One year ago today my Godfather passed away. He was a diabetic who spent most of the last months of his life in and out of the hospital dealing with circulation problems in his leg. He had a surgeon who was very quick to slice him up like a roast in attempts to get the blood flowing. Johnny loved the guy. Eventually he lost one of his legs below the knee. He had seemed to be on death’s door a number of times (we almost lost him Christmas Day) but after they took his leg he recovered quickly.
Except for one seemingly minor thing. One of the incisions in his thigh from an earlier operation was not healing. Every now and then it would just split open on him and he’d be back in the hospital again. One year ago this morning it split open and opened up one of his main arteries with it. It only took a couple of minutes for him to bleed to death. He had a life alert necklace on and hit it, but in the few seconds it took for them to respond he was already fading out.
The life alert folks called my father. It took him a little less than five minutes to get to Johnny’s house, but by the time he got there it was already too late. Johnny was gone.
I was also on the list of people for life alert to call. I work more than an hour away from Johnny’s house, so I was the last person on the list. I never leave my cell phone ringer on at work though and I didn’t catch the call coming in. I did catch the voicemail popping up though and I listened to it and called my father. I was terrified that if something was happening and no one else was available to get the call then maybe not hearing the phone vibrate when it was 10 inches away from me might turn out to be a horrible thing.
I called my father’s cell phone and he answered right away. He was already at Johnny’s house and it was already over. He was crying when I spoke to him. I hope to never hear him cry like that again.
My boss and I sit next to each other so he heard everything that was going on. When I hung up with my father I told him that my uncle had died and that I needed to go be with my father. I think I was calm. I might not have been. I might have been a jittery basket case. I made it as far as the car before the tears started. I got in and tried for a few seconds to calm myself down. I knew that my father was going to need us all to hold it together and I wanted to be strong for him. I called Jen to tell her what had happened and I lost it. I balled my eyes out for about five minutes.
Eventually I pulled it together and headed to Johnny’s house. My father was there with a couple of cops. They were waiting for some one to come and bring the body to the coroner’s office. I saw Johnny through a crack in the bathroom door. He was slumped over in his wheel chair with his back to me. There was blood everywhere. Part of me wishes I hadn’t seen him. Another part of me is glad I got one last look at him. I can’t tell which part is right.
The last time I saw him alive was the Sunday prior. We had had our annual Irish boiled dinner at my parent’s house. Johnny wasn’t feeling well enough to go so some of us brought some to him. I think it was me and Jen and my sister and her husband. Jen and I only stayed for a few minutes. We had to go to Larry’s house for a surprise birthday party for Nawal. We also had some big news to share with him. That was the day Jen and I rented the duplex. We got to tell him. He looked old and tired that day, but he was happy. He was happy for us. Lisa and Ken stayed with him for a couple of hours just hanging out and talking.
One thing I knew for sure was that Johnny loved Jen. When he was going through the long hospital stays Jen and I tried to visit him at least once a week. He used to beam at her. He introduced her to a friend as his niece. He clearly thought the world of her and through all the pain he was going through he made sure I knew how happy he was that she and I were together. There are only two things I regret with regard to Johnny. One is that he never met the kids. The other is that he died before Jen and I decided to marry. I know both of those things would have made him very happy. I wish I got the chance to share them with him.
This weekend there is an anniversary mass for Uncle Johnny at St Williams. The whole family is going to go, and afterward we will have the annual corned beef and cabbage dinner feast at my parents house. I wish Johnny could be there. I miss him very much.
Today is the first day of Spring. Some how that seems fitting. It feels some how symbolic of things moving on and getting better.