I saw this plane go down that day.

I was on the last ferry to Hoboken (they all left to go into rescue mode after dropping off the passengers.)

I saw the news later that day and the next morning and saw the ferry operators who had just dropped us in Hoboken be the first to arrive at the plane.

But I was in the middle of my own personal crisis. I had spent the week talking to hospice and bracing for my own impact.

When hospice appeared, it meant something. Something bad.

Therefore, I felt strangely disconnected to the events taking place on the Hudson.

A plane just crashed into the Hudson. A fellow ferry passenger was screaming that he worked for the airlines and no way anyone survived a plunge into the Hudson. He said everyone on the plane must be dead.

I was unclear about what really happened. I heard it, but it was an odd sound. Definitely hadn’t exploded. While it was still in the air it looked as if it would land right on us, but the ferry crew nonchalantly docked the boat, let us off, before they went off on a rescue mission as if this was the time of day they go rescue people from a jet languishing on the icy Hudson River.

I couldn’t see the plane from where I was. I stood on the dock for a while but it was cold so I walked inside to the train station.

Once on the train, I was hoping it would leave the station without the events on the river affecting my departure.

Was there really a crash?

It didn’t look as if the plane was crashing, just coming down.

Still, the airlines dude was yelling that he knew all about water landings and there was most likely no chance of surviving one. He was a crazy person describing different times a plane landed on water and broke into a million pieces, as the man on the video below talks about. I had no idea if he was right or not, but he was making the rest of us a bit crazy too.

I assumed the guy was right. Another guy chimed in with the thought that it was freezing and if the plane sank, there would be little time before the surviving passengers died of hypothermia.

I took it all in without much thought.

I tapped out a few messages on my Blackberry to my kids. “A plane just went down in the Hudson.”

I was in a surreal fog about it all.

My honey was dying. Hospice has been called.

I wanted to turn to someone, anyone, and say, “A hospital bed is next to the pool table. The pool table has become a nurse’s station full of medication and salves and powders, cloths and clean pajamas and sweat pants. I tried to keep him as dressed as possible but jeans were out of the question. He wore a lot of flannel pajama bottoms with tee shirt tops these days. He hasn’t worn jeans in a few months.”

The jeans he wore on the day of his seizure back in September still graced the back of the downstairs bathroom. Along with his belt. I couldn’t bear to move them. It was as if he would just spring up one day, announce he was done with this terminal illness bs and run into the bathroom and put on his jeans, go down to the garage and finish threading the fishing poles he was in the middle of threading, that stood in the garage untouched still, jump in the car and go to the lake.

But that didn’t happen.

The next time Michael would wear jeans was the day we dressed him to leave the house for the last time. We put him in jeans and a Harley shirt. He came into this house in that attire and it was the way he would go out.

It was my daughter’s idea. I wasn’t even thinking when the hospice nurse, a fellow Vietnam Vet whom Michael just loved and they made each other laugh (a lot), asked what he should wear “out.”

Out to the funeral home.

I was waving at the pile of sweat pants and flannel pajama bottoms on the pool table and my daughter, sobbing her heart out said, “No, Daddy needs to be in jeans and a Harley shirt.”

Yes. Absolutely. Right call. The most right call she’s ever made.
The hospice nurse gave me a gruff hug as I headed up the stairs to get his clothes.

I had come to find hospice as solace and strength when I didn’t have any. I had fled from Michael’s bedside into the kitchen to break down in uncontrollable sobs on more than one occasion and his lead nurse, a small, thin woman who was the exact physical opposite of his daily VV nurse who was a huge growl-y bear of man, would cry with me.

She cried at his memorial and cupped my face in her hands and said sincerely, “I have never seen such love between two people in my entire life.” She said that often and she was such a good, kind and honest person, I knew she spoke only the truth. She truly was touched by us and many days welled up when she talked about us. She had lost her own husband years ago and this was her life now. She believed she helped people to the other side. She believed there was an other side. I told her one day, in a cranky voice, I didn’t care if there was an other side. Michael didn’t belong there. Everyone he loved was HERE.

