One Sunday in January, I got a call from my brother-in-law Greg. He had a conference in California that he extended so that he could visit his in-laws. On Sunday afternoon, he had started helping Rod set up his laptop computer and was stuck. Rod wanted it to do “something” but couldn’t express what it was exactly that it was supposed to do. There was frustration on both sides and it seemed like maybe I would have something to offer. From where I sat in Colorado, I could sort of feel what he was trying to do but I couldn’t figure out how to make it happen. After a couple phone calls, text messages, and glasses/bottles of wine, Greg and I gave up.
Greg went home and sent his wife Linda back out. She stayed for about ten days in Palm Springs during which time Rod and Laura decided to come back to Colorado. They all left California the day President Obama flew in for a golf vacation. It also happened to be Valentine’s Day.
Jane and I picked them up from the airport. We hadn’t seen Rod in almost two months and the change was striking. His face was puffy from steroids but the rest of him was thin and gangly. The wheelchair didn’t fit him. It was designed for width and not length. He looked uncomfortable as he slouched in the chair. His big feet didn’t fit well on the rests and he seemed at risk of sliding right off the seat. I couldn’t help but think about the time at our house when he seemed to be listing drunkenly off our couch.
In the car, he was quiet and seemed very tired. His voice was mostly a hoarse whisper. We picked up Chick Fil-a on the long drive from DIA to Estes Park. Once home, he went straight to bed. The neighbors had prepared the house with some food and had turned up the heat.
Jane and I stuck around to make sure they were settled. Rod fell and we had to help him up not so much because he couldn’t get up but because the fall had sort of wedged him between the bed and end table. He walked with a walker quite well.
We thought maybe we should spend the night but weren’t sure it would be necessary. We had packed a little just in case. Since it was Valentine’s Day and all, we thought we should do something so we decided to go up to the Stanley Hotel’s Whiskey Bar for a drink before heading back home. It was undecided if we should spend the night so we said we’d be in town for an hour or so in case Laura felt like we should stay.
We got the call. This changed our plan of attack considerably. We had more time and made many friends at the bar. We also discovered something we now call “bar bacon”. This is the special bacon that they have in a tray for Blood Mary’s. It is candied and just awesome. Everything is for sale at the Whiskey Bar except when it is free. Yum. There was also German chocolate cake which I suppose I should mention even though it had no bacon in it.
We spent the an uneventful night and repeated the “we will be in town for an hour or so” move the next morning. We went to the Egg and I for yummy waffles and more bacon before heading down the mountain. Before we left, Rod wanted to go upstairs and sit in his chair. I walked behind him up the stairs. He wobbled and swayed a couple times but with the firm determination of proud Dutch man, there was never any doubt he would make it. I was less sure about the descent. Once he was in the chair, however, he was exhausted and clearly about ready for a nap.
Sometime in the midst of all this, we learned from Laura that the doctor in California had said to her that Rod had three months on the outside. She was going to tell Rod the news Sunday.
On Wednesday, they talked to hospice. On Thursday morning of that week, Rod was distressed as is common when one commits to their impending death. Jane felt it was time to go up to Estes Park and she wanted me to go with. After a couple fits and starts, we got out the door and arrived early afternoon. We wanted to be there when the hospice nurse was there but we couldn’t move quickly enough. Rod was pretty sure he was going to die that Thursday and when a determined Dutch man puts his mind to something, well, we thought it was a real possibility.
The neighbor had helped move Rod’s chair down from the loft and Rod was sitting in it wearing his red “Chicago” hat which I appreciate. Curt (eldest) and Carrie came up with their son Steven for dinner. We sat at the table and Rod stayed in his chair but participated in the conversation. At one point he called out “John 3:16” which wasn’t really part of the conversation at the moment. Carrie took the bait and had us all recite the verse though it was funny because we all said slightly different translations. It was like saying the Lord’s Prayer in an inter-denomination service and no one can agree on trespasses, debts, sins, ….
We snuck off for a family meeting while Steven had some time with Rod alone. Carrie ran things and pointed out that if you see changes over months, then a person has months to live. Weeks, then weeks. But if days, then only days. The difference between Saturday the Thursday that Jane and I noticed made us concerned that time was short. We talked about visitors but just two days before Rod had a visit from a close friend and then asked for no more visitors–EVER! It was speculated that the time to communicate with Rod was probably very short.
On Friday, Rod slept until 5 PM. Initially, he was restless but a yummy pill at 3 AM was just the ticket and then some. He was exhausted from the day before. Grandkids in Waco, TX and Grand Rapids, MI were interested in having a Skype call with Rod but he never woke up all day. We feared that he wasn’t ever going to really revive and interact again.
Late Saturday afternoon, Rod woke up finally and wanted to talk even! We moved with a purpose and after some mistakes largely caused by massive amounts of adrenaline, we got FaceTime conversations going with the two grandkids. The conversations were as one would expect. It is extremely difficult to be thrown into a situation like that have something profound to say. Real life isn’t like the movies. In real life, we talk about the weather, school, work, and sports rather than those nasty feelings. Instead, two men sitting for an afternoon watching football communicate about their marriage troubles without ever mentioning their wives. In real life, we communicate between the lines.
He spent a couple hours awake and responsive but withdrawn. This I know to be actually common among the terminal. They are shutting down their lives which means distancing themselves from their loved ones because it is sad and painful to be in contact with them. They shut the door and walk away. Reopening the door means that they will have to mourn the loss again. As the person makes the transition, the whole family has to be respectful of where in the mourning process each person involved is. He was deep in the process whereas the rest of us were just getting acclimated.
My notes that afternoon:
Wow, everything happened at once. Boring day and then he woke up! Asleep again now but for about an hour, he was awake, responsive and engaged. Not just engaged; he was everything we know and love. He isn’t getting out of bed. Sleeping all the time and getting weaker. We had to help him sit up. This is a big change from just two days ago. I am playing music off Google Play that I would never buy. Oak Ridge Boys, Gaither, … It is going totally going to screw up my recommendations. We are doing OK as well. The storm is big and nasty. …
The weather was indeed intense. We hunkered down and I tried to keep the snow from piling up on the driveway. It was a nice lazy day. We ate meals in the bedroom to be closer to Rod. There was hints about getting out of bed but the closest he got was sitting at the side of the bed.