There’s Always a Story

I took the long drive back to the homeland (central Illinois) last weekend.  The Soybean Desert has its beauty even in early May, especially since winter ended in the Land of Cheese just a week ago.  However, driving south took us through a rather lovely, dry, and springlike  region from Portage, Wisconsin, to about Peoria.  From there on south is the land of drowned rats.  I knew there was trouble when I saw the swirling, muddy waters of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers on the national news.  Every once in a while the reporter would visit some river rat bar that was half underwater and I’d scream, “Hey!  We used to go to that bar for catfish (or pork tenderloin)!”   Real Illinois specialties, but don’t knock them until you’ve tried them.  The rain poured and it poured heavily and it poured lightly, but it didn’t stop for days.  Not until we were on our way home and passed that magical line somewhere south of Peoria.

My middle brother called my cellphone about halfway through our trip south.  It wasn’t good news.  One of our uncles was not doing well. He had been hospitalized a couple weeks earlier after some bad test results including kidney malfunction.  Even earlier, he’d fallen–no hip breakage, but for God’s sake, what is it with a fall that is so dooming?!!  If an older person breaks a hip, there seems to be an immediate downturn in health and attitude–like the bone that supports the soul is broken.  So my uncle didn’t break a hip, but the impact had damaged his soul.  He was afraid to get out of his reading chair, and then his kidney function also declined.

But he was on the mend!  He had regained his color and his bodily functions, and he passed another birthday on Wednesday being sassy to the nurses and cracking jokes.  As my family said, Uncle Bob was back!  Until the next day, when he told his wife, his son, and one of his nurses that he would be going to heaven on Friday.   Needless to say, they blew it off, though it was very unusual for this joking uncle of mine.  His daughter-in-law said he spent a lot of time just watching them quietly then–no more sass.

On Friday morning, he developed some difficulty in breathing.   A lung x-ray showed that he had developed severe respiratory distress syndrome (exact name forgotten, but not really necessary here), and he would need to be transported to a larger hospital in Springfield for treatment.  Ninety percent of people who develop this syndrome do not survive, and I bet the survivors are not in their mid-80s!  The ambulance attempted to deliver him to Springfield twice, but each time he passed the city limits, his heart readings became irregular and he was returned to the hometown.  Not surprising.  Dad and his four brothers are all deeply rooted in that town.  I don’t think my uncle was going to depart for heaven from any other place.

Somewhere along the line, he was intubated and put on a respirator.  This was against his wishes, but it was something that the paramedics weren’t aware of.  It was a good thing, as there was also missed communication with his wife and daughter-in-law, who waited for his arrival in Springfield for three hours.  The intubation gave them time to come back after they were finally contacted that he was in his hometown and in dangerously poor condition.  And it also gave me time, for some reason…

I had bargained with my supervisor to leave work a bit early, taking some of my books on the road to work with as my husband drove.   When we passed through Springfield, I debated checking at the hospital there (where my brother said they were moving my uncle), and dismissed it because no hospital was going to have visiting hours at 7:30 PM.  So my husband and I continued on to my dad’s house…and we arrived just in time to meet him and my brothers leaving the house to go to the hospital and say good-bye to Uncle Bob.  We put down our things and joined them.

Maybe we all reach this point at some time in our lives, but this was the first time for me.  I went to the hospital intending to act as support for my dad and my aunt.  However, my tender-hearted aunt requested that we all go say goodbye to my uncle.  Here’s world’s worst understatement: It was a vision that will stick with me the rest of my life.  Here was my crazy, joking uncle lying on his back with his mouth pried open to accommodate machinery, his soft, white cotton hair flowing back.  The respirator was brutal.  Granted this was necessary, and it allowed us all this moment of proper farewells, but I will hesitate to choose the same for my own father (his request) at his age–only for someone with a hope to live and more time to do it.  Normal breathing is graceful and bends the body in and out in an S-curve.  The respirator pumped him up like a bellows and deflated him.  From time to time, he would move his head from side to side as if he were trying to communicate something or shake off the machine.  I held his hand and told him quietly that I loved him.  I thanked him for the being my morel-hunting buddy (he always called his Lincoln the Mushrooming Car, and we had every intention of filling the trunk with morels), and for taking me and my brothers fishing at the most beautiful farm ponds when I was a little girl (wicked with my cane pole and a bobber).  I told him that his journey from here would be good.  Then there was nothing else to do but close my eyes and pray for peace for him and everyone who was in that room.  Nothing more.

My aunt told him goodbye with the strong, sweet nature wrought by her farm girl background, familiar with death even when it hurts.  Every time I talked with Uncle Bob, I swear he told me that when the two met he thought she was “the purdiest thing I’d ever seen.”  His granddaughter sang the song he used to sing for her as a little girl, “If I had a little chicken and he wouldn’t lay an egg…”  (Hoky, you’re thinking now, but this is what I was raised on, and it’s sweet!)  Soon it was time for us to leave the room, and we left my aunt, my dad and his brothers, and the close part of Uncle Bob’s family to be with him as the respirator was removed.  My dad later told me that it took only two or three minutes for him to die, and that you could tell he was dying because he steadily grew colder.

And so he moved on.  Some may dispute, but he–like all of us–had that bright spirit inside of him, which was energy and love.  Even science supports that energy and matter are not destroyed.  I dare you NOT to be spirit–just TRY.  It won’t happen.  Every one of us is built around a spirit, and it will endure.

Much love to all of you.  I’m back again!  (and there are many more stories to tell)


~ by rebuildingholly on May 7, 2013.

10 Responses to “There’s Always a Story”

  1. Such a beautiful telling of this story.

    Keeping your family in my thoughts and prayers as you pass through this time of loss and grief.

    • Thanks, Julianne! It’s hard on my dad and his brothers. They are a rare bunch–five boys who left town and returned home, and they became an important part of their community. And they are very close. Honestly, I’ve always dreaded the day that the first would fall…

  2. This moved me on so many levels and you told it with such love and grace. Thank you for sharing this with us as reminder that even in death we still love.
    My sincere condolences to your entire family.

    • Thanks so much, Lynne, As deaths go, this one went well (though that doesn’t look quite right in print…). It’s left me with much to think about!

  3. So moving, thank-you for sharing this story. A sad time for you Holly, I’m so sorry but it was good you were able to say good-bye.

  4. I thought about your uncle all day and your ability to write a story. You could easily have left us all crying but instead you let us understand your uncle (which reminds me of so many people of his age), and how really wonderful family can be. I can totally relate as so many members of my family have passed and to write about any one of them would have left me exhausted. Thank-you so much for sharing that story.

    • Thanks, Karen. Your compliment means a lot to me, especially coming from someone who moves me with her art. Telling about this experience left me feeling relieved and energized. It needed to be told!

  5. Sorry to read of the loss of your uncle…but glad you were able to be there.
    Yes, his spirit remains….

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