Saturday, August 22, 2015

Life and Death

I've been a bit MIA lately.  Last week, on August 12th, I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of the library, preparing to return a book I'd read, and select another to take home and read, when my cell phone rang.

It was a number I didn't recognize, but I answered it as it was Florida, and my brother, 8 years older than I, lives there.  A woman commenced to ask if I had a brother, Michael Wilson who lived in the trailer park she was calling from.  She told me that neighbors of my brother had phone the police, because they believed my brother had passed away in his home.

Of course, I was in shock at first.  She told me the police were there. I asked, could she confirm my brother had passed.  She said no, I'd have to talk to the police. I asked her to please go ask the police to call me as soon as they could.  So the struggle to understand what was going on, began.

I took the book into the library, while my mind was going a million miles an hour.  I didn't know who to call, or how to find out exactly what was going on.  I didn't get another book, because I wasn't sure what my immediate future held.

I drove home trying to pay attention, meanwhile, just overwhelmed with sadness and frustration.  My brother Mike was eight years older than I.  We have another brother who is two years older than Mike, therefore, ten years older than I.  He lives in California with his wife, near his kids and grand kids.  None of us are spring chickens.

Mike was not the healthiest guy, but he lived a life full of love, friendship, laughter, joy and sharing.  He was very smart, held a Masters in Education.  He lived in Maine a good part of his adult life.  My entire family, except for myself, was born in Maine.  My parents moved when my brothers were small, to Rochester, N.Y. before I was born, for my father to accept a job at Kodak, where he worked until he passed away in 1975 of heart failure.  He had been diagnosed with lung cancer and had survived the removal of a large part of his lung, but his heart gave out a few years later.  Smoking. The hidden devil.  You don't see the damage it does, because it's mostly on the inside.  Both of our parents smoked.  Mike also smoked.

Somewhere around 15 years ago, I had received a phone call from Mike, but the caller ID said Portland Hospital.  I asked him why caller ID said that.  He'd had a stress test and other tests, and said the blockage in his heart was so bad, if he walked out of the hospital, he could drop dead.  His quadruple bypass surgery was scheduled for Monday.  He called me on a Friday.  I was able to get on a plane on Saturday, and get to his house, then to the hospital to see him, before he went in to surgery.  I ended up staying with him for about two weeks at that point.

My brother wasn't married, and didn't have a partner.  He was a joyous person, and had tons of friends.  He recovered from that heart surgery pretty well, and was diligent about seeing the cardiologist on a regular basis.  Unfortunately, he did not stop smoking. I was after him all the time to stop.  He just couldn't.  We both struggle with weight issues, and he was a recovering alcoholic, and he felt he just couldn't give everything up and be healthy - it was just too much.  He was trying.  He lost weight, gained it back, lost it, gained it.....but never gave up the smoking.  Sigh.....

It seems, after speaking to the police (finally), that he passed of natural causes.  I was able to contact one of his friends, who told me that another friend, had not heard from Mike for 2 days.  He grabbed a friend, and went to Mike's trailer, and they found the back door unlocked.  They went in and called out, but no answer.  They found Mike on his couch.  He'd had breakfast with this friend on Monday. He'd told his friend that he was going to go to the pharmacy, pick up a prescription, go home and take a nap.  It seems he never woke up from his nap.

I tell ya, if you're going to go, that's the way to do it. Go take a nap, go to sleep, and just never wake up.  No suffering.  No lingering.  No tubes.  No one hovering over you waiting for you to die.  Just go peacefully.   This was exactly how Mike wanted to go. He had made sure that I knew in no uncertain terms, he was not to be resuscitated if something happened to him.  He didn't want to suffer, be hooked up on life support, or anything that would make him linger or suffer.

Just a note here:  There are lots of ways to put in place, what you want to happen to you in a medical emergency, and also, in your last stages of life.  Mike was adamant about all of it, so much so, that everything was put into writing.  Every.  Last.  Step.   Not anything was left to question as to how he wanted to be treated should anything happen to him.  However, I have a different viewpoint on things.  Back in 2007, I had a massive heart attack (are you seeing a pattern here in this family???).   I was at home, and my husband drove me to the hospital. Probably NOT the best thing to happen, but we live in the country, and the rescue squad is all volunteer, and it would take longer for them to get here, than it would for us to get to the hospital.  There was no traffic, it was early evening in May, and my husband drove like a bat out of hell.  He got me there, and I died within a minute of getting there.  The hospital staff was able to shock me (twice) and get me back, although they told my husband that usually doesn't happen.  They drugged me, flew me to UVA Charlottesville, and I had a stent placed in the Lower Arterial Descending artery.  That's the one most men have when they call it "The Widow Maker."

