the phone call and aftermath

On the evening of August 9, 2013 I didn’t sleep at all. Sunny had completely collapsed onto the bed, exhausted and Chloe fussed about between him and I, not knowing who needed more comfort.

I lay awake in bed and read until 11:30 pm. Then I lay awake in the dark.

At 12:09 am, the radio on Larry’s side of the bed came on, loudly.

At 12:14 am, the phone on my side of the bed rang. I answered the phone call that permanently changed my life forever.

“Hi, it’s the nurse. I just checked on Larry and he is gone. I’ve called the doctor and figured you want to spend time with him.”

I hung up the phone and got out of bed, called the taxi company and got dressed. I let the dogs out for a bio break and grabbed a duffel bag. From my cell phone I called Larry’s ex wife and my parents.

I sat in the cab, numb, and wept quietly, wondering about my future. Thankfully the driver seemed to understand why I was in a rush to get to the hospital at that time of night and kept the chatter to a minimum. I suppose my eyes were red and puffy by that time and it was obvious that I was upset and not willing to speak.

Larry’s room was empty, the light over his bed was on. I went in and his body looked so peaceful and quiet. Not in any pain.

Sadly my pain was continuing.

I sat quietly for a while until the nurse came in to check on me and confirm that the doctor was coming to pronounce him dead. I began to gather his personal effects:
– slippers
– glasses
– pentacle
– the final Sookie Stackhouse book, which I read to him while he convalesced so he knew how the saga ended (because of this, I can’t watch True Blood any more – the ending was a disappointment and I have too many unhappy memories now)
– the flowers that Bekah and her boys gave Larry
– the gift that Larry gave his daughter on his deathbed, but she left (still super pissed about this – I finally gave up on trying to give it to her in April and donated it to someone who would use it)

As I finished up, I took the final picture of our hands together one last time. And then the doctor came, I introduced myself, thanked the doctor for doing this task and called Leslie and Jeff to pick me up. I needed folks who could help my spirit and they have and remain there as I work things out.

I came home to an empty house with an empty heart and sat on the couch with Sunny and Chloe for a few hours, finally posting the announcement. I went to bed out of exhaustion, unable to cry any more.

That morning, I got up at my normal time. Did my morning ritual and went out to the farmer’s market to have my morning coffee at “Cafe Gay.” Ironically, I had a funeral to sing at that morning.

Chris Godwaldt, having read the news hugged me and asked me “What are you doing here today?”

My reply was I had no where else to be. This was the truth, I no longer had to be at the hospital daily and quite honestly, home felt really empty at this point.

I sat quietly, having coffee with friends, until it was time for the funeral. I sang dutifully at the funeral, no one in the choir having suspected what I was going through, and found a great amount of satisfaction in allowing myself to grieve while helping others grieve.

I had arranged to meet my parents at Cannon Coffee Co after church, where I sat in the window seat and just was there, quiet and peaceful. My parents joined me for lunch and remembrance while various folks who saw me sitting there popped their heads in to offer their condolences.

I went home and walked the dogs and fell into a fitful and restful sleep for the first time in about a month, despite the uncertainty of my future.

who am i to deny a dying man his last wish?

Since being checked into the hospital, Larry was on a rapid decline as far as his condition. His kidneys and pancreas had completely shut down prior to entering his hospital and his lungs were under attack as cancer cells replaced healthy tissue. The main thing that lead to his final decline was his liver had completely shut down.

What happens when one goes into liver failure is the blood is no longer filtered and the body floods with all the toxins that would normally be cleaned. One of the earliest signs of liver failure is confusion and lack of ability to communicate. By this time, the best treatment for liver failure (the laxative lactulose) was no longer working and it was determined to keep him comfortable and take no drastic measures to prolong his suffering.

At this point, all that was left of Larry was instinct and the pain as cancer ravaged his internal organs. As his liver was no longer processing his blood, intravenous pain medication no longer would work, so he was on a regime of three medications administered under his skin in 20 minute intervals: a sedative to relax him, morphine to ease his pain, and a muscle relaxant to prevent him from fighting the catheter and the restraints and prevent further injury. These injections occurred around the clock to prevent his suffering and I thank the doctor and staff of Juravinski Surgical Ward in ensuring that he was well taken care of.

The last coherent conversation with Larry confirmed that he was ready to let go and we asked him to, however he kept saying he was afraid and wanted to say goodbye one last time. When asked who he wanted to say goodbye, he could never explain fully. However I suspected who it was.

As I left the hospital to take care of the dogs, I ran into the palliative care doctor and he said the first words he said to me since he told me “seven to ten days.” This isn’t a complaint as the doctor did most of his work through gesture and facial expression – which I found incredibly helpful. There is little that can be said to a dying man and the family who is processing their pain and grief as they watch their loved one fade away. What he asked me was “Is there any more I can do at this time?”

Yes, there was.

