Monday, June 30, 2008

Hard To Say Goodbye

posted by John Blanco @ 8:27 AM


This has been one of the toughest weeks I've ever had to deal with, but it's nothing compared to what Michele and her family have faced.

Last Friday evening, we said our final goodbyes to Michael, Michele's brother. He'd been diagnosed with brain cancer last September, and depending on how you look at it, we got a good 9 months to spend time with him and prepare for what doctors said was inevitable. Lucky for us, the initial diagnosis of "2 weeks to live" was premature.

Initially, Michael was handling the treatments well. After moving in with the parents to be near the cancer treatment facility, he was his usual self for a couple months. Then, as more and more steroids were being pumped into his body, he started to get swollen. Within a couple months, he was practically unrecognizable. Michael had always been a very skinny guy.

After the holidays, Michael was still doing well. His memory was a liiiiiiiiiittle sketchy, but mostly normal. He'd had a couple seizures, though, and that was worrisome, some that even left scars on his face. As things tolled into May, though, it got much worse.

While hanging with some friends, Michael had a third seizure. The seizure not only left him in bad shape, but it messed up his back quite a bit. He was in agony. His dad took him to the hospital after he had come to pick him up for a doctor's appointment one day. Michael was in extreme pain, and the hospital did what they could do to stabilize the back -- namely, inject stuff in it -- which gave him relief.

But, after that, Michael began the final phase of this horrible cancer ordeal. He had to be placed in a hospice because there was no way to provide him round-the-clock care to satisfy his needs for a lot of medication and sore bones and muscle everywhere. This was a depressing decision, as no one wants to BE in a hospice nor put someone there.

But, it was the only choice.

To his credit, Michael made the most of it. It was hard seeing him there, and his health was declining. His memory was also racing downhill. When Michele and I visited on Father's Day, it was notably awful. Michael was confusing the names of inanimate objects, calling Father's Day his dad's Birthday, etc. His health seemed OK, and he was working on a lot of art, but the memory issues were worrisome. The tumors were growing and affecting his brain considerably.

None of us had any idea he only had a week to go.

Michele and I visited Michael Friday, Saturday, and then finally Sunday. On Friday and Saturday, he was having a good deal of pain and uncomfortability. I was only there Saturday, and we didn't get to chat much as he spent most of the time sleeping and feeling miserable. On Sunday, though, we arrived at about 1:30 and weren't allowed entrance right away.

To put the rest of the day in perspective, when we arrived, the Mets-Rockies game was in the 2nd inning. We waited in the lobby with Michele's parents for a time when we could go in. First, an aide was busy with him, then two, then three. We actually sat there watching the ENTIRE GAME before we could go in -- by then, Michele's brother had arrived as well.

Michael was doing terribly. Specifically, he was having problems with his bladder, and when we went to his room he was lying on a mattress, on the floor, in terrible pain. It was hard to watch. Within minutes, the aides were letting on that this was a very familiar phase that patients go through before the end.

The end?

By then it was about 4:30 I believe. Leaving Michele and her family to be with Michael, I called up her brothers Chris and Kevin. I left a message for Chris, but I reached Kevin and I choked up having to tell him he needed to come to the hospice -- quickly. I didn't know what was going to happen, and I didn't know clearly how much time Michael had left, but it was hard to tell his brother to get here quickly if he wanted to be with his brother. I also had to get in touch with Michele's dad, who had gone back home for a bit.

For the next few hours, while an aide was massaging Michael's bladder, we held his hands (and feet) and talked to him the best we could. He was in agony, and only barely conscience of what was going on around him. He was speaking, but saying the same things over and over again (he kept insisting on getting up to use the bathroom, but he had a catheter already). I was by his head, brushing his hair and holding his hand. His mom and Michele and Andy were doing the same.

A bit after, his dad arrived, and he sat with us as well. Kevin, his brother, also came, and held his foot. We were unable to reach Chris for quite a while, but after a few hours, he too arrived. With the whole family in the room, it was an emotional time. Chris was telling Michael he'd arrived, and it was OK to let go. By now, I should say, Michael's kidneys had failed and his heart was racing 20% faster than usual. It was a death watch.

We were all quite emotional, but it felt good that we were all there. We stayed an hour longer, but then Michele and I had a gut-wrenching decision you should never have to make. Cedric had been out and about for 8 hours by this point, and he was so patient, but by this time he really needed to sleep. So, Michele would have to go. My choice was to either stay with Michael and family, or stay with Michele. I chose to stay with Michele, since she couldn't be home alone during this time. So, at about 8:30, we both left.

Michele went to bed with Cedric and a heavy heart. I had to stay up to get some work done for my crazy Qwest project and do some errands, including running to King Soopers. I got to bed around midnight.

At 12:45, the phone rang. It was Michele's brother. Michael had passed.

Michele and I stayed up for a couple hours talking about Michael and trying to work through our shock. We cried. We lamented not being there for him. Luckily, Andy and Kevin stayed with Michael's parents and so all four were there when he passed. Also, his best friend showed up an hour before, and so he got to say goodbye as well.


This week has been filled with preparing for the funeral. Michele has done an outstanding job. She organized both events, and contributed her artwork and time to make them happen as splendidly as possible. She's a hero in my eyes and her family should be proud.

Michele and I also put together a DVD photo montage of Michael that we played at the Wake and Memorial. People seemed to like it, and it made us happy. We did the best we could do, and it came out well. Michele also did a book reading and the Open Mic session was wonderful. If only all brothers were so lucky to have a sister like Michele.

The most emotional part of this week came after the Memorial, after everyone had left. With just the family present: 2 parents, 3 brothers, 1 sister, 2 in-laws, and 2 nephews, we all closed the casket together. It was a tough thing to do, but it brought some closure for the family. One of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Michele can be seen quite torn up in the picture in her blog.

On Tuesday, the body will be cremated, and in the future we will spread his ashes on a large hill in Morrisson. (If you're driving on 285 and see the large lit-up cross on the hillside, that's where. And at the very top of the cross is where Michael's memorial will be.)

It'll take some time to heal, but for now, I'm there for Michele and the family has grown closer in this terrible ordeal.

Rest in peace, Michael.


Blogger cellothug said...

Sorry. :(

11:49 AM  

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