I can’t imagine a more stressful drive up for my parents in law. They said at some points they could drive 70 miles per hour for 30 miles, then drive 10 miles an hour for the next 20. I would be beside myself – just wanting to get to their only son as fast as they could.
The last time I saw my parents in law was for Tony’s birthday in 2013. My MIL has had her own share of hospital stays and medical issues this past year. So it was a bit of a shock for me to see her frail for the first time. She uses a walker, which she loudly calls “the bitch” and would tell everyone within ears reach that “the bitch” was only temporary and she’d be able to walk on her own again.
They finally arrived Monday afternoon, three days after Tony came home from the hospital. By now Tony was sleeping pretty much all the time, but I do know he opened his eyes and he recognized his parents. We spent Monday afternoon sitting around, some people on their iPads, smart phones or laptops. Food was always around. We would glance in on Tony as he slept. It was like we living life around him. I was afraid to have Tony sleep in Hannah’s room alone, for fear of not hearing him if he did need anything. He never once woke me up, but just knowing I was there was comforting for me, if not for him. I took my couch cushions and formed a mattress, and dragged our down comforter and pillows from our bed, and slept on the floor every night.
After everyone went home on Monday night (eek, can’t remember if Hannah or my Mom stayed with me that night, but I don’t think so) – I kissed his face and his hand. Wished him sweet dreams and went to sleep. When I woke up Tuesday, December 2 and put my glasses on, it was then that I realized he had barely moved a muscle all night. His hands were in the same position. His breathing was slow. There were times over the weekend that I could count 30 seconds between breaths and would think to myself “is that it?!”
Tony’s family was over on that morning. I had forgotten that the social worker for the hospice center was coming out, and was nearly out the door to buy groceries to make chili and soup to have on hand. We sat around the table for a good couple hours talking about stories – his parents telling me stories I hadn’t heard of from when he was little. Like climbing a telephone pole across the street from his house when he was about three and he was so high up, my MIL told him to just jump and she’d catch him. He ended up sliding down the pole and she said it took forever to remove all the splinters in his chest.
I know Tony’s favorite memory was of him working in his Uncle’s trattoria in Florence Italy one summer when he was 15. He didn’t want to see the sights, hang around with his parents, he just loved sitting behind the counter serving people coffee, serving up food. It was that age that he told me that he could see himself living in Italy the rest of his life! Until he saw his girl cousin. Um, let’s just say that women back then didn’t shave their legs, and the first time Tony saw his cousin come up to him to give him a hug and a kiss, he saw the matted leg hair under nylons and he was forever repulsed by female body hair. Pretty sure now that I am not getting naked any time soon, I can probably go the rest of the winter without shaving my legs. You’re welcome for that visual.
I mostly held Tony’s hand that last weekend. Every time I went into the room that would be the first thing I would do. I’d look at his face. Sometimes with tears streaming down my face, but other times thinking of something silly he’d done – he knew I hated bugs of any kind and he’d always trick me by lightly brushing the back of my neck, or throwing a fake rubber spider on me to get a reaction, and that would make me smile.
When the social worker left just before 12:30 on that Tuesday, I realized “I need to make food for these people!” I started pulling out lunch meat, cheese, breads, when all of a sudden, I just stopped in my tracks and went in to look at him. My MIL followed me just a minute later. He was making a noise that was unfamiliar – almost a faint gurgling in the back of his throat. My MIL and I looked at each other. We looked back at Tony. His breath was getting slower and slower. He took a breath, and then. . . nothing. His mouth was a bit agape, and I internally started counting. Once I got to 100 seconds, I realized he was gone. My MIL and I just held each other and cried and absorbed what we just witnessed before Bonnie walked into the bustling kitchen and declared “He’s gone.”
My Dad had hospice when he passed away but I remember it being fairly quickly after he passed away that the funeral home came to take him away. It’s been 16 years, so maybe my memory is fading on that. But in the county we live in, an RN has to pronounce him dead before the funeral home can be called. So the social worker had literally gotten 30 minutes away when she turned around and came back. Since Tony had been off of dialysis for just over a week, there was no way of knowing how much time he had left – one nurse said she had a patient last six weeks!