I have to say, I'm grateful I did NOT have a "Do Not Resuscitate" because had I had that, I would not be here today.  I would have died, and still been dead.  Because of this, I did not agree with what my brother had set forth, and we had some discussion about it.  He asked me to respect his wishes, and since I was the one he was entrusting with the decisions, I told him I would respect everything he asked.

We don't know exactly what happened to Mike.  There is no autopsy, and no way of knowing.  He did ask that his body be used for medical research, however, because he wasn't found for at least a day, probably two, it was too late.

Not being there, it was really difficult to feel in control of what was happening, but I made sure I kept my head about me.  I pulled out the copies of all the paperwork he'd sent me, and I read everything several times to make sure I didn't miss anything.  I have to say, Mike had everything spelled out directly, and didn't mess around with anything being questioned or opened to questioning.  Cut and dry.

I called his attorney, the one that had prepared his paperwork, and that evening, she called me back.  She had his paperwork in front of her, and she told me that it would be a piece of cake.  He'd had everything in order, spelled out clearly, and that I would be able to take care of everything very easily.  Thank you Michael for that.

If there's any advice I can give you, do your will.  Have any advanced directives signed.  Make those decisions so others in their grief, don't have to.  Make copies of any financial investments, bank paperwork, wills, advanced directives, and anything that you want spelled out directly and give them to the person(s) you will appoint as your executor.  If you are married, and something happens to both of you at once, spell out exactly what should happen to everything you own.  If it is spelled out in black and white, and there is NO question of what should be done, and where things should go (pets, jewelry, furniture, house, cars, etc), then you've made the job a whole lot easier for the person who has to take care of those things in their grief.

We thought we were going to have to get in the car right away, and drive to Florida.  With 2 horses, a cat, and 2 dogs, that was going to be so overwhelming for us.  After I spoke to a couple of people, I realized, we wouldn't have to go right away. When this stuff happens, there is a process.  You have to arrange with the funeral home exactly what you want done with the body.  Mike had made clear to the point, what he wanted done, so that was easy enough.  The funeral home gave me choices of what to do from that point - funeral, viewing, or a celebration of life ceremony.  Mike didn't want any of that.  He was not a traditionalist.  So that part was easy too.  Next came the processing of paperwork - and that takes time.  I was sent paperwork (thank God for the digital world we live in), I filled it out, got it notarized, and returned it via fax.  Then we waited.  Before anything can be done, you have to have a death certificate.  That takes a bit of time.

I had to make hotel reservations, but with two small, yappy dogs, we decided to rent a house near everything we need to do.   Driving from Virginia to central Florida takes a bit over 13 hours and that's if you don't stop along the way.  That's a LONG drive, especially for two people who have hip issues, and ain't as young as we used to be, not to mention also having two dogs along for the ride, one of which doesn't do well in the car at all.  We will stop along the way and stay overnight in a hotel.  Once we get there, the real work will begin.  We have to pick up the death certificate, then get to the trailer, then go from there with everything that will need to be done.

We're hoping a week is enough time, but overall, we will be gone quite near ten days.  It's going to be a working trip, but also a sort of vacation for us, as we haven't gone away for at least eight years.  Horses are hard to get help for, and we don't like to desert the cat for that long. Someone will be here taking care of the horses and cat, but it's not the same as if we did it ourselves.  We are very attached to our animals.

I know my brother is at peace.  He was an amazing person, brought a lot of joy to many people, accomplished some wonderful things, and he was a good guy.  That amazing smile of his will be missed by many.  I love you bro.  I told him that often, and I'm glad I did.  Everyone should live the way Mike did.  He gave so much of himself to so many.  His Facebook page is overwhelmed with tributes that make me cry every time I read them.

Rest in peace, dear brother.  The celebration of life on Saturday should be a great celebration with many friends there, and I'll be there for you.

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