Eleven years ago today, I brought my beautiful wife Gee home for the last time. She had been in the hospital for the almost 12 days and we knew these would be her last few days.
Earlier in the week, I had rented an oxygen concentrator and bought a medical recliner and other furniture and things I would need to let Gee spend her final days at home with me.
As I carried her up the front walk, Gee said, “Dan, I’m sorry, but I don’t know if I can keep my promise to you.”
She was talking about the promise she had made the day we got engaged almost 21 months earlier–on the 12th anniversary of my twin brother’s death at the hands of a drunk driver. She had promised me that I would never be alone again–that she would always be with me.
I told her it wasn’t her fault and that it was okay. I told her I understood why she had to go soon. Little did I know that, somehow, she would manage to keep her promise.
I carried her into to our house and to our bedroom and put her in bed as she had asked. I knew that she’d eventually need to be moved to the medical recliner, but did as she wished. I could never deny her anything.
I disconnected her oxygen tank and connected her to the oxygen concentrator I had setup in my office down the hall. The oxygen lines were long enough so I could do that and close the door to the office and limit the noise from the machine.
I turned on the stereo and set the CD player to shuffle and sat next to Gee and held her. God, how I had missed being with her and being able to hold her so closely.
We held each other and talked and cried and laughed and kissed. I didn’t know what I was going to do without her–this gracious and beautiful woman who had become the center of my world–the star I orbited.
Gee told me of how the whole time she was in the hospital–having died three times during the past twelve days–all she could think of and all that she wanted was to come home to me one last time so she could say goodbye to me–the man that she loved so perfectly.
I didn’t know how long we would have, but I knew it would never be long enough. We had three amazing, beautiful, sweet, joyous and sorrowful days together–days that seemed terribly short and passed by all too quickly–before she had to go back to the hospital.
Brad stayed at the house that first night Gee was home and I drove him to the airport the next day.
Her mother came and stayed Friday night. Her mother made us dinner that night and went back home on Saturday.
Friday evening Gee asked me to move her to the medical recliner. She was having trouble getting comfortable and breathing in bed and needed to be in the recliner. After I moved her to the medical recliner in the living room I turned up the setting on the oxygen generator to the maximum to help Gee breathe easier.
I went back to the living room and held her as she struggled to finally fall asleep. I sat beside her–not wanting to leave her side or lose any of the little remaining time we might have together–watching her sleep and praying for a miracle–anything to save the woman who have become so much a part of my life.
Saturday morning, I made Gee breakfast and we saw her mother off for her drive back to the Tidewater region of Virginia, where Gee and her sister grew up.
Gee was beginning to have more difficulty breathing due to ascites, a secondary complication from the two intestinal abcesses that she had. She was too weak to operate on, and given the advanced stage and how widely her pancreatic cancer had metastasized, there really was nothing that could be done to alleviate the effects of the ascites.
We spent the day talking about what she wanted. Originally, Gee had wanted to be cremated after she died and wanted me to keep her ashes. I thought that was really unfair to her family and our friends–most of whom had known Gee far longer than I had. I thought that she should be buried, so that her parents and sister would have somewhere to go to remember her.
Eventually, she saw that made sense and I told her I would make sure that her gravesite faced east so she could see the sunrise. Gee and I had once talked about sailing beyond the sunrise to see what lay past it…and though we wouldn’t be able to do that, I could at least promise that she saw the sunrise over where she was buried.
The plot I bought was a double plot and the grave marker has both our names on it. Someday, I hope I will join my beloved Gee once again and be by her side again in another life. For now, I have to be content with her watching over me as my personal weather goddess. I do not know how she has done it, but I know she watches and waits for me.
Gee also begged me to not close my heart to the world after she died. She knew how much I loved her and how much it was going to hurt me to lose her. She asked that I look for someone else, and that if I found someone I loved, she asked me to promise her I would get re-married. Finally, I made this promise to her. It was that important to her–it was my final promise to her.
I think the hardest part of being with Gee those last three days were not knowing how much longer we had and watching how much my beautiful, strong, stubborn and gracious wife suffer from pain that no medication could ease. Watching one of the strongest and bravest people I have ever loved suffer and not be able to do anything about it was one of the worst feelings in the world–being so helpless and wishing for so much better than that for someone I loved so deeply.
We both fell asleep, holding each other as we had talked about all the things we had done together; how it felt like we had always known each other; and most of all, how I really couldn’t remember what my life was like before I had met her any more. She had helped heal so many of the scars and so much of the damage that my past and especially losing my twin brother had left behind.
I had been monitoring her pulse and blood pressure and keeping track of her food, drink and medications regularly since she came home. The doctors had told me to do so, so I would be aware if her condition had changed significantly.
We spent the morning on Sunday listening to her vast music collection. We talked about the day I tried to stump her playing name that tune and had finally given up after over 12 hours of trying….and failing. We laughed and cried about so many of the things we had done together and so many of the things we would never get to do.
