Never bought a plane ticket the same day that I'd flown the flight, never prayed for the whole flight for someone not to die so that we'd at least get there to say our good-byes.
We made it. George's whole family made it into one room, children, spouses, and grandchildren all. We've said our good-byes.
All that remains is the waiting.
George came down with a high fever for four days running, and then went to the doctor, with a slew of symptoms that were more than just a cold. What we now think might have happened is that he'd had a sort of static leukemia all along, and with the infection that turned into pneumonia, it kicked his immune system into high gear and the leukemia suddenly showed itself in a massive flood of white blood cells. So many that it depressed platelet production to the point it was dangerous to even attempt a biopsy to 'know' what was 'really' going on when it probably wouldn't have made a difference anyway.
The leukemia is untreatable, it's acute and too far along, and has been silently taking over George's marrow for too long without expression. The pneumonia already did its damage and even with several sets of antibiotics, it's not going anywhere..
When Paul texted at noon on Friday, that George might not have a day to live, all the other brothers went into action. Dave was in Hawaii with his spouse and they wrangled their ways home early; Walt and Cathie flew from Albuquerque; and John, Jet, and I hopped the last plane from Denver to Seattle that night. Everything else had been booked up because it was Friday, the day everyone goes home.
We'd originally planned to be in Seattle in two weeks; but on hearing that George might die that night, we asked Southwest to trade our old tickets in and they did it graciously. We just applied our old ticket prices against the price of the same day tickets and did what we could. John wanted all of us there, and it was a good thing, as it turned out that George really wanted all three of us there, too.
We spent the afternoon packing and readying things. Both John and I just broke down crying over the most random of things, but I needed one good solid cry when John was able to get on the phone with George for a while. John got a few good solid ones in as well, and was grateful I was just there to hold him through them. When Jet's bus came home, we went and got him, and kept everything everyday until we got to the house. Then we all sat down together and told Jet what was going on, and why we had to just take off in a plane for Seattle now. He did as needed without a protest or a complaint, just packed everything up and checked it. Jet and I played a level and a bit of Lego Pirates until John said it was time to go.
The drive to the airport was uneventful, and we got through a night time security that was sparse, and ended up at Panda Express, where we were all pretty happy to buy and eat what we wanted to eat. The orange chicken was good and hot, and we all dug in with gusto.
It was odd, in some ways, how content we were, but in other ways it wasn't, really. All three of us are very good about being present, especially with each other, and really really good at enjoying what's before us.
And while it was really odd to get on a plane at 9 pm, it just kind of was. Nothing else to it, I guess, and we flew. Jet and John and I all tried to sleep as much as we were able to on the plane. Jet flung his legs over mine, and sat sideways so that he was propped up against John's shoulder. And we did all right. Got to Seattle at 11, or midnight our time, got a rental car, which surprised Jet a little as we'd never done that before, and then drove directly to Overlake Hospital.
It was funny, and probably something no one else noticed, but when we stopped at the nurses' station and told them our family name, the nurses all smiled and pointed it out for us. The family had already made an impression.
Walt and Cathie were there. Emily, one of the grandchildren from David, had been there and gone. The nurse was wonderful, explaining everything, and happy to talk about what was going on. She also asked where we'd flown in from, and when we said Denver she was pretty appreciative, just as she probably had been with Walt and Cathie coming from Albuquerque. George had been napping, waiting for us, and he woke when we arrived. He was wearing a CPAP mask, to help him with his oxygen. The pneumonia was doing bad things to his lungs, and he needed the extra help to breath. Problem was that the pressure made it so that he really had to shout against the pressure to say anything. He looked terribly frail and spent in the hospital bed, and I think that that was when I finally accepted what was going to happen. The link between what had been told and what was right before me was finally made.
He was beyond happy to see us. George hugged us all fiercely, and sat up off his bed to hug Jet. He felt so hot and frail in my arms that I nearly broke down again right there. He told us all he loved us, and it was visibly obvious that it meant a great deal to him to be able to say that to us. Directly to us.
It meant the world to him that he could.
The sense of relief was profound, for both John and I. We made it in time, to talk with him while he was still lucid enough to know that we were there, and that we had come. We stayed for a while, until he went back to sleep. So at about 2 am Pacific time, or 3 am our time, we headed to Emerald Heights and got to go see Isabel at her apartment. She was delighted to see us and got us settled quickly. She had Paul and Emily already asleep in the apartment, and John, Jet, and I got her usual bedroom. Jet had a little cot, roll-out bed on the floor, and the three of us just rolled into our beds and made the best of it all.
