Friday, January 30, 2015

"What do you mean your brother died? Why is that?"

The minute I heard that my brother had died unexpectedly, my first thought was that I knew I had to go from our home in California to Texas for the funeral.  Second thought, do I take Gary or not?  The third thought was “Call Heather”.  I instantly knew that if Heather could come for a few days and stay with Gary that my trip would be smoother, more healing, less stressful and much easier on him. 
I called Heather and explained what had happened.  Her daughter is getting married in a few weeks and I hoped the timing was exceptional so that she would miss nothing related to the events but that she could assist.  Without hesitation, she said that she would come. 

I had been at the office when I got the news and after a few necessary phone calls, I called Gary.  Pre-dementia, he would have been my first call.  He would have soothed my soul, started making travel arrangements for us both, arranged for the dog to be boarded and done whatever necessary to get us ready for a trip surrounding so much tragedy.  NOT this time.  I knew, for the most part, I was on my own.
My call to Gary was very simple, unemotional (that accomplishes nothing but frustration for him) and fact based.  “Gary, I just received some bad news.  My brother, Mike died this afternoon.  We don’t know why but his wife found him lying beside his exercise bike dead.  I will have to go to Texas.  At this point, I’m not sure when, but Heather will come stay with you and I will go by myself.”  His response was a heart-felt “Oh, my!” followed by some basic questions.  Gone is the heart and brain that before the dementia would have wanted to comfort and protect me.  Somehow, faintly, I knew how my sister in law was going to feel in the coming days, weeks and years.  The husband is just not there anymore.

I swallowed my selfishness and was thankful that Gary was alive and remembers me.  Upon getting home that evening, I asked if he remembered our call that afternoon and what I had shared.  He did not.  “What do you mean your brother died?  Why is that?”  Throughout the evening, I tempered my emotion and repeatedly reminded him of my grief and angst over the coming trip.  I lost count of how many times he asked why I was so upset.  I bordered on helplessness and infuriation.  I did not really cry until I spoke with my niece, and ultimately, my brother’s widow.  I held together until I hung up the phone.  Then, despite Gary,  I sobbed.  That was really the only time during the whole experience that real tears flowed.  The rest of the trip, I was pretty numb.

In a couple of days, Heather came and I left for Texas.  It was hard preparing, running errands, packing and shopping with Gary constantly needing reminders of the “why”.  I got through it.

During the days following, I visited with family, extended family, friends and yes, the funeral home to see my brother.  Heart-wrenching.  I shared a room with my Dad and we were apart very little.  He is really an angel sent to earth.  He loved me, listened and provided his quiet, ever-present unconditional love.  I knew there was no comfort that I could provide for him.  Death hurts those left behind.  Period.

Each day started with over-the-night voicemails from Gary leaving messages asking about where I was, when I was coming home and various other things that really let me know that he had not retained the information of the death.  Many calls during the day were received. Every night consisted of calls telling him the same information.  Finally, I grew numb over him.  I lost my temper a few times. I even lost my temper with Heather when she reached out for me to call Gary as he was misbehaving.  It was right in the middle of our family dinner after leaving the funeral.  I was thankful that I don’t type well in text.  I was angry and curt.  I will need to apologize to her.  After all, she is human, too!

During my absence, Heather was a champ. Despite having fallen in the bathroom, hitting her head and having a severe headache for three days, she took great care of Gary.  Her patience is wonderful.  She views the task as taking care of two three year olds….only one of them is 66.  Gary is the same age as my brother who just had the experience of his heart stopping.  No heart attack….just stopped due to heart disease.

So, I am writing this as I fly home to my husband.  Someone asked me (dear Sharon) who takes care of me.  I responded that I take care of me.  In retrospect, that is a wrong statement.  I have so many around me that love me and assist with my well-being.  Thank you all. 

Gary will surely wonder where I’ve been.  It is yet unknown how I will respond.  Will I just hug him and say nothing?  Will I start with the customary “I Love YOU!” or what? 

Here is my task list next week: 

  • Have a trust attorney review our wills, advanced directives and form our trust. (Ironically, I asked for a referral a few days before my brother died.
  • Make cremation arrangements and pay for them for both Gary and myself.
  • Make an appointment for a much-needed check up.
  • Start the diet that I interrupted when I left for Texas.
  • Make an appointment with Gary’s new doctor for an exam.
  • Calendar a reminder to call my sister in law

Dementia is no fun, but it is better than what I just experienced in Texas.  Even though Gary is not fully the man I married, I still love him with all my heart and will be there until the end.

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