Sunday afternoon, she said it was time to call the ambulance. She was having too much trouble breathing and thought she needed to go back to the hospital. I had the oxygen concentrator at maximum and her color was off again…so I called 911.
A few minutes later, when the EMTs arrived, I gave them my notes on her medications, food, drink and vital stats that I had been tracking for the past three days. One EMT commented that I gave them more information than most hospitals usually did. Unlike the last time, I rode beside my beautiful wife in the ambulance–not wanting to be apart from her at all and knowing how little time we had left.
I called her sister and parents and told them we were going back to the hospital. They put her in the ICU that she had been a patient in for most of the previous two weeks after a very short stay in the Emergency room. The nurses were really sad to see her back so soon and several had told me they had hoped we’d have more time.
The doctor put Gee on medication to help boost her blood pressure and heart rate and put her back on an oxygen cannula. They increased the medication to try and ease her pain. Soon, Gee was unconscious. She no longer was awake, but she still responded when I spoke to her–squeezing my hand gently whenever I said her name.
The doctor and I spoke. He said that it was unlikely that she’d ever regain consciousness. She was basically in a coma or was going to be soon. Gee and I had discussed this. We had both agreed that it was far better to let her go than to keep her alive without any real hope or quality of life. I waited until her sister and mother were able to get to the hospital and then told the doctors to take her off the oxygen and the medications that were supposed to be helping her blood pressure and heart rate.
I talked to Gee. I told her how much I was going to miss her. I told her how lost I was going to be without her–without direction or purpose–how I would be completely adrift at sea without her–which is where this blog got its name. I told her that we would be together again someday and that I would never let her go again once we were.
I cried… and I prayed for a miracle that was never to happen. And I spent every moment with the woman I married until she finally lost her battle with cancer at 1100 on Monday, June 11, 2001. She had come home to say goodbye and given me a chance to hold her and be with her a few last days before she had to leave for good. That was something I never got when my brother was killed–a chance to say goodbye.
This year, I am saying goodbye to another amazing woman–someone I love more than even my beloved Gee. I fear that I may also be breaking the last and final promise I had made Gee–that I would get re-married if I found someone I love. Ellie is the woman I know Gee asked me to seek out 11 years ago.
Ellie’s reaction to my telling her how my feelings for her had changed and that I loved her and wanted to marry her confirmed that to me. Unfortunately, my beautiful Irish rose has become a drug-addicted alcoholic, and I believe she has become a victim of her addictions. While I still love and want to marry Ellie–I am walking away from her because I have seen nothing of the woman that loves me for almost a year.
Like with Gee–I kept praying for a miracle. But, it seems that I can not save my Ellie either. Ellie has to realize that she has a problem with drugs and alcohol and seek help for herself before anyone, even me, can help her. Ellie has to find the courage, the strength, the honesty, and most of all, the will to face her illness and fight her addictions. She has not. I don’t know if Ellie is ever going to try.
Unlike Gee, Ellie did not love me enough to fight her illness–something that surprises me. Unlike Gee, Ellie did not give me a chance to say goodbye. I do not know if she has succumbed to her addictions or is trapped by them–fighting to return to her true self and to me. I have to say goodbye because I can not–will not–stand by and watch her slowly become something I know the woman that loves me would despise and loathe.
God gave Ellie free will, and it is her decision whether she wants to remain the drug-addicted alcoholic shadow of who God meant her to be. If she chooses to become herself once again, I will help her along her road to recovery. She knows that I keep my commitments and knows who I am from over 20 years of friendship, love and devotion we have shared.
It will not be easy for Ellie, but the woman I love is strong enough, smart enough, stubborn enough and brave enough to do it should she choose to. There is nothing that could stop her–especially if I am there with her, because we are so much more together than we could ever be apart.
Ellie knows where to find me and how to reach me if she should return to being her true self and want my help in fighting her addictions. I have told her that she has to make her amends for the lies and the damage her addictions have done. I have told her that she needs to make a place for me beside her in her life and show me that she is as committed to me as I have always been to her. She has to show me that she will fight for us as I have done for the past year. I love Ellie and will keep the promises and vows I have made to her, but only if she has truly returned to being the woman I love–the woman that adores the Asians with freckles that our children would be–and the woman that loves me fiercely.
I owe nothing to the drug-addicted alcoholic that has inhabited her physical shell for the past year and has lied to the world about me and about us. If the drug-addicted alcoholic is all that is left of the beautiful Irish lass I love most of all, I will walk away and grieve and mourn for the red-headed, feisty, and spirited woman I love.
May God watch over my beloved Ellie. God bless her and protect her, even from herself. May God grant her the strength, courage, and will to fight her illness and return to being her true self. May God grant her the wisdom to see the truth—both about her illness and about us.