B.J.: I got as far as Guam and all flights are canceled, nothing going in or out. I'm sitting there in this crummy officers club, and this guy comes up to me, and says, "You Hunnicutt the doctor?" Now, I didn't like the sound of that, so I said, "No, not me, pal, I'm Hunnicutt the chaplain." He says, "Well, chaplain, you'd better start praying for a miracle, because you're going back to Korea to do surgery."
—M*A*S*H, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” (2/28/83)
It’s been a tumultuous year since last June, when my mother died.
Mom died just a few weeks after her brother, under incredibly similar circumstances despite the fact that my uncle had been in very poor health for many years and she was in pretty good shape. The thing that really complicated matters was that my grandmother was still alive.
Ponder that for a moment: she outlived both of her children, and lost them within weeks of one another.
So my mother was a pretty shrewd planner, and (perhaps presciently) set up a trust fund for us to maintain the house for my grandmother just in case she predeceased her mother.
That happened six months before she died.
I promise, there won’t be a lot of single-sentence paragraphs after this one.
So my mom died on June 8, 2013, and I took over the money aspects of maintaining the house. One of my brothers, who lives nearby, took care of some of the maintenance items. His wife helped with keeping the house clean and keeping the medication straight. My nephew stayed in the house with my grandmother and generally helped out with the day-to-day stuff. We hired in an aide service and in-home medical attention. It was definitely a group effort.
I came down to visit in October, and made sure things were going okay, cleaned out a few closets, and so forth, and headed back home. At that point my grandmother was in good health, in a pretty reasonable state of mind, and in a fairly good mood. I’d been told that she did have moments of depression, but who would hold that against her? Everyone said she was in pretty good shape, considering she was going to be 91 in a few weeks.
I suppose that’s what made it a bit of a surprise when I went down a few weeks ago. My brother tried to convey it but while I knew it intellectually, seeing it was another matter. There had been some bouts of confusion and clearly she couldn’t be left alone anymore. They brought her into their house and essentially converted their living room into her…well, most of her universe. There was a hospital bed just a few feet beyond the front door; next to that was an oxygen generator that she used when she went to sleep. A powered recliner chair sat a few feet from that. In between those was a portable commode chair. And every day there was the project of moving her from the bed to the commode, then to the recliner chair. And at the end of the day the process reversed. There was the talking about, or to, people who weren’t there. There were the worries that the only reason I’d come down was to move her into a nursing home. When we took her out somewhere one afternoon for a couple of hours, she enjoyed the time outside, but it also took a LOT out of her and she was weaker than ever for at least a whole day. The person I’d known all my life was gone.
When it was time for me to leave Florida because of work and social commitments, she didn’t want me to leave. I promised that I was coming back in about two weeks. “Two weeks” would have meant roughly the end of this week.
Last night, my brother called during dinner. He said that the nurses were on-hand, that she hadn’t gotten out of bed at all that day, that they were saying that the end could come at pretty much any time, now. Could be minutes, could be a couple of days. I started making plans to fly down the next day. While I was making the reservation with the airline, he called back and said it was over.
That’s it; all the generations ahead of mine are gone now.
This morning I had to go to work for a couple of hours; the first thing I had to do was tell my principal what had happened, and that she wasn’t going to see me for another week. My next project involved setting up a meeting of my Special Ed team because a parent asked for a meeting. That didn’t quite go as planned, because a change to the software we use for the meetings wasn’t getting along with my browsers. I finally managed to get it done and I got out of there.
When I got home, I only had to pack for a couple of days’ worth of stuff because Wife would be following me down a day or two later. So I threw some clothes into a bag, along with some paperwork I figured I’d need while I was there. I got into this weird head space where I’d think I was done, then I’d think of something else I needed and go running for that.
My brother called and said the funeral home we were sure my grandmother had pre-arranged with had no record of a transaction with her. This seemed peculiar to everyone, as we remembered her doing it during my stepfather’s funeral a couple of years ago. Plus, a couple of us had a memory of seeing some materials from them a few months earlier. Mysterious! However, I also knew that this particular funeral home was the second place she’d pre-arranged her services; back in 1984 she’d pre-paid for services at another funeral home. I had that paperwork around the house somewhere because I remembered taking it home with me. Searching in the places I was sure I’d had it proved fruitless, however. I was a little worried that I’d be down there without it, but what are the odds that TWO places can’t find paperwork?
My mother in law was designated to take me to the airport. She was anxious to go, perhaps to beat the weather, so we wound up leaving early, and I got to the airport at 4:30 for a 7:15 flight. (I know, you’re supposed to get in early nowadays; in the pre-9/11 days I’d get to the airport about thirty minutes before departure, usually because I only had a carry-on anyway. Sitting there waiting to board is such a drag.) I got in the Express Bag Drop-Off line, which had about eight stations and sixteen kiosks, staffed by two people. And one of those people wasn’t even running both of the kiosks at her station. So the line took forever.
Per Southwest procedure, when I got to the front of the line, I dutifully scanned by boarding pass. The screen flickered and told me: THIS FLIGHT HAS BEEN CANCELLED. There’s a lot of bad weather going on out there, and my flight was one of many that was affected by it. The attendant looked at the rosters she had and determined that there were no openings at all for the evening, but I could take the plane that’s leaving at 6:15 in the morning. I wasn’t happy, but Southwest doesn’t control the weather. I let her book the flight, and then started texting Wife to come get me.
So as I write this I’m still a few hours away from getting down to Florida and figuring out which funeral home we’ll be using, and all the other things that go into planning such events, and I’m pretty irritated that I’m not there already and getting some rest for the busy day I’ll be having tomorrow, but there is a bright side to all this: I managed to find the 1984 funeral paperwork after I got back home. Go figure.