This has been a bad weekend.
I woke up on Friday to the gut-wrenching news about the shooting in the movie theater in Colorado. That set the tone of Friday for me. Even so, I left work on Friday and remember thinking, “Wow, this has been a really great week. I wonder what is going to go wrong because every single time I think the words ‘things are great,’ things go to hell.” I know that’s an emo thought, but I’m superstitious like that. I ended up skipping the gym & going back to my old job to hang out with the girls there because they were putting in a good hour of OT. I left both my new and old jobs in a GREAT mood. I surprised Jay on his break and we went to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. Just as we were going to sit down at 6:15pm, I got a phone call from my mom.
“I just got a phone call from Aunt G. Uncle Fred is back at Sloan Kettering and the nurse says that he only has 12 hours left.”
Last month, I blogged about the emotional journey that my family has been going through. My grandfather and my uncle (grandma’s brother) were fraternity brothers at St. John’s University back in the day. My grandpa met my grandma through my uncle. 50-something years later, they were both diagnosed with cancer and both needed to have surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in NYC. Their surgeries were one week apart and they both stayed on the same floor. During my grandfather’s subsequent hospital stays following his surgery, my family did double duty between rooms. I’m not sure if this was an act of God or a very unfortunate coincidence.
Anyway, my grandpa has not needed to hospitalized for the past 5 weeks. That is a blessing beyond what I can express into words without becoming emotional. Unfortunately, my uncle’s path was different. This is very difficult to think about. Two family members in a similar situation with two different destinies. It’s just very difficult to process still.
One of my sisters was a part of the family crew that rushed to Sloan Kettering. In a series of text messages between 8:23pm & 8:52pm, she texted my other sister (who is on her first vacation in AGES) and I in updates: “Not looking as critical but time will tell…He is not conscious…As M. said, ‘It doesn’t look like he is going to die tonight.’…He’s responding well to the morphine which will make him comfortable which will delay [death].”
My mom called me about 15 minutes after Christie’s last text message. “Uncle Fred…has passed away,” she said in a voice of grief. I don’t have another word to describe how someone who had 3 hours to process that a close family member she grew up with would be and did leave this world could sound.
He was surrounded by family: Grandma, Aunt G (their sister), Uncle B, (Aunt G’s husband), my Uncle Lou, my Auntie Anne, my sister, my cousin & her husband, and his longtime partner. It was peaceful. The oxygen levels merely began to drop and the monitor indicated that it was searching for a pulse. My mother tells me that Uncle Lou tried to find the pulse himself, perhaps in a way to give person-to-person contact in the hope that a machine was making a mistake.
It was very peaceful. I hear that what happened in the moments afterwards weren’t melodramatic, nor were they anything different than how the grieving begins. Crying. Shock at how quickly it all happened, even after having over a month to prepare for the inevitable. The phone calls to everyone else. My mom called me; I called my sister Katelyn; Grandma called Grandpa and my cousin Matt; and so on and so on. Talks of making plans. Reflection of a brilliant life gone. The sad journey back home, knowing that for the first time in months, no one had to return to the hospital the next day.
My sister told me that Aunt G comforted Grandma by reminding her how lucky they were to have had notice and to have all gotten to Sloan Kettering in time to be with him so he did not have to be alone. Not only was Uncle Fred a very accomplished man in life, but he went peacefully surrounded by a family who banded together to remind him how loved he was. That’s life and that’s love. I hear his obit will be in the New York Times; when it is, I will link to it. For now, on Wednesday, his family and friends will celebrate his life and bury him on his birthday. Rest in peace, Uncle Fred.