We all rolled back out of bed at about 8, and Isabel, Emily, Walt, Cathie, Jet, John, and I all went to the Emerald Heights dining hall for breakfast together, and I realized where John gets his equanimity and where and how Jet and I fit in this amazing family. I mean... everyone enjoyed what was before them. There was no angst about what was going on, no second-guessing, no what-ifs, no blame, recrimination, or lamentations or self-aggrandizing bemoaning of how "horrible" it all was.
Instead, we all really, genuinely enjoyed each others presence, and appreciated the true fact that everyone had made the effort to get there. Jan and Marina, Paul's family, and Mary and Yuri, the last of David's family, were all supposed to make it in on Saturday. So we all planned to get to the hospital soon after breakfast, and we all did.
George was finally allowed some food, and he chose ice cream. Chocolate ice cream. In fact that was all he ate all day, and the family and the boys enjoyed feeding it to him between hits of oxygen, as he enjoyed it so much. George really liked having everyone around him, and even in his situation, when the doctors or the chaplain asked him how he felt, he said "Good. I feel good." And I believe he did.
By afternoon, everyone had gotten there, and George got to tell everyone how much he loved them, and he told Jet that he was very proud of Jet and very very happy to have had the chance to know him. Jet got hugged a couple of times, and was really great about it all, as he was a little uncomfortable, but okay about being able to do that for George. He also happily played with Marina, Emily, and Yuri when he could, and when we all crowded into the room together, Emily got to play her harp and sing for everyone. It was quite the performance, and various folks on the floor stopped by to hear and see.
We all took shifts to go to Whole Foods for lunch. John and I went back to Emerald Heights to get my stuff, and when we got back George suddenly asked for everyone to be in his room. We all went, and found the Emerald Heights chaplain there.
We gathered all around George, everyone laying hands on him. It was everyone. All at once, and the amount of concern and love and support for everyone around that bed along with George in the center was tremendous. The chaplain pronounced everything good, blessed the whole family and George, and said that he saw nothing to resolve, nothing that was out of balance, and that if George were to go now that he and we were doing it well. He also remarked on the enormous amount of love that was in the room, and that it was all there because George had given so generously of his love for so long. He added that that if George were to recover from the pneumonia and head back to Emerald Heights for a while, that that would be wonderful as well.
From there, the whole crew left to go to Emerald Heights for a dinner that Isabel had setup for everyone. All thirteen of us gathered in one room, with bottles of wine, a few packs of beer, and lots of good food that was served by a really lovely waitress. Everyone hugged everyone else, and there were a few good tears over happy memories. We just talked and talked and I got out the camera as I felt all right doing that here, whereas I'd felt very odd about it at the hospital. It was wonderful to just banter and talk and joke and just be there for and with everyone. The support we all had for each other was tangible and Isabel, as the gracious hostess, seemed buoyed by it all. The chocolate ice cream was the favorite dessert, and there was a sense of this being the one time we'd be together.
Yuri and Emily had to leave that night, and Paul's Jan and Marina were leaving in the morning. They had other responsibilities to take care of and there was a sense of the parting of ways. The night shift was divvied up by the boys, Paul and his family taking the first shift so that they could get to bed early as they had a 6 in the morning flight back home. They dropped by here on their way to the airport. John and I took the 4 am shift, and so here we are, with Isabel, just watching and waiting. We picked up from Walt and Cathie, who were here from 1-4, and David did a lot of hopping about as he got the 10-1 AND moved to Isabel's apartment to sleep so that Jet would have someone in there when he woke up.
Poor kid, Jet's really tired, and was a little plaintive to me about having *some* fun while he was in Seattle. He understood, though, that it would depend on what happened with George. He's been amazingly understanding through this whole process, coming up with reserves of patience that would have been beyond many adults. He's been cheerful at all the right times, saying the best thing he could to all those around him, and being a kid and having fun with what he can have fun with, and that's been a blessing all around. The three of us, as trashed and tired as we were, played Bananagrams for a couple of rounds before doing to bed. He really had wanted to play with everyone else a little after dinner, but they all ran off as they needed to, but Jet got a little time with Emily to just talk.
John gave me the out, said I didn't have to be here for this shift, but I decided that if I'm going to do this with this family, that I'd experience it all, and really do what I came to do.
Right when we arrived, George was having a helping of chocolate ice cream, but he soon went back to sleep with Isabel on one side and John on the other. I'm typing this on the couch that's soon to be my morning bed.
We made it.
And George knows he's loved and knows that he's told all those he cares for that he loves them. There are no regrets.
And we're still waiting...