By the time the RN got to our house, it was around 3:30. My local funeral home hadn’t responded, so they called a back up to hold Tony for the night. He finally left the house around 6:30 at night. In retrospect, I am happy it happened that way. We could still see him, touch him and I am not kidding that it seemed every once in a while that his chest may have been moving a bit, but that was obviously not the case. I again told him he was the love of my life. That even though our 14 years together was a roller coaster at times, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. That I would missing sitting outside on our patio in the summer, him with a beer and a cigar and me with my wine and Frank Sinatra playing in the background, the smell of grilled chicken or beef roast wafting in the air from the Weber grill.
That picture was taken about an hour after he passed away. Hannah was standing across the bed from me and she took that picture, and I absolutely love it. I always loved how big his hands were and he liked how tiny my hands were because he said it made his penis look twice as big. I had to put that last line in there – sorry to my Mom and his parents, but that’s Tony sense of humor through and through.
The next day the food starting coming in. His cousins Gregg and Lisa sent two Peapod trays – holy smokes were these delicious – a giant Italian antipasta tray and gorgeous fruit.
Our neighbors across the street sent over homemade cookies and banana bread.
We brought in Rosati’s family style food of baked penne pasta, cheese ravioli, Italian sausage, meatballs and chicken alfredo. We ate off of those dishes for days. My brother Charlie was such a trooper – trying to work remotely for Apple where he works in Austin, interview people in his car in the driveway because it was quiet, and still try to spend as much time with me. I will never forget him, his wife Laura and girls just picking up after Thanksgiving night and driving 20+ hours to be with me.
He may have helped me drink a bit of wine. I don’t know why I never thought to remove the inner plastic tubing of a box of wine to make sure I didn’t miss a drop. Genius.
He helped me write Tony’s obituary – which was 1000 times better than I ever could have made it. I knew what I wanted to say, and I think he captured the essence of Tony and his sense of humor.
On Wednesday my Mom, PIL and I went to the funeral home to make the arrangements for Tony’s Memorial. It was just so weird that the funeral director was saying words to me like “if you just step into this room you can choose an urn that you would like to have. . . please have your obituary of your husband to us by Saturday at noon for the Sunday Chicago Tribune and local paper . . .your husbands remains weigh about 8 pounds so there is plenty of ashes for the 7 baby urns you would like to give to your husbands family.
On Thursday, the day before his Memorial, my parents in law stopped by in the morning. We sat around talking, having coffee. I went into the kitchen and could hear wings flapping. The way our house is situated, our back room has corner windows and we’ve had birds hit one window thinking they could just fly right through it. I was thinking, what a dumb bird trying to get in! Nope, a tiny finch was INSIDE my house, trying to get out! We had both the front and back door open, and we swished the bird in either direction, until we didn’t see it anymore. We waited. Whew, it got out!
We then proceeded to go to the florist to get the flowers for the alter. Tony was cremated so there was no open casket – he never wanted that. We picked Bears colors, even though they have sucked ass in recent years, and we came home. Only to find the bird still in the house! My FIL finally just draped a blanket over the bird when it was perched on my comfy chair, and then we released it outside. So weird! In the last three weeks I’ve had a cat, a mouse and now a bird in my house!
And just like that, his Memorial was Friday. I had many surprises that day . . .but you’ll have to come back tomorrow to find out what they were.
This has been a difficult week writing these blog posts, but not only for me, but for his family down the road to be able to come back to them and hopefully find peace and comfort in my words.
It’s only been a little over a week and when I wake up, I have to remind myself that he isn’t here. I can swear I can hear his faint snore as I am just about to fall asleep. I realized yesterday that I don’t need to carry my cell phone around the office with me anymore because I always told Tony to call my cell in case I was at the copier or at the gym if he needed me.
And I have called his cell phone many times just to hear his voice. And I may have left him messages that I love him.
I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.