Goddamn it! There was always supposed to be another day.
I slept on the couch next to her bed last night, and woke early. Joanie seemed to have had a restful night, if you consider being under the infuence of morphine and Atavan as a restful influence. These drugs are, after all, meant to dull the pain receptors in the brain, not give you real rest.
She never stirred overnight, and I thought the day was getting off to a good start. I went downstairs to shower and shave, and then after I got dressed, I tended to the need of Bailey and Brandy. It was my job to take care of them too, and I did.
Peggy Puetz came over, and I slipped out to have coffee, see Wayne and bring him up to date on the events since yesterday. I told him things looked dark, darker than they ever had, and he understood what I was saying.
Dorinda and an aide came about 10:15, but there wasn’t much for them to do except rearrange her covers. She couldn’t get a blood pressure reading, and Joanie’s pulse was racing. She was drinking next to nothing by this time. I would try to give her some with the doser, but even that wasn’t working. I kept a washcloth near and would dip it into some cold water to wipe her brow and lips, in an effort to give her some relief, not knowing if it worked or not.
When we peeled back the covers, I could see that the mottling had spread. It was now up past her waist, appearing on her left breast, and it showed up on her nose. Along with that, Joanie was largely unresponsive.
When I walked with Dorinda and the aide outside, she told me she wasn’t sure if Joanie would make it through the night. All I could do was nod my head in agreement. It didn’t seem to me there was going to be another day.
Her breathing had become labored, and the “rattle” had appeared. The sound is unmistakable, and it echoed through my brain, sounding louder than it actually was. It was another sign that the end was close, how close I didn’t know.
Early that afternoon, things went south. Joanie was agitated, and obviously in pain. I couldn’t get her calmed down, and I gave her another dose of morphine, but it didn’t seem to help. I was getting worried myself, and had tried everything I could think of, and finally called Dorinda and she said she’d be right over.
After she got to the house, and had a chance to assess the situation, we fiddled with the morphine and Atavan for about an hour and a half before she calmed down. After that, she drifted off to the drug induced sleep, she relaxed, and her features seemed to soften.
We had been through some rough times over the past 12 years, but this was the most painful for me. I had always felt helpless in a lot of situations, only being able to just be there for her, but this time it was different. I didn’t think just being there for her was enough, and I wanted to do more to ease her pain, but was helpless to do so. It is the kind of emotion that comes close to ripping you apart, but you can’t let it. She needed me, as I needed her, more than ever at that moment, and we couldn’t even tell each other how much.
The rest of the afternoon Joanie was quiet. After Dorinda helped find the right dosage of morphine to give her earlier, I would just give that dosage when it seemed she needed it, and she would drift off again, not saying anything.
I think that was one of the hardest things this day, not hearing her talk, or say anything.
There was so much I wanted to say, but wasn’t sure if she would even here me. Now it was me hoping for a miracle that would give us one more day when I knew she could hear me. I didn’t think that was to much to ask for.
That evening, around six or so, Mary Pat and Tom Woodmansee, good friends of ours, stopped by. Mary Pat brought me a chicken sandwich from Peacock, along with a bottle of wine. MP, as most of us called her, wanted to see her friend, Joanie. I had decided earlier I wasn’t going to allow any visitors except family, but MP and Tom were special friends, and Joanie had a unique relationship with Mary Pat. While MP sat with Joanie, who was still unresponsive, Tom and I went out back for a smoke, and talked about what was going on, and how sad it was. I asked Tom if he would be a pall bearer, and he didn’t hesitate in saying yes. I was trying to get details arranged, since I knew, or didn’t think, Joanie was going to make it through the night. It is one of the sad responsibilities that falls to one who has been a caregiver in a situation like this, that no one else can make those arrangements or decisions but you.
After they left, things got quiet again, and so I put on some music, some of the music I knew she loved, Chuck Mangione, Harry Chapin, James Taylor, and just had the volume where you could hear it, but it wasn’t obtrusive. Just loud enough to where if you were listening at all, you could hear the melodies and words of songs that meant a lot to both of us. I guess I figured, that if she could hear anything, at least it would be something she would recognize and enjoy, and it would make her feel good. It was just one of the crazy things one does, when one doesn’t know what else to do. On another level, it was music that I enjoyed as much as she did, and it was music I associated with our life together.
Over the years of our time together, I had taken many photographs of Joanie, and these are two of my favorites, for different reasons.
The first one is one of the most poignant, from my point of view anyway. It was taken in April of 2007, about a year before she died. She was taking chemo, but her hair was making a comeback. The photo, said to me, she knew something she wasn’t willing to talk to me about. Her eyes told me, “I know.” This picture, framed. still hangs on my wall, and I still get a warm feeling when I look at it.
The second photograph I liked for a completely different reason. I took this one of her standing in the kitchen. I think she was wiping a glass or something, but the look on her face, to me was a look that defined her like none other I had taken. I put in Photshop Elements, and fiddled with it, and this was the result. It emphasized the incredible blue of her eyes, her smile and that thick curly head of hair that was her crowning glory.
The look in her eyes on this one, was a look that told me she was a woman full of life, love and was happy, even though she was still doing battle with disease. The picture, like the other one, still hangs on my wall, and it makes me smile every time I look at it, and remember. What was important in these photos that made both of them stand out, was her eyes. It seemed to me they spoke volumes, and today, they still do.
The house was quiet now, except for the soft air of the music coming from our small CD player in the living room where the hospital bed was. It was getting later, and the sun was beginning to slip beyond the horizon. Here in Bismarck, in early April, it set around 8:30, but dusk came before the final cloak of darkness took over.
