It was a beautiful September Sunday, 6 years ago today. I had received a call at about 8:00 am telling me I should get to the hospital, as soon as possible. When I’d left there 8 hours earlier, things were quiet… I mean I knew he was going to die, I just didn’t think it would be this soon.
His eyes were open, but he was not “really” there. He was straddling that space between this world and the other, trying to decide what to do. We both knew he didn’t really have a choice, but he wanted to take that step (or perhaps I should say, “that leap”) on his own terms, but only when he was damn good and ready. I was ok with that, I had no place to be, but there.
The nurse brought coffee and pastries in at about noon, because he knew I hadn’t left room or had anything to eat or drink all morning. I remember looking at the large tray of Danish and wondering if he (the nurse) thought we’d be having lots of company today. Odd memory.
Charlie and I had always been close. I acted (and felt) more like his mother than his sister. I knew about all the trouble he had gotten himself into over the years and I had bailed him out on more than one occasion. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried during the previous nine months, I just couldn’t figure out how to get him out of this one!
He laid there very still staring off into space, as I stroked his forehead and told him that it was ok for him to go. I reminded him of all the friends and relatives who would be there to meet him and that I was absolutely sure he’d be just fine. I assured him, I’d be just fine too (maybe just a little white lie). Even with all this discussion he was not immediately convinced.
He lingered there between two worlds for many hours, trying to make the right decision. A few friends came to say good bye, but for long periods it was just him and me. Tommy was there, but he couldn’t stay in the room for too long before the flashbacks of death and brave men dying on a battlefield sucked the oxygen from his lungs and he had to rush outside for air. I’ve heard it said that Vietnam Nam has that effect on many men, they can face death because they’ve seen too much.
The day passed at a surreal pace. The nurse came in frequently to check on Charlie and to see how he was progressing. He fluffed the pillows and talked like he knew Charlie understood what he was saying and like they were friends. I liked the nurse, and the way he spoke so kindly and respectfully to my beautiful, dying brother.
Tommy was standing on the left side of the bed and I was sitting on the right, when all of a sudden Charlie opened his eyes… I mean really opened his eyes. They were bright and alive and for just several seconds he looked like he had decided to stay! He tried to say something which I didn’t understand, but then I heard Tommy say “We love you too brother.”
There were a fews breaths in and one long breath out…. And then that was it. He had made his decision and he was gone.
I remember saying (a little too loudly) “Good job, good job you!”
And now here I am, exactly 6 years later, on the eve of yet another major family experience and journey… There will be a hospital, doctors and nurses… And I suspect they’ll be long periods of waiting and hours of silence, stress, anxiety and maybe even some tears. However tomorrow will give Arielle a different kind of new beginning. Unlike her Uncle Charlie who she loved so much, tomorrow will give Arielle a new lease on this life. And what a wonderful life she will have!