Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Going Home

As my brother and I drove up to the house, I thought that it was a good day. Dark clouds hovered over the valley, and the forecast called for rain. But off to the west over the lake, the clouds ended abruptly. The sun was setting triumphantly, seeming to mock the clouds with its glory. We were going to visit my grandfather, my abuelito. I secretly wished that he would pass away that evening, that his suffering would end and that I could hold on to the memory of that sunset as the day Guelito died.

We went around the house and came in through the downstairs. The door creaked loudly, and a dozen faces turned to look at us. Many of them were teary-eyed, and a few gave us a half-smile, a type of “Good to see you, glad you could make it,” even though we all would have liked to be reuniting under better circumstances.

Our parents were at the head of Guelito’s bed, and we moved our way through hugs and handshakes until we reached them. Dad is a doctor, and it was nice to know that he was there--I think a lot of people appreciated having him there, giving a few words of medical advice and helping everyone know a little of what was going on.

My grandmother Guelita was also at the head of the bed, holding Guelito’s hand. She would lean over occasionally to talk to him and kiss him on the forehead. Several boxes of tissues and a wastebasket were close-by, ready for anyone that might need them. The wastebasket was already halfway full of wadded up tissues and sanitary wipes.

After hugging Guelita and my parents, I finally got a good look at Guelito. His eyes were closed, and his mouth hung slightly open. Tubing carried oxygen into his nose, but the few breaths he was taking were going through his mouth. He was chain-stoking--that’s what my dad called it. Two or three big breaths, followed by few shallow breaths. I had to look it up to know that it was a cycle of breathing often associated with heart failure, as the body fluctuates between apnea and hyperpnea.

I patted his shoulder and kissed him on the head, and he continued to lay motionless. After visiting with everyone for a little while, my brother and I passed through another round of hugs and handshakes and drove home.

I set my phone next to my bed, fully expecting to receive a phone call sometime in the night with the news of Guelito’s passing. The next morning, Tuesday, I ran upstairs and turned my phone on and off, just to make sure I didn’t miss any messages. Guelito was still there.

I drove to work in a rainstorm. The clouds from the day before had continued moving in, and everything was gray and dreary. When I was just a few minutes away from work, it started to snow. In May. I secretly wished that Guelito wouldn’t pass away that day, that I could have a better memory of his passing than some freak snow flurry in late spring.

The snow reminded me of New York City, and remembering the city made me remember when my Guelito almost passed away. I had been in New York City the previous summer working on my master’s degree. Guelito had another bout of poor health and ended up in the hospital, and the phone calls from my mom and dad let me know that he was expected to pass away at any time. I told my manager there in New York about what was going on, and that I might need to step out to take a phone call. She asked if I wanted to take the day off of work. I thought about it for a brief moment, but I turned down the offer. Most of my family was back in Utah, and there wasn’t anything for me to do if I was just at my apartment by myself. A few hours later I received a phone call from my mom, and I started getting choked up even before I answered. I stepped into the break area, and my mom said, “Here’s Guelito. Tell him you love him.” I managed to force the words out, and I heard him saying something in return. My mom had to translate the Spanish. “He said, ‘I love you too,’ and he’s going home. He’s going home...” I ran to the nearest bathroom and cried for several minutes, trying to get it all out. I washed my face and went back to work, and my manager asked me again if I wanted to take the day off. I shook my head, insisting that I needed to stay busy.

That night was one of the worst nights I have ever experienced, and I haven’t told many people about it. I had my cell phone close at hand, waiting for the final call. I lived by myself in a studio apartment there in New York, and being all alone got the better of me. I became emotional in a way that I never knew was possible. I sobbed uncontrollably for more than an hour, and at times it felt like I was hyperventilating. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed with my feet on the floor, rocking back and forth and hugging my shoulders, wishing more than anything for someone to comfort me.

And then he went and got better! I still don’t know whether his telling me that he was “going home” meant that he was dying, or whether it meant that he was actually getting better and leaving the hospital.