But despite our trials and tribulations, despite my railing against them when they came and many times since they’d been there, hospice had been my saving grace by the time the end was near and even after it was over.

But in January, the insertion of hospice into my life was a deep, dark intrusion. This. is. the. end. There was no compassion in me for anyone else. My own pain was eating me alive.

On 9/11 Michael called me to tell me a plane had struck the towers. As a native New Yorker who had just returned to California from there, this was a bit of a yawn to me. I said, groggily, “Those buildings are built to withstand planes after a few planes crashed into the Empire State Building.” I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t. I came downstairs and turned on the television just in time to see the second plane hit. Okay, this was not good. Michael came home from work and we, like the entire nation, the entire world, spent the day and the weeks ahead in shock. This was the biggest train wreck from which you could not stop watching.

I was back in NYC a couple of weeks later and it was clear my city had changed. I had an interview two blocks from the WTC and smoke was still billowing. It was the day the NYPD and FDNY had a scuffle at the site. I went down there and had been dazed and confused and wandering about and then the scuffle broke out and suddenly the area was cleared of any and all “non-essential” persons.

Since I was just stumbling around in debris with a suit and briefcase, I was non-essential. I couldn’t even describe my thoughts to anyone that day. Weeks later I shared them with Michael. I didn’t say much but he never needed me to say much (in fact, I always said way too much), he gave me a look of empathy and patted my hand. He had a way of doing that. He was the most calming influence on the crazy side of me that I’ve ever known. In fact no one else has ever come close to calming me as he did. I race to the top of insanity hill every chance I get and Michael would say, calmly, “Hon, come down from there.” and sometimes I’d come down sheepishly and other times kicking and screaming, but I would come down.

He was not available for hand pats when the plane went down on the Hudson. He was not available for a phone call. The brain tumors had taken away his phone months ago. He had been in rehab and I bought him a new phone as he requested, but the tumors would take over and he’d be dialing everyone in the middle of the night. Asking for TUMS, for Wendy’s shakes with French fries, for a lobster roll. Taking away his phone was hard and he asked for it incessantly, but he had forgotten how to use it. Half the time he wasn’t even sure who he was calling. He would just slam his fingers onto the numbers until someone picked up. So I could not call home and ask to speak to him. Once he got a phone in his hand, he wouldn’t let go.

I missed him so. I turned away from the drama n the Hudson and huddled into my coat, hoping that the damn train would just GO already. Even though the plane was only a short distance from the train terminal, I was not interested in what was transpiring out there. Train passengers were yelling and trying to find news on their Blackberries. I closed my eyes and wished it all to go away. This was my new world. A world without support of the one person who loved me. Okay, rescue people; don’t rescue people.

All I could think of was that had I not taken that early ferry I would have had a nightmare of a commute home and hours before I’d see Michael again. On 9/11 my kids were on the east coast and I was on the west coast and the idea I would not be able to get to them if they needed me was horribly real. A little more than a year later my son Michael would be assaulted in Boston and he was on life support and I had to take an agonizing trip from San Francisco to Boston not knowing if he would be alive when my plane touched down. After 9/11 and then 10/12, I vowed to never be 3000 miles from my loved ones again. But now 40 miles seemed like 3000. Let’s GO already.

I counted every minute with him now. The downed plane would have caused me massive inconvenience if I hadn’t stumbled out of my office and down to the Wall Street pier to catch the ferry when I did. I wasn’t in work mode. I couldn’t concentrate. So I called it a very early day and left. It was a grey January in New York day and I was alone. So alone. I just wanted to go home. Even though my home was now unrecognizable to me. There were strangers there and the man who was my rock was in a hospital bed in the family room, inches away from his couch, his television and his pool table where he spent hours practicing the shots that would amaze others. He was unbeatable. I wanted to whisper that to his brain tumors. “He is unbeatable!” I wanted that to still be true.