I didn’t leave the living room very often that night. I didn’t go into the computer room/bedroom to work, and if I did slip out for a smoke, it was but for a very short time. Outside of that, I would sit with her, and then do a fair amount of just walking around, but always keeping an eye on her. I don’t know what I expected to see, but then again, I had never been in a situation like quite like this before.
With the music playing softly in the background, I finally sat down beside her, and just started to think. It was as if I was looking at a reel of home movies and remembering all of our time together. I could see us on our trip to Minneapolis before cancer, and even our trips when she was getting treatment. I could see her the first day she met her new found sister, Ginny in St. Paul, and how that had turned into such a good relationship for her. I could see her at her work with the BJC, before it became Bismarck State College, and her work with Ed Schafer and John Hoeven’s political committees, and her friendship with Nancy and Mikey. I could see us at parties with friends and family. I could see us on warm, soft summer nights on the deck in the back yard, having wine and skinny dipping and making love in the pool, or on the living room floor in front of the fire place, remembering and wondering at how great I really had it, how great we both had it for much to short a time.
All the while I was watching my internal movie, I was holding her hand, and listening to her labored breathing. Her hands were cold, and I was just sitting there holding her hand, when she stirred ever so slightly and seemed to relax. I realized then she had stopped breathing, and I sat there stock still, looking for some sign of life. I felt for a pulse, and leaned into see if I could hear her breathing. Then nothing.
I looked at the clock, it was 9:25 p.m., and she had slipped away. I sat there still holding her hand, and I had to gather myself to remember what I was supposed to do next, and that was to call the number for Hospice to tell them that Joanie had stopped breathing. It was perhaps, the strangest phone call I had ever made in my life. They told me they would be there as soon as they could.
As I stood there in the kitchen, looking back at the bed in the living room where Joanie lay, I had to gather myself and begin making calls to her family and my family as I was waiting for Hospice to come. I called her sister, Ann and her brother Richard, and asked them to call any of the other family members who need to know. I called my sister Jane, and asked her to call my other sister Joni and my brother Jerry. I called my son, Ryan to let him know, then I walked outside in the cool April night air, and called my friend Wayne Tanous. I think he was just coming back from a trip to the casino, and told me he would stop by. I then called Mary Pat and Tom, and they said they would come over as well.
I smoked another cigarette, and walked around outside until the Hospice folks arrived, and they could do what it is that they do, and that is take care of everything. They had to establish the time of death, and account for the unused morphine, and get Joanie ready to take her body to the funeral home. I was in a fog, I know now, and I remembered going into the bathroom with one of the nurses, and counting the number of doses of morphine that were left in the bottle and comparing it to the log of the doses I had given Joanie. The numbers had to add up. They did.
Wayne showed up shortly, and I joined him in the garage where we could smoke. There was beer in the fridge, so we each got a beer, and looked at one another. He had been through this same thing when Karen had died a couple of years earlier. I still had calls to make, which I did when I had a chance. Tom and Mary Pat showed up, and they were there to support me, and the four of us spent some time having a beer and remembering Joanie, while I made some quick calls, in one of the stranger episodes of my life. It meant a lot to me that they would come, especially since I was still trying to come to grips with the reality I had to deal with now.
After Tom and Mary Pat left, Wayne and I continued to talk, until the Hospice nurse came out and told me they were done doing whatever they came there to do, and wondered if I wanted to come in and see Joanie. I declined, and then I waited to go back into the house until after they had left.
It was getting late now, and I made a few more calls, and received a few from people who had heard. I was amazed at how fast the news can travel from just a few phone calls, and they were appreciated.
My sister Jane, called me back, and told me she was coming out the next day to help me with things. I tried to dissuade her, but she insisted, and in retrospect I was glad she did. Her help during the hectic pre-funeral days was invaluable.
Bailey and Brandy, who had gone into hiding when the Hospice folks had come, were now out and looking around and wondering what the hell had gone on, and where Joanie had gone. Both of them had been up on the bed where she had been for a time, and I knew they weren’t sure what had happened, but they knew it wasn’t good.
I continued to go outside for a smoke, between phone calls, and to just walk around the back yard as I tried to come to terms with what had happened this night. I did that for a few hours, until around 1:45 in the morning, I didn’t need to go outside any longer to have a smoke.
The music had stopped but I reset it and turned up the volume a little bit, I grabbed another beer from the garage fridge, and went back to sit at the table in our dining area. The only light came from the fixture above the kitchen sink behind me, the living room was dark, except for the half light that came from the kitchen and the bed was empty, the sheets were all gone. They would be back tomorrow to pick it up. I sat there, still in a fog, and trying to process all of this. It seemed so dreamlike.
As I sat there chain smoking and sipping on a beer, I happened to see Bailey laying by the railing of the stairs that led to the basement. Brandy had already gone to find her sleeping nook for the night, but Bailey just lay there waiting for me, as if she knew that I needed someone to tuck me in for the night. She was right, of course.
I finished my last cigarette, emptied the beer, and looked at Bailey and said, “All I wanted was one more goddamn day so I could tell her I loved her again, just one more day and that fucking disease took that away, there was always supposed to be one more goddamn day.”
Bailey, of course didn’t know what the hell I was saying, but she knew I was in pain. She just sat there until she knew I was ready to go to bed, and she followed me into the bedroom to tuck me in.
After I scratched her and stroked her a bit as payment for taking care of me, she would retreat to the end of the bed on the other side, where she would sleep the rest of the night.
As for me, I laid there, not sleeping even though it was two o’clock in the morning and thinking, “This bed is to big for me without her beside me.”