That was last summer, and this time felt different. He wasn’t going to get better.

Tuesday night, it was my turn to stay by his bedside. Everyone expected him to pass that night, and I was secretly terrified. How often do I need to check on him, how will I know, who do I wake up, who do I call? And worst of all, what if I go through all that and I make a mistake? What if he’s still there, and I’m causing a fuss waking everyone up and making everyone emotional for a false alarm?

Guelita wanted to stay with him throughout the night, but people talked her out of it. Dad told her, “We have one sick person, and we don’t need two...” I don’t remember who it was, but somebody talked her into at least leaving Guelito to take a shower. After getting cleaned up, Guelita realized how tired she really was and finally decided to go to bed.

One of my aunts and one of my cousins decided to stay up, and what a blessing that was. It was nice having someone to talk to, but above all, I knew that I wasn’t alone. If Guelito passed during the night, there would be somebody else there, and I would be okay. We talked throughout the night, pausing every once in awhile when we heard a hesitation in Guelito’s breathing. Was that it? Is he gone? But his breathing would continue, and we’d continue talking--whispering, really. It was an unspoken agreement that we would all speak in hushed tones, as if Guelito were only sleeping and we didn’t want to wake him...

His breathing grew shallower as the night wore on. My aunt kept telling me that I could go ahead and rest, that Guelito still had another few hours at least, but I didn’t want to leave. I reached under the blanket and held his hand for awhile. Early in the morning, he started to grow restless. He would pull his hand away and try to raise himself up, as if he were trying to move himself. We wanted to roll him a little, to let him rest on a different side, but my aunt said she wasn’t supposed to move him unless he’d been given morphine--and we didn’t have the morphine. So we sat there throughout the night, wincing whenever he would moan and try to move himself, the furrows in his brow indicating that he was in some pain.

When morning came, morphine was finally administered. Before he had slipped into unconsciousness, he had told others that he didn’t want to be given any morphine. We felt that a balance was reached between honoring his wishes and not letting him suffer. At 6:00am, I went out to buy bagels and muffins. I was groggy from being up all night, but I wanted the chance to just be by myself for little while. My aunt stayed with Guelito, and she gave me directions to the nearest bakery.

It was raining again when I stepped outside, but I ignored it. I didn’t have an umbrella, and I can’t control the weather, so what’s the use making a fuss about something that is out of your hands?

More aunts and uncles showed up, and with everyone else around, I knew that I could leave. I was exhausted from all of the emotional and physical turmoil, and I decided to rest for a little while before heading back home. Maybe that’s what Guelito was doing, lying there in his bed during his final moments. He’d had a long and fulfilling life, and after all that, maybe he just wanted to rest before finally going home.

I got back to my apartment and fell asleep immediately. I didn’t hear when my roommates got home, or when my brother walked into the room after he got back from work. The only thing I heard was the phone call that woke me up a few minutes after 5:00pm--he was gone.

I stepped outside to get better reception as I called my sisters to let them know. It was still raining, but it was a good day; it was the day Guelito went home.

Going home. That’s the name of the song that they want playing during a video presentation at his funeral. My uncle’s going to give me the pictures, and I’m going to work on creating a slideshow with one of my cousins. I found another song to use as well. It’s a lullaby. I think the two songs will go well together; one speaks of going home, and the other about sleeping peacefully.

Come to me, O child beloved,
Eyes of wonder softly close,
Tiny hand release my finger,
Weary head receive repose.
Sleep, and love arises in me,
Waking hope till joy o'erflows.
Lead me, little child so tender,
To the place I long to go.

Rest in me, O child beloved,
May thy sweet dreams never cease:
Till I hear around us winging
Seraphs singing heavenly peace.
Then I'll walk through night and shadow
By the light that shines in thee,
Flowing as a stream forever
To the blessed, fruitful Tree.
Singing heavenly peace forever.
Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep.