Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lord, I changed my mind!

(The pictures on this post are of friends saying good-bye to Vinnie)

Vinnie grew weaker and weaker over the next few weeks and his pain medicine was increased each week, sometimes twice a week. He continued to "travel" daily. In fact, it seemed he was more 'there' than here everyday. He was eating less and less and towards the end, it was even harder to drink. Sometimes he complained that his chest hurt and he could feel the cancer choking his breath.

He also began to do strange things. He was eating imaginary bread from imaginary plates, drinking hot beverages from imaginary cups, and seeing all kinds of beautiful things such as flowered bushes, beautiful children and 'kind people'. He even saw golden retrievers. We didn't know what to make of all this coming from such a logical and level headed kind of guy!

That Friday, Vinnie was weirder than ever. He seemed very restless that day and very uncomfortable that night when we went to bed. He kept getting up. He'd try to rest on the floor, in his favorite chair, in the chair with the massage cushion, but nothing worked. It kept me awake. He was not making much sense at this point, even his speech was not clear. It was getting harder and harder to understand what he was saying. I wondered if cancer was in his throat. So I got up to see if I could help him. He got upset that I was spying on him. He tried to leave but walked out on the porch and stood out there in his bathrobe swaying back and forth. He finally came back inside and started staggering around the room, knocking things over and falling. He got hurt a few times. I thought he might break something or hurt me. I called the nurse on call.

She told me he was experiencing terminal agitation. She said not everyone experiences this but it is not uncommon. She reminded me that Vinnie was not going to live much longer now and that nothing I could do at this point was going to hurt Vinnie. She then gave me a whole list of things to do to try to calm Vinnie down. I started giving him morphine every 15 minutes along with other meds that are supposed to calm a person down. I had to give it all to him in a syringe because he could not swallow very well. I called her another hour or so later and told her that it wasn't was making him worse! She gave me another regimen of things to do and said that if I called her again, she would not hesitate to just come here. I told her I'd try the next set of things to do. I didn't want her to come. It was already 1 a.m. at this point, and she lived almost an hour away! However, when Vinnie started spitting the medication at me, I called and said, "Come! Just come!" She arrived about an hour later.

When she arrived, she asked me to call 911. We were going to take Vinnie to the hospital. He was out of control and I was unable to help him. I knew that was going to make him pretty upset. He didn't want to go back to the hospital. Sure enough...he was really upset! He tried to get out of bed dozens of times every day he was there. This once gentle man was biting, kicking, and punching all of us, especially me! He was very mad at me for this.

Because of his aggressive and unpredictable behavior, the doctor ordered a nurse to stay in the room with him around the clock. The nurses insisted I go home each night and get sleep because I probably hadn't gotten much of it lately and would need it at the end. So I arrived each morning to see Vinnie and stayed all day in the room with him. I loved being there all day. I didn't want to be anywhere else. I could see the blessing too in getting used to being home alone, especially when it was time to go to sleep. God was giving me the chance to get used to being there without Vinnie. Isn't God so good?! It was painful but also a blessing because I wasn't grieving Vinnie yet.

Each day at the hospital, I'd talk all day to the CNA's that stayed with Vinnie around the clock and of course, got to know all the RN's on the oncology floor. As I told stories of our life together, our family, and about all the ways God revealed his goodness even along the sad and crazy journey of Vinnie's cancer, they all began to really love Vinnie. Some remembered him from other hospital stays and already loved him.

By Wednesday morning, I realized that even though we wanted Vinnie to die at home, God had a different and very intentional plan. He wanted us to be where others would be blessed by the stories of His as His work in our lives over the years. I could hardly wait to tell Vinnie what God showed me. I hoped he would comprehend what I had to tell him. I think he did. He squeezed my hand when I reminded him that we always said we wanted God's will over our own. That meant even about how and where we would die. He was calmer after that.

Each of the children had made a promise to Vinnie before he died. Each one's promise was different and pertinent to their own personalities and needs. One promised to be a peace maker in the family. Another promised to finished school and get her self in a situation where she didn't have to rely on other people for basic survival anymore. I recently learned that even my sister and her husband made a promise to Vinnie before he died. They promised to look after me for him. I am not sure what the other two kids promised him but I was well aware that I hadn't promised him anything. I didn't know what I could promise him that would be significant to him, at least not until that morning! As I told him my revelation about why God wanted him in the hospital, that it was for the purpose of blessing others, it became apparent what my promise is suppose to be. I promised him that his death would not be in vain, that the story of our lives and God's work in us and in his death, would live on and bless others for years to come. I promised him I'd make sure of it. That is the purpose of this blog.

Ironically, that morning I also had another piece of information to tell Vinnie. I got word that Vinnie's mother was coming to see him from Italy. She had seen him at the recent wedding, and he didn't want her to see him when he got really sick. He didn't want her hovering over him carrying on and crying. He wanted her to stay home. I had to tell him that she was going to be here on Friday and that if he really didn't want her to see him like this, he'd have to die, really soon. I leaned over and told him that it was a perfect day to die. I think I told him that every day in his last week. But that morning when I told him, it was as though someone else were in the room reminding him of what day it would be. He ignored me and gave a subtle nod in agreement to the invisible one speaking to him. I am now convinced that he knew it would be Friday. Friday was going to be a perfect day for him to die. In many ways, it was.

That Wednesday I had a good day with Vinnie. I had a good conversation with the nurse on duty. I had a chance to talk to Vinnie without sensing he was mad at me, and Vinnie seemed to be very calm and peaceful that day. I decided to stay the night in the room with him and stayed the next day, Thursday, until about 3 p.m. At that point, I felt the need to go home, pay some bills, clean, and do some laundry. I called the hospital again around 9 p.m. Vinnie was still doing great. He was peaceful and resting. I decided to stay home and go to bed early. The hospice nurse did not tell me that the caregiver (that's me) often times gets a sense of 'housekeeping' like Vinnie had the week before, when the time is near. Thursday had become my 'housekeeping' day; Vinnie died the next day.

I woke up at 4 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep. I called the hospital and Vinnie was fine. But I felt very sad that day. It was Friday, August 29. I couldn't explain it but suddenly knowing Vinnie was going to die seemed very final and very sad. I cried out to God and told him I was a fake. I told him I only thought I was strong but I wasn't. I told him that I only thought I was going to be okay with Him taking my Vinnie away but I was not! I told God that I had changed my mind! I didn't want him to take Vinnie at all. I told him I wanted to take pictures with Vinnie from the cruise in Alaska we were suppose to go on. I told God I was suppose to come home every few months and show pictures of Vinnie and me to our kids, grand kids and even great grand kids of us standing outside our RV as we traveled around the country site seeing. I didn't want Vinnie to go now. I wasn't ready. I knew God was going to take him though. I suddenly looked in my bedroom and thought, "If you are going to leave me here without him, this bedroom has to become mine, not 'ours' and proceeded to rip all the bedding off and threw it in the guest room! Before I went to the hospital, I bought new bedding with a gift card a friend had given me and put it in the trunk of my car.

When I got to the hospital parking deck, I got a call from the charge nurse asking when I was going to be there. I asked if Vinnie was okay and she said she'd talk to me when I got upstairs. When I got off the elevator, she wrapped her arms around me and told me with tears in her eyes, that Mr. Vinnie was going to die soon. I went in the room and realized it would probably only be an hour or so. I called Shelly first because she lives the farthest way - about an hour an a half. She left right away and got there in record time for there being so much morning traffic. I called Amy next. I knew she would have to find someone to watch the kids. Ironically, her husband had just arrived home after being sent home for lack of work that day. He watched the kids and Amy got to the hospital in 15 minutes (don't tell but it takes a usual 30 minutes!) Christine was scheduled to close on the house that day. We were all proud of her and her husband and I told her to keep the closing date knowing that her dad was so proud and would not want her to cancel. She came around 1 p.m. Michael was working out of state that day but he still made it back in 4 hours! Vinnie died at 11:30 just about the time that the last papers were signed at the closing. Christine was excited that she got to close on her house before her daddy died, just as she had hoped. God's timing in all of it was perfect.

I wanted to be with Vinnie in his final hour and I wouldn't have traded that time with him for anything, but it was very hard (though also surreal). He was having the hardest time breathing. His poor stomach was sunken in from lack of food and basic deterioration. He looked so small and frail. I must have stroked his hair a million and a half times. I told him that he was the love of my life. I told him that I will never be the same because of his life with me. I told him I'd changed my mind about him going and that I wasn't okay with him leaving us. I told him I wish it could have been me that had been sick instead of him so he could stay with his kids and grand kids. I told him I loved him and would never be the same without him. I never will be. In his last few minutes, he was gasping for air. He would take a breath, and it would be another long and agonizing 30 or 45 seconds and he'd take another one. When it was clear that he'd taken his last breath, I noticed that his heart was still beating. It nearly killed me to watch it beating away and he wasn't breathing. It was awful. I put my hand over his heart until it didn't beat anymore. We each suddenly fell apart. There were no nurses in the room in his final hour. A nurse did open the door at the end and I whispered that Mr. Vinnie had gone Home. She left the room. They gave us our time with him. His fight was over. It was over. He was with the Lord. I couldn't believe it was so final. I just couldn't believe it. I had changed my mind but God had not changed His. Vinnie was gone from this life with us. Gone. We were suppose to say, "I'll see you later" but it sure felt like "Good-bye" to me!

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