On March 28, 2014 we boarded a plane and headed to Miami, Florida. We were on a Sun Country airplane in our little blue seats, the three of us in a row. It was so early, it was still dark and cold out. I sat in the aisle seat and all I could think of was why am I leaving? The door closed, the flight attendants did their usual and customary safety demonstration and as the plane took off my mind drifted back to the dreadful morning.
Brett passed away early, in the early hours of Saturday the 22nd of February. It was a little past 3:30am when I felt a hand on my back and a voice whisper in my ear “he’s coding”. I leapt off the chair I was sleeping in, saw the look on the nurse’s face and ran, leaving her in the waiting room. I ran through both waiting rooms, down what felt to be an eternally long hallway to his room, only to stop at the doors and bear witness to residents and nurses switching out to perform chest compressions while another performed artificial ventilation with an Ambu bag while she was rhythmically counting. The attending physician was orchestrating the whole thing. I was escorted, practically pushed through the sliding glass doors and shoved in a corner. There was nothing I could do but stand and watch, although they wanted me to sit, and it was then that I realized I was in socks. I had run through the ICU in only socks, no shoes. It was hard to focus and to just watch, I wanted to jump in, do something and not just hear the red second hand tick past the black numbers and dashes on the white face of the clock I stood below. I knew how to do this, hell, I’ve called and assisted in codes but this was no ordinary code this was Brett and despite heroic efforts, the outcome was what it was.
It had been a mere 24 hours that three of us had been without him and my house began filling up. First my Mom and my friend from middle school and then friends from work, his family trickled in a little later, I think. Had someone called them, had I invited people over, is this protocol? A neighbor brought food but didn’t stay. People kept bringing food. I received one gift that day but no one wished me a happy birthday, it was the freakin’ ten ton elephant in the room when people saw me. I didn’t want to be hugged and they didn’t know what to say. At first I sat and talked with visitors but as my coworkers left and it was just family I was able to just drift through the house and answer phone calls. The calls kept coming, my cell rang and rang and when I couldn’t answer, the callers called my mom. People just came to the house, some I didn’t recognize immediately and they were family, these were people I knew. I have no memory of where my kids were that day but they were there, I don’t recall who was there and who wasn’t, I don’t even remember if my brother was there. I do remember being asked, frequently, if I had eaten and I had.
For weeks eating had become a completely mechanical process but that day was when it worsened. I did not get hungry but if food was placed in front of me I’d eat. It tasted like nothing, it did not satisfy a need, it was merely out of necessity and to stop the question and to answer truthfully. The interesting thing was how somehow it made everyone feel better or relieved to watch me eat or to know that I had eaten. What is it with food? I’d forget to drink anything and I since I didn’t get thirsty it wouldn’t be until I’d be going to bed or getting up in the morning that I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I had voided. My mind failed to alert me of the most basic needs and sleep was impossible.
Pretending to be “normal” acting like I was ok was exhausting that first month. The day before we boarded the plane was garbage day. I hate garbage day and although I got emotional and sad, I didn’t cry. That was the first time I hadn’t rolled the big blue garbage can down the driveway to the curb without tears streaming down my face. Not crying for me is important, not breaking down in front of the kids or people I don’t really know is what I was all about for a very long time. I needed to be composed and in control of the waterworks at all times. When was the routine and mundane not going to cause tears or grief? The routine and the mundane were what had kept me sane without time to feel or to think but rather react. Perhaps not in the way one thinks one should with screams, hysterics, collapses and/or need of sedation but rather just by continuing to continue. Work is what had kept me moving forward, the sheer need to provide for my children is what got me out of bed, the fact that I was now the example, although mortifying, is what compelled me to put one foot in front of the other and face the day after day, and it had only been a mere month.
It was finally raining when I got home from work, which I love because rain means it’s not snow! I had brought home sushi for dinner and on the tops of the containers I had taped Jay and Elle’s boarding passes. They were so surprised and thrilled to be going to Miami for Spring Break and that I was able to keep the plans Brett had initiated. It was so hard to put a smile on my face, I no longer wanted to go. My house was clean, laundry was caught up, I had sent the kid’s clothes with my Mom when she left for Florida so all I needed to do was pack my stuff and the kids needed to pack their toothbrushes and electronics but I didn’t want to leave.
At the airport security check, for an instant I saw a man who from the side resembled Brett, little thicker in the middle though and perhaps a couple inches shorter, but the hair… The way it was styled, color and the way it laid, the long legs, the way he carried himself and even the button down shirt and jeans he was wearing were spot on. In that moment a vague thought crossed my mind and then he was gone, lost in the crowd. For a second I thought I should follow just to make sure it wasn’t Brett. Then once seated on the plane, kids settled, headphones in, seat belts fastened, across the aisle and two rows in front there he was. I could only see the back of his head, his neck, left shoulder and left leg but it was as if we were traveling as we should have been…together. A while later a turbulence set in that required the beverage cart to stop and I thought, if it’s God’s will we will once again be together and of course it wasn’t but it could have been and I would have been fine with that. Elle interrupted my thoughts, she wanted to watch a movie but Jay didn’t so I switched seats with him and could no longer stare but felt comforted that for a brief moment I felt normal, even if just in fantasy, traveling the way we always had.
“It takes huge effort to free yourself from memory” I read somewhere and I thought of it as the movie loaded and I realized that my mind was playing tricks on me. The movie we saw? The Book Thief, sad but I recommend it.
This trip, although I will remain forever grateful for it, may prove to be the most painful trip of my life. Growing up I thought you run from your problems, you find solutions in faraway places but Brett taught me differently. That very week in March, we would have had eight years in our house, our third home, but the longest I’ve lived in one place, ever, and I was 38 years old. I want to pass on this teaching of stability to the kids, I am asked repeatedly if I will be moving and for now the answer is no.
Fast forward a year, March 30th 2015, we boarded a Spirit Airlines plane, it is 1:00am and we are once again flying to Miami for Spring Break.
This time with less fear, still some apprehension but with hope that we will have a good time. We are moving forward with what was and once were in our hearts.