November 19th. It’s “the” date. A week before Thanksgiving, and the start of the holiday season. The weather has turned cold, the leaves are off the trees, halloween is over, My work begins to slow down, as does the seemingly endless string of summer and early fall weekends where we have plans with family and friends.
For all intents and purposes, November was always a “quiet” time of year, when I could sit back and take a breather. I could focus on preparing the house for winter, lazily erect a Christmas tree, and read the newspaper as the first snowfalls and blustery winds crisply blew in. Full blown winter hadn’t arrived yet, and you would not catch me anywhere near a shopping area this time of year. The lawn and any gardens or flowerbeds are dormant, leaves are cleaned up, and there isn’t any real snow to shovel yet.
November was “easy”. Three years ago, that all changed.
The original question of taking Megan off of her life support was posited on November 18th, 2014. Sensing an abrupt, “let’s get this over with” vibe from the doctor querying my opinion, I immediately went into a defensive state. “I feel we should wait at least 24 hours to see if there is any improvement” was my response.
From that moment forward, I sat by her side, crying, watching every number, hearing every breath, listening to every beep and witnessing each drip of the dozens of monitors, tubes, wires, and IVs entering and exiting her body. Her blood oxygen level would rise from 82 to 83 percent (95% and above is “normal”), and I would get this great hope that she was going to pull through. She would have one additional breath per minute, and I had a sense of relief that her rapid decline over the past few days was just a “phase” in the 6 month ordeal we had been through.
Her oxygen level would drop one point, or her breathing would get ever so shallower, and it would all come crashing down. To gain that hope, that huge sense of relief and belief that it would be OK, only to have it ripped out a moment later was excruciating. With each cycle of this, I drew nearer and nearer to acceptance of the facts.
Megan was going to die tomorrow.
On wednesday morning, November 19th, 2014, I made the decision that would change my life forever. There was no hesitation at that point. Her suffering needed to end, and we had very clearly defined this circumstance, together. “If I’m on full life support, and there is no chance of another transplant, pull the plug”.
Yes, she literally said “pull the plug”. Megan was pretty straightforward.
So, after making the decision with the doctors, I called her parents. I called mine. I called her best friends. I let them know that it was time, and that they needed to get there. I knew it would take a minimum of an hour for anyone to arrive at the hospital, so I just sat with her. I stopped watching the godforsaken robotic machines that were keeping her alive, or telling me just how bad she was really doing. I failed to notice every nurse or doctor that walked by. The “room”, which was really just a semicircle of curtains, went silent, and I went numb. For the next few hours, I would be spending my last moments with my wife. I may have subconsciously been preparing myself to watch her die, building up some armor for the event that I was going to witness soon. I thought of Shelby, and what she was going to see. I remembered watching her brother die in the same hospital, on the same ward, a few beds away, three days before we were married. I recalled her elation and expression when she found out she was pregnant, and her nervous excitement on the first day of school for Shelby. I thought of all of the dates we went on, our trips to Myrtle Beach, Maine, Yosemite, the Great Smokies, and all of the little weekend drives to nearby areas. I stared in disbelief that the emaciated woman in front of me was excelling at crossfit less than a year prior to that point, and I happily pictured what she looked like when she weighed 105 pounds, instead of the 80 pounds she weighed now.
OUR life was flashing before my eyes.
I witnessed her death in the early afternoon.
Three years ago.
I had hoped the visions of that day had faded a bit. Sunday came and went, and while I obviously remembered the significance of the date, I didn’t make a fuss about it. Sarah and I had a lazy morning, and we went to a comedy show (Nick Offerman, as a matter of fact) that she had gotten tickets for. I didn’t post on Megan’s facebook wall, and I didn’t call her parents to chat. Everyone remembers it. Nobody really wants to “celebrate” it. The 19th is a date that should NOT be any different than the rest, because facts are facts. She’s not “more dead” that day.
I went about my life on Sunday, and yesterday with the simple “acknowledge it and move on” mentality. However, as I was in the top of the garage pulling out Christmas decorations from storage…
Everything i just wrote about above, and all of the little visions and memories that I didn’t describe appeared. I remembered it all. I remembered her going cold, and her chest going still. I remembered the stupid coffee tray they wheeled into her room as she was dying. I remembered the drive home after her death with Shelby in the back seat, not knowing what to say to a 7 year old little girl that just lost her mother. I even remembered the text I sent to my boss…”She’s gone”...appreciating that he cared about what I was going through.
Only, three years later, I’m not numb. I’m well past that stage where everything still seems “fresh”. There are far, far less triggers in everyday life, but when they do appear, they are much more intense and vivid. One moment, Sarah and I were contentedly preparing holiday decorations, and the next moment, my evening is shot. I didn't think about the little details of that day for a long time...only the big things.
There is no sweeping these detailed memories under the rug. While I wasn’t forcibly suppressing them, they were manageable on Sunday. They sat with a low hum, quietly plotting through Monday morning and afternoon, only to erupt in the evening. Thank god that Sarah understands this, because she would have thought I was a real asshole last night. I was grumpy, tired, and short tempered, out of the blue. When the obligatory “Is everything alright” question was presented to me, all I had to say was this:
“My wife died three years ago”.