During the entire time Larry was in the hospital, I was working with the nurses and social worker in getting permission to bring the dogs in for one last time and I was constantly running into roadblocks, despite bringing in immunization and medical records. Finally I asked the doctor whether it were possible to bring in at least one of the dogs to have one last visit with Larry.

He was with the charge nurse and his flock of interns at this time and his response was quick: “Who am I to deny a dying man his last wish.” He turned to the nurse and confirmed that all staff were to be in a meeting with him at 7pm that evening and turned to me and said, what happens between 7:00 and 7:30 that evening was up to me. Point taken.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and rushed home to confirm my ride up to the hospital to be there just at 7pm. Thankfully, incredible neighbours Jeff and Michele were on the case and I was able to arrange for a drop off and pick up 30 minutes later. I had purchased a simple carry duffel for Sunny and prepared him to go in it, I put his towel in the bottom of it and he seemed to understand what it was for. I did my chores around the house

At 6:45 Jeff and Michele honked their horns and I convinced Sunny to get in the carry bag, while keeping the zipper opened so he could see. Sunny knew that something big was up and he actually settled down and relaxed. When we got to the hospital, I tucked Sunny’s head in the case and proceded to lug this bag with 16 lbs of Sunny over my shoulder, trying to be as low key as possible as we walked to the elevator. We got on the elevator and made our way to Larry’s room, I pulled the curtains tight as I announced myself to Larry.

I said to Larry quietly that I had someone special to see him and he opened his eyes. I put the case on the bed and opened the zipper. Sunny cautiously stuck his head out and Larry’s eyes widened when he saw him. Larry moved his right arm away from his body and Sunny cautiously got out of the bag and sniffed around, carefully creeping up the side of the bed and lying down to rest with his head on Larry’s shoulder and chest.

“Hi Sunny,” Larry moved his left hand across his body and laid it to rest on Sunny’s back. No mean feat as Larry had been non responsive beyond reflexes for over a day at this point. We sat quietly as Larry and Sunny had what was likely to be one final snuggle. I sat in silence watching them together until twenty minutes passed and Sunny began to visibly shake and whimper.

I told Larry that we really needed to go as Sunny was getting nervous and we had to be out of there by 7:30. Larry moved his left hand off Sunny and said “Goodbye Myke. Goodbye Sunny. I love you, thank you” and went back to sleep. I put Sunny back in the bag, zipped it up and kissed my husband goodbye one final time.

Jeff and Michele were at the entrance when we came down and drove us home. I walked Sunny and Chloe as I was too uneasy and didn’t want to be in the house. Finally at 10pm I collapsed in a heap on my bed and went into a troubled rest.

it takes a village…

Over the coming days, I settled into an uneasy pattern of visiting Larry at the hospital.

During this time, I was incredibly amazed at the incredible support we received as we prepared for his final journey.

Leslie Cabot Armstrong and Jeff Cabot Sutton – Wiccan priestess and priest who exemplify “harm ye none” and what it means to live up to the Wiccan Rede. They helped handle Larry’s spiritual needs and were there to support my more esoteric needs as well. As friends, as clergy, as human beings. I consider Leslie and Jeff among my best friends.

Rev. Doug Moore – Laidlaw Memorial United Church – a truly human “Man of the Cloth” who also helped handle Larry’s spiritual needs and support my spiritual needs as well. Doug has been an incredible mentor and guide as I muddle through life and navigate a new calling.

Santa Bob Boyter – Bob was perhaps Larry’s best friend in latter years. Always willing to help out, even if it was just to listen. Since Larry’s passing, he has taken the reigns of Santa Canada and put it in the hands of someone with the knowledge and patience to ensure it thrives. I owe Bob a lot.

Bekah Kristensen – another good friend who was always willing to take Larry for rides in the country or go for a Costco run. With her two boys, Bekah also gave Larry the chance to be a grandfather when his own daughter wouldn’t. She and her family often gave Larry a reason to keep going when little else could.

Ellen Irvine – Larry’s seamstress and good friend. There to keep him company and listen/support him.

Cheryl Lantz – yup, Larry’s ex wife. We tag teamed the hospital time to ensure that Larry was surrounded by those who loved him in his final moments. She didn’t have to, but she really came through – especially when it came to getting his daughter up to visit .

Doug Jones – my best friend since grade 4. I can always count on Doug, especially when the excrement makes contact with the ventilation. We’ve shared pretty much every emotion in the book and last summer definitely ensured that .

My parents – wow! What can I say but thanks? Throughout the entire journey Mom and Dad were there for Larry and I.

My brother, sister-in-law and nieces. Stephen, Dana and girls were awesome, I know I can rely on them for support. I’m proud of Lauren for realizing that she wasn’t ready to handle being so close to illness and death. Hannah, I’m especially proud of as she visited Larry and was strong enough to know when she had enough. The conversation we had in the Starbucks was incredible and helped me greatly.

I’m honoured to have these people in my life and look forward in our further journeys together .