Had I postponed that decision to leave my office even a little while, I would have had to go into survival mode and somehow worked my way uptown to a, no doubt, overcrowded Penn Station and then pushed and shoved my way onto the PATH train to get to Hoboken. If I hadn’t gotten on that last ferry, getting home would have been a nightmare and I would have been more than put out of my way. I would have been an anxiety-filled crazy person, convinced that Michael was passing as I was way-laid in the train station.

My gratitude, when the train finally pulled out of the station, was that I was able to get home without delay. Gratitude I had left my office at just the right time. The fate of the people on the plane were of little or no consequence to me.

I can’t say I didn’t care because I’m not the type of person to not care, but maybe I didn’t. I was awash in grief of my own. The person I loved with my whole heart and soul and who had been the only person in my entire life to love me the same way, was dying.

Other than the Captain, none of the passengers have been that real to me. What struck me about this video was that what this man is conveying is what Michael already knew and had lived. The struggle, in each of us, is to remember these things. I don’t always do well at it. I sometimes am not sure if being right doesn’t equal being happy. Sometimes when I am right and being told I am wrong, I have to fight for me. No one else is here who will. Michael fought for me. Always. No matter what, no matter who. So sometimes “being right” does equal “being happy” because I have to advocate for my own interests. But not always. The in-between is where I struggle. Michael was a huge help with the in-between. My voice of reason, my calming influence…and where is he now that I need him the most?

I want someone to help me when I can’t get the toilet to stop clogging. I want someone to help me when something is sticking to the bottom of the garbage can and I can’t get the bag out without ripping it to shreds. Just last week I sat on the floor and cried over the broken trash bag, surrounded by coffee grounds and used paper towels. Why can’t a simple thing like a garbage can work correctly? Where is Michael to pull me off the floor and tell me to go do something while he cleans up the mess? “Go play Tumblebugs…”

We used to play against each other in the office. We each had Tumblebugs and would chortle our high scores to each other. Then one day I found a way to play without any lives left and my score tripled overnight. He kept saying he couldn’t believe I was just kicking his butt all over the place. After a few days I let him in on my secret. “You sneak!” he yelled but he was clearly amused. There wasn’t anything I could really do to anger him. Well I’m sure there was but those things were not anything I would do. I couldn’t even cheat at Tumblebugs. There was no way I could cheat on him. That would anger him and then he would walk. And we both were very clear on our “No walking” policy. And we never gave the other a reason to even think about it.

Now he was slowly fading from me. We opened his memorial in August with the song “Wrapped in My Memory” by Shawn Smith. And I thought about it.

Standing on that stage
tell us what you’ve been feeling
Before you started to fade
You gave me something to believe in
And that the best thing
That anyone can give

I chose that song for those few lines. Before he faded away, before the tumors took a good man, before I lost the love of my life, he taught me and our kids to believe in something. We all believed in him. I believed so much in him that in June, when he outlived his prognosis, I was on the phone with the best oncologists in the world asking if I should give treatment another shot.

It took a very sympathetic brain surgeon at Sloan Kettering to convince me otherwise. But he was doing so well! All cancer patients seem to have this resurgence, he said, before the bottom drops out. But Michael DiCarlo is not like other cancer patients. He gave me something to believe in.

The amount of money it would take did not phase me but the stress it would place on him did. I cried like a baby after putting him through the torture of that final MRI in March. I felt like the worst person in the world. And I didn’t want to feel that way. My son Michael said he backed anything I wanted to do and would contribute whatever money he had, which was not a lot. He knew what Michael had done for him when he came home with me and needed daily medication and months to recover from traumatic brain injury. Whatever my husband needed, whatever his mother decided to do. I couldn’t do it. I knew it was selfish. I knew that pulling a few more months out of his withering body was purely for selfish reasons and I also knew that my darling husband would endure whatever I asked him to and for that reason I couldn’t ask more of him.

