Last Rites:

While at work Wednesday morning, I received a call from my son saying that his uncle, my brother was at the hospital and was not expected to live through the day, consequently, if I wanted to see him (while still alive) I’d better get there soon. After informing my boss of the situation, I took the rest of Wednesday and Thursday off.

Arriving at the hospital, I was directed to the ER and found my sister, sister-in-law and my brothers best friend hovering over the waif-like figure of brother Nick. I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years, mostly because of Covid or so I told people, but it was really because I had no interest in watching another member of the family die of alcoholism. Thirty years ago our dad finally finished drinking himself to death, ending up brain stem dead at the age of 62, the family decided to unplug him, thus making him all dead, not just brain (stem) dead. Not a particularly pleasant afternoon, the worst part (sort of) of which was the feeling of relief that washed over me when dad breathed his last. No more phone calls asking for money, no more showing up at my place of business, looking like Aqualung Sr. and looking for another handout, which he had to know wasn’t coming, since I hadn’t given him money in years. Relief, although a guilty relief at best.

As Nick was moved to a more (or less) permanent room, I wondered if the same sense of relief would come. Now at a private room on the third floor, the nurse commenced plugging a Morphine drip to one of Nick’s “Ports”, at which time I felt almost guilty noticing the attractiveness of said nurse, something I think Nick would’ve appreciated, if he could still think?

Next was the hospital’s Chaplin, an older woman hooked up to a portable oxygen source, which at first made me wonder if she wasn’t a delusional patient imagining she was the Chaplin, when no one with a net came to claim her, I gave her the benefit of the of the doubt and decided she was legit. She said some words over Nick, then rubbed the skin and bones of his shoulder (she was not the only one, nearly everyone who entered the room seemed to think they had to touch the dying guy on the bed. I did not join in this activity) Then the Chaplin said something to each of the people in the room, then had to touch all of US !! In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m not a touchy feely kind of guy.

I stayed until it felt like a good cry was coming on, then went home and called my oldest friend to tell of Nick’s imminent passing, he said all the right things, made all the right noises, then said good bye because his (recently) X wife was calling. That was fine with me, as I wanted to quietly remember my older brother as a kid, as a young adult, as anything other than the scare crow like figure in the hospital.

The following morning I was about to get in the shower when the phone rang, it was my sister, I braced myself for the news, pushed the proper button on the phone and said “Good morning”. To which she replied “he’s better”. “Who’s better?” “Nick, who did you think?” “What do you mean by he’s better?” One does not get better from the last rites. Do they? (Is this a Twilight Zone episode? Am I still asleep and this has all been a dream?) “He had his eyes open and was being fed pudding by Tim (best friend) when I got here this morning.” Says sis, adding “Tim said that Pete and Bobby came by last night and Nick opened his eyes, said hi to both, then went back to sleep.” (What the hell? He didn’t say hi to me yesterday, he didn’t do much of anything, except lie in bed, what am I, chopped liver?) “Is he still on morphine?” I ask. “Yes, he’s not going to get better, better, just better than yesterday.” “So, he’s still going to die, right?” “Yes.” I almost say “well, that’s good, I don’t want to waste a good cry for nothing” but think better of it, say good bye and I’ll see you (and better Nick) later and went to take a shower.

When I got to Nick’s room, the only difference was that he was lying on his left side instead of his right. I stayed for a good part of the afternoon, exchanged pleasantries with the friends who dropped by to pay their (hopefully?) last respects and of course, touch me on the way out.

I return to work the next day and say “he refuses to die” several times to concerned co-workers, who know me well enough to NOT try and touch me. I consider going back to the hospital, then decide to wait until Saturday morning, maybe he’ll be un-better by then and we can wrap this up.

The death call comes at 6:38 am, my sister even says “this, is the call” and tells me Nick died a few minutes ago with Tim (best friend) at his side. Tim had stayed all night, so Nick wouldn’t die alone. Which I thought was nice of him, then again, what are best friends for?

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