnation from a glass at the nurse’s station without even breaking stride. “I saw that”. More laughter. Margaret becomes the hostess…offering juice…hot chocolate. Hot chocolate sounds wonderful to me. She prepares and serves it to me. Such a comforting gesture and some of the best chocolate I’ve ever had…given in love and surrounded by family. Oh, how I miss my husband, John. Bob and Cleone hold hands. Margaret and Jerry sit close to each other. Ron and Bonnie are close to each other. But I feel John with me and I know I can return to him. Tony can never feel Marlene’s arms around him again. More pain.
Tony asks me to read some of my writings about this event. And so I share my memories of Marlene. As I begin the third page, the volunteer asks for Tony. He’s wanted at the nurse’s station. Tony motions for me to continue reading. I say the words on the page, but my mind is walking down the hall with my brother. Is she gone already?
He soon returns. The respirator is removed. She’s breathing on her own. We can say “goodbye” to her without all the equipment. Some of us vote “no”. Others make one last trip to her room. She is sleeping…and even snoring. She would be mortified. I talk with Tony about when I should go home. He says, “I hope you understand. I need to be alone”. I call John and tell him to make reservations for me to come home tomorrow.
Viki no longer has her flower. She has placed it in Marlene’s hand. I visualize it. It’s the perfect touch. Later, even the nurses comment on it.
Tony suggests we move to the chapel. I have never been to a better “funeral”. No format…no formal prayers. Just some scripture quoted…more memories…more tears…and then laughter. Tony shares about the power he receives from Pikes Peak…the strength that washed over him when he made his decision to release her…the peace he received when he told her it was OK to go. He has carried a red handkerchief all day, one Marlene made. Now he has that in one hand, a Kleenex in the other. He says, “Oh, no. I got mixed up. This one was for my nose and this one was for my eyes. I used the wrong one.” More laughter.
Tony quietly says, “OK, Jesus. Here comes Marlene”. We all cry with that one. Bob gets up, writes a note on the pad at the front of the chapel and drops it in the prayer request box. Ron goes to the stand where the Bible is open to the 23rd Psalm, where Tony turned it several days ago. He reads a little scripture. Bob says, “I’m glad I told her I loved her the last time I saw her. Tell your loved ones that every chance you get”. Margaret says “They say you can’t choose your family. But I chose Marlene. She was my sister”. It was a “funeral” Marlene would approve of.
We return to the waiting room. Now Margaret and Jerry need to leave for the airport and we all hug goodbye. Their love and comfort lingers with us. We gather our belongings from the waiting room and emerge from the hospital into the blowing snow. It has been snowing all day. We divide into two cars and travel to a restaurant, The Black-Eyed Pea, where the stories, tears, and laughter continue.
We enjoy a delicious meal, but now the roads are a concern. It’s 4:00 pm and snowing hard. Bob, Cleone, Ron and Bonnie decide to head home from the restaurant. More hugs and tears, kisses and laughter. We take Viki back to the hospital to get her little truck. Then my nephew, Mark, Tony and I will travel to the airport, deposit Mark at a nearby motel for his 6:00 am flight, and then home to Colorado Springs. I wait in the car while they check at the nurse’s station. Viki returns to the car with them. Tony has decided the weather is too bad for Viki to drive home tonight. She can pick up her truck tomorrow. She comes with us.
We creep along at 6 mph. Tony listens to the radio. There is a 21-car pile up on 25 North, the road Bob and Cleone are on. An hour passes and we’re not out of Denver yet. Two hours and we’re still in the car. I use my cell phone to call and see if Bob and Cleone are home and get no answer. We get to the motel at 7:15. Still no answer at Bob’s. After a short break in Mark’s room we decide to try for home.
As we travel south, the temperature drops to 17 and the windshield wiper fluid is empty. Tony struggles to see while we look for a place to buy more window cleaner. We continue on south after our purchase and the snow comes down harder. Five hours after leaving the hospital we arrive home, knowing we have to get up in the morning and return; taking me to the airport and Viki to get her truck.
We call Bob and Cleone one more time and with relief hear their voices. It took them three and one-half hours to travel from Denver to Fort Collins.
Tony calls the hospital to check on Marlene’s condition. Mike, the nurse on duty, says, “She’s resting comfortably”. When Tony asks what has been removed, Mike says she’s still on oxygen and antibiotics and still has her IV’s. Oxygen? Why? This is not what was discussed earlier today. When Tony questions why she is on oxygen, Mike explains that oxygen is not considered “life support”. They removed the respirator, which is “life support”. As Tony questions more, Mike says, “I can go in there and take everything off. Is that what you want?” So cruel. And now what? Why haven’t they done what was asked?
There are messages on his answering machine regarding hospice care. Since we are upset about the phone call to the hospital and can’t sleep anyway, we discuss the hospice choices…and how soon to move her. It is midnight before we head for bed.
I awaken before 6:00, but wait for the house to warm before arising. I want to see the sun come up on the mountain. I dress and look outside. Not a cloud. Tony says, “Let’s go outside to watch”. It’s 9 degrees. We put on coats and stand in the driveway while the majesty takes over. The bay window in their bedroom also has a view of the mountain. Even after we go in the house, I keep sneaking peeks through the window.
We pick up Viki at 8:30 and head out once more. The first stop is the airport to deposit me. While we wait for my flight, I hug Tony tight; then Viki. They have some hard days ahead. The house is full of Marlene. And it will be up to them to sort through it all. My flight is called. I hate to leave. But life must go on. I have a husband and a life waiting for me. A kiss, hug and goodbye and I turn toward the gate. One last wave before I disappear down the walkway. I’m going home.
Hours later, the plane touches down and I am home. But I am not the same person who left Sunday morning. I’ve been to another dimension…a place I didn’t want to go…and I am changed.