I sat by his bed, in those last months, holding his hand and willing him to get better. I knew that if I said, “For me…” he would hang on as long as he could. For me.

But that last weekend when it was just the two of us for the first time since he got sick, I said it was okay to go. My daughter wanted him there for her 16th birthday a week earlier and he was not only there but managed to sit at the table for cake and singing Happy Birthday. Then she went to Boston with her brothers to relieve the stress of a long summer. I knew he had been willing himself to make it to her birthday and right after he had an enormous drop in health and clarity. He went into a fog that didn’t lift.

On that last weekend, I wanted him to wait for my daughter to come home from Boston. But after that, it was okay to go. They came home on Sunday night and he was without speech and not even blinking when I asked him to blink. I was adding morphine to his medication to help his breathing which was so labored and I knew it was what they call the “death rattle.” It’s ominous and horrible. Between the rattle and the cranking of the oxygen machine, I wanted to run screaming out into the yard. But I stayed. For those last few days I pushed the couch, his couch, over to the side of the hospital bed and held his hand through the rails.

Monday morning his temperature was rising and his breathing was labored. My son went to buy a thermometer. I knew he was racing around winding back roads and I expressed to the hospice staff that had gathered, because I had called them, that I was worried. Michael had not spoken in days. The last thing he said to me was Friday night when I kissed him goodnight and said, “I love you.” and he smiled and said, “I love you too.” Those were the last words he ever spoke. But his eyes never left my face from Saturday morning to Monday at almost noon. I held his hand but kept expressing concern for my son whipping around the roads at 100 mph or whatever crazy speed he would drive. The Michaels, as we called them, were two peas in a pod and I knew that even in his dying moments, he had to be incredibly concerned for my son’s welfare. I sat on one side of the bed holding his hand and my daughter on the other.

Michael had no words but his eyes never left mine. I kept saying, “It’s okay, honey, I love you honey, it’s okay. It will be okay. Everything will be okay.” That was what Michael said all the time. We closed his memorial service with the Bob Marley song, “Three Little Birds” because I knew that would be the message that Michael would want to leave us with...every little thing..will be alright… It was his legacy to not worry, every little thing would be alright and though that has not panned out, I know that is what he still wants me to believe and I struggle to do so even on the days it’s damn near impossible. He was more than a cockeyed optimist. He was a “Whatever” kind to the nth degree. And I loved that so much. I needed that so much. Trying to keep that attitude infused into my life when every little thing is going wrong is tough stuff, but it’s necessary.

The night I met Michael he said, “I just want to be happy.” And happy he was and nothing and no one would take that from him. I know I made his last year as comfortable and as loving as anyone could. But he had spent the previous 13 years doing that for me. It was the very very very least I could do for someone so full of love, compassion and hope. His needs were few and simple. He liked to fish, watch NASCAR, ride a motorcycle and eat. And eat. And eat. A half roast beef sandwich that I would buy on the way home would make him smile and his smile would light up the room and the room would light up my world. And now he lay dying in that same room where he smiled, so many nights, when I came in with some small morsel of goodies. And he would say, like a little kid, “Oh boy, hon, thanks hon. Thank you.” And it was just a half sandwich. You would think it was gold. But Michael didn’t need gold. He simply needed love and loyalty and trust and laughter and we had so much of that. So very much of that. He knew life is short; it can change in an instant. And for us it did.

But here he was, holding on still. he held on for me, for my daughter and now for my son who was somewhere out there and though he was slipping, he held on fast.

Finally, we heard my son in the driveway. His lead hospice nurse looked out and saw him coming up the walk and said, “Your boy is safe. He’s home.” And with that in mind, my dear selfless wonderful soul mate, closed his eyes and was gone.

Michael gave me something to believe in. Something that this man learned as his plane was crashing.

That life can change in an instant.

And something we all need to learn. Without surviving a plane crash or needing hospice.

I’m very grateful for this inspirational video and the lesson herein. If you haven’t learned it, it’s time.


http://youtu.be/8_zk2DpgLCs

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