About 6 in the evening an after-hours nurse sent by the hospice we have been so unfortunate as to hire (?), Vitas it’s called (stay away, you stand warned), told us that what had happened during the day — and I think this began sometime between 10:30 and 11 am — was the Admiral became non-responsive. This is the term used when someone seems in a deep sleep and does not respond to you, does not seem able to wake up. I looked this up on the Net and it’s not brain-dead, it’s not persistent vegetative state. It seems to be some intermediary state on the way to death.
I am breathing but having to catch my breath. He is still here. I may be imagining this but I think he can hear something. On the Net some of the sites do say the person hears for when I said to him this morning “We love you,” and “We are taking care of you” I thought there was a response from him. Can’t say for sure and I might be deluding myself and attributing meaning to a noise but it was direct. I put a light blanket on him as his skin felt so cold. I’ve put the heat on and up.
But I have lost him. He’s not there for me to be with, talk to, consult, hear any more.
Funny (not funny) I met him 45 years ago on an October 6th, I married him a year later, and now 45 years and 10-11 hours later I lost him. I am reminding myself of what I felt by the time I was 22, married and divorced once before (divorced first husband in April 1967, a year later the Admiral had rented a tiny bedsit flat for us to sleep together at night after I said I wouldn’t mind sleeping with him if he could get a job that would pay for a small flat near mine which we could stay in during the day), briefly in a relationship I fled (Lebanese physics professor 21 years older than me, spoke French as native tongue) and then alone come to Leeds because I won a scholarship for the year which would support me (so the Queens College English dept teachers said). And as I remember what the world looked like to me as I would walk in NYC and look up at the buildings and around myself and think what shall I do with this life, it comes to me that I have had 45 years of peace with him. Stability. Kindness. Wise advice. He had a gift for sleeping the night through. Night after night, year after year. The person I turned to, my companion, in surface ways he found all the lovely things we would do (plays, operas, concerts, Glimmerglass kinds of things) but it was the daily way he’d show me in a phrase how someone’s talk that hurt or bothered or even half-impressed me (and was critical of him or me let’s say) was silly, irrelevant and it would dissolve away.
He enabled me to endure this life for 45 years — that’s a gift, far far more than I ever expected I’d have by the time I was 22.
My story of yesterday: I gazed at the top photo on and off all day. I looked at my face, and remembered it, him, as this sweet boy I took back to my flat with me that night. How amazed he was when I took my bra off; how he thought it was this big deal. How at the time I seemed so much a woman of the world to him (so he said, and told me to some the Bronx was exotic) and ever so gay.
And how little I knew of him. After all his extraordinary stubbornness (which I have experienced another instance of these 8 weeks) was before me: I really didn’t consider how he had refused to study ceramics (and it was his one hope of getting away from a working or lower middle class life in Southampton), failed his exams, gone home and just lied to his parents all summer long, didn’t work all summer long (like the grasshopper whom I’ve always preferred to that priggish self-righteous nasty ant), and then returned to Leeds as if he still had a stipend and place — which he did not. (I learned later they came searching for him while I was there and he hid out in my flat.) He was very hungry that night we met and when I went out to buy him breakfast — after having gone to bed with him (laughing as I recall this) — what could he have thought. By the end of the week he was in love with me. At the end of six weeks he found me sitting on a chair in that flat, shaking, crying, unable to cope with this English system of tutors and halls, the house filled with English girls most unlike me, and taken me to the Leeds City hospital for depression. I told him in the US this was nothing. No one I knew went to hospitals because they bankrupted you — or insulted and threw you out after some over-charge. People just sat and cried or suffered however. “No, he said,” this was “very bad,” and “You must do something. You cannot just sit there and suffer.” Really insistent, would not let me “just sit there.” So I spent a week on an open ward in Leeds City hospital for “nervous collapse” (the food was very bad, gentle reader) in November, after which we went to Edinburgh for a kind of honeymoon (and thus you who are following this blog know the context for the sunny photos of yesterday’s blog).
So how little he knew of me he said, how he had misconceived me (partly) that night too. I think that was when I had begun to go to this tutorial (finally found one where I could learn something), just me and this older sweet woman professor (to this day I can’t remember her name but she was some respected medievalist) each week reading another of the original texts in Robertson’s edition of Canterbury Tales and then we went onto Troilus and Criseyde. I had to read them carefully. She had this big teapot and we’d drink tea as we went through Chaucer for two hours once a week. A long walk across a park to her office. And then again when we came to NYC and he met my parents.
We have not had a doctor here as yet. The conscienceless hospice would not send a doctor last night. Whether we get one this morning remains to be seen. If I do not, I will call my primary care physician and perhaps set about changing hospices even at this late stage. I have no sure idea how long the Admiral can stay in this stage: a week, weeks? I would go nuts, not be able to take that. Or are we talking two days or so. I know he has many of the signs of days before death, some of hours. I’ve had no explanation I can feel sure of as accurate for what I am seeing.
I am told I need to write an obituary. This public document to be put in the Washington Post. (The Post which does not deserve to publish anything about my husband — having, to cite just one outrage, supported Bush’s assault on Iraq.) I can determine only this: I will not say anything that is not the truth. I will try to have no lies, no misinformation, but how to avoid the distortion such a document demands I know not. The admiral used to say just bury or cremate him and say nothing. Obviously, I have not done that, have I?
Coincidentally the project I’m now trying to catch up on (it was due this past June, then August, and then said the Burney Letter editor “do it when you can”) is, as I said yesterday, about a woman, the mutual disaster that hit Alexandre and Frances Burney D’Arblay when he developed cancer in the fall/winter of 1817 and died the next season: another a happy marriage, beloved man. Well she wrote a 200 page detailed narrative, an emotional retelling of how she watched and tried to stop his dying by denying it was happening (!). I don’t have the tenth volume in which it is printed in my house, but I did find a good article on it by John Wiltshire — probably one of the best of the Burney scholars, candid, long ago told the truth that much of her diaries are fictionalizing, and the huge 24 volume novel we have now is a compilation made by many people over 200 years. With that I found two other articles about similar catastrophes occurring in the 1980s and how the modern medical establishment coped and betrayed these unfortunate people (written in the 1990s in Literature and Medicine). All this now on my desktop.
A phone call. Hill, the assigned nurse, has phoned and asks if he can come now. I said, Yes. I demanded a doctor come this morning too. He said something about “telling the office at 8 o’clock” (official opening time).
Yvette and I did lay in bed together this morning and she will go to work as we agree it is not useful for her or me to sit by him endlessly. I don’t know if or when Caroline will be here. The poor Clarissa pussycat knew yesterday morning something had happened to her beloved master. Twice she sped up and down the hall and was making caw-caw crying sounds, hoarse, odd. I ran to see what was the matter and we got tangled up in one another. She’s on my lap now as I type this.
Yvette going off to catch her bus (she is working long hours without pay) we talked at him to tell him she loved him and would return — he woke for a moment, he looked at us and understood, and was there with a light of understanding in one of his eyes, oh yes I saw it. I became hysterical. I told him he is going in and out of non-responsive states. I am trying for a doctor, a nurse, Hill, is coming. His voice so thick, filled with some kind of mucous, and he fell back into sleep. Caroline said she will phone hospice at 9 and demand we have crisis service 24/7 … I am rocking.