"I argue thee that love is life. And life hath immortality." - Emily Dickinson
I had taken yesterday as a vacation day to be with the boys, knocking around at home while they enjoyed Day One of April break. At lunchtime, my phone rang, and I was told that Patrick had taken a turn for the worse. They never put in the trach; swelling has increased on his brain, nine days into this mess. It is affecting his spinal column. He is dying. The time to say goodbye is now.
My friend Mary, who happens to live about eight feet from me, was also home yesterday with her son. She sweetly took in my boys so I could speed down to the hospital. It was gloomy, cloudy, cold. Saturday's warm sunshine had given way to this grievous climate. It made sense.
I sunk eight quarters into the meter and hustled into the SICU. Off-duty and on-duty firemen milled about everywhere, there to see Patrick, their "brother", one last time. So many trucks were parked outside the hospital that some visitors thought there was a crisis in the building. There was, for us anyway.
I was angry when I arrived. Angry and sad for a life cut short. I alternated between tears and numbness. I hugged members of Patrick's family, who seemed larger than life in their strength and faith in this situation. I felt useless and in the way. But I had to be there, at least for a while. This is Patrick we're talking about. Paddyo. Pat, my embattled ex-boyfriend-turned-friend. Patrick, who is always there for others even when he isn't there for himself, who never misses an opportunity to pay me a compliment or give me a good ribbing, with whom I share a huge number of childhood friends, something we realized much later on in life. (We were likely at many parties together as children.) Patrick, who showed sincere happiness for me and Ian before our wedding, a great guy who cared so much for so many people, proud of his Irish heritage, proud fireman, proud Sox fan. Even prouder son.
Memories are flooding me. But what keeps coming back is last year's St. Patrick's Day Parade. Marching with the firemen, he jumped out of line to hug and kiss me, like he does with all the girls that day. Later, in the post-parade melee, he came back to find me and the boys, and we realized together that my car, which I had stupidly parked on the green line, had been towed. (Hey, I had been to see TWO relatives in the hospital that morning. I was distracted at best. Cut me some slack.)
Pat was merciless. He laughed at me all the way to Rudy's, where we walked with the boys to find Ian (and Ian's car, complete with carseats). I thought I'd never hear the end of it from him on that one. And now I'm sad that I have.
After spending a lot of time with the family yesterday, I finally made my way into Pat's room, alone. There wasn't much to say, really. I held onto his arm and cried. Machines beeped, and Pat breathed heavily through the ventilator. There was no sense, this visit, that he was "in there". All other times, even Thursday when he was so heavily sedated, I felt him. I could sense he was there--maybe a million miles away inside his brain, but still there. Yesterday...nothing. I felt like he was already gone, with God, and God was just giving us a chance to accept it before making it final.
I said what I needed to say, and I had a very hard time leaving the room, knowing it was likely the last time I would see him in this life. When I finally left the hospital yesterday, though, I felt peaceful. I felt strongly that Patrick is okay. He's safe. He's with God. And we have to let him go.
I do believe, like Emily Dickinson, that life is love, and therefore life is immortal. Love transcends life or death. Love survives, unbroken, after years of separation or estrangement. Love is the essence of who we are, the cord that connects me to you, you to him, him to her...it connects our experience. It allows us empathy, sympathy. Love is the common denominator for all of us in this life.
We forget, sometimes, how much we love each other and how much we need each other. And then we are given a chance to remember, in waiting rooms and brightly lit hospital hallways, as family, friends, and even old lovers hold on tightly to each other and wish we could promise to never, ever let go--forgetting it's a promise we've already kept. Real love--not just romantic love, but I mean real, human love--does not die. It does not vaporize after an embrace. It's part of our spiritual nature. And since we're spiritual beings having a human experience, love is the one thing we can take with us from this life to the next. It is the most important souvenier we can have from this trip.
My son Sean, who is seven, recently said, "I don't remember what Heaven was like before I was born. I think babies remember, though. Then they forget. Then we all remember when we die."
Enjoy this journey home, Patrick. There is so much love for you on either side of the river.
Patrick and me, Summer 2006