John was in the room with him, reading the newspaper, and George went so quietly, John didn't notice a thing.
Saturday was the big reunion, and George picked himself up and achieved a measurement of physical stability for the day. He slept pretty well that night, for all that the brothers went in and out in four shifts with their wives. He ate a huge midnight snack with Walt and Cathie just before John and I got on duty at 4 a.m.. Isabel stayed that whole night, as the original prognosis said that George would likely go within 24 hours of Friday. On Sunday George was quieter, but his morning x-ray showed lungs that were no more clouded than before. His appetite was still good and he was willing to vary his diet of chocolate ice cream with Greek yogurt, banana puree, and other fruit.
For all that George seemed to have to fight harder for each breath, he also seemed to enjoy hearing all the conversations of everyone as we drifted in and out of his room. He was still quick with the quips, after asking for a shave, Dave and John prepared for the procedure. They started talking about the shaving and ended up joking about "Shave and a haircut" and George added "Two bits!" On the beat. He was following things even while he drifted in and out of sleep. Everyone that stayed pretty much spent all our time at the hospital, other than a quick trip out for lunch after George had had his lunch.
We all went to Top Gun, a restaurant that Isabel and George had taken the three of us to on our last visit, on the recommendation of their Chinese neighbors in Somerset. The restaurant had impressed me so much the last time that when I realized they did dim sum, too, when Paul said we should go for dim sum, that was the place I decided we'd go to.
And I was glad we did. Even with a party of nine, we got seated within ten minutes, even with a lobby that completely overflowed with people, most of whom were Chinese. There were the traditional carts, and with the huge crowd of people, everything was fresh, fast, and served hot. I volunteered for cart duty, with Walt plunging in for a few items that caught his eye, and we were fed in pretty quick order on really amazing stuff: Chinese broccoli, taro dumplings, honey walnut shrimp, BBQ pork bao, shu mai, shrimp boxes, tofu skin rolls, jook with 1000 year old egg, and other things, ending with a bit of steamed cake (ma la gao) the way my mom used to make it along with egg custards and sesame balls. Plenty of tea and conversation about how George loved all kinds of food, especially in their setting, including Chinese food and teaching the boys how to use chop sticks.
It was a good meal, and we wandered through the Asian market right next to the restaurant before heading back to the hospital. All of the brothers played a couple of games of Fluxx with Jet after lunch. After that, since all the other kids had gone, Walter stepped up and took Jet to Home Depot and Uwajamaya for an afternoon field trip and bought Jet some "late birthday presents" including two stacks of origami paper. Jet loved the excursion and was very grateful for the break.
George wasn't changing much, so Isabel, after feeding him his dinner, decided to go home for the night and truly rest. Paul stayed that evening, as he was flying back to Ashland in the morning.
Jet had also looked forward to playing some mah jong with Granny and Cathie, as both had said they wanted to play with him after seeing the tiles on his birthday list. Cathie and Walt got things for dinner, and we all ate in Isabel's apartment. But we were all pretty exhausted, and ended up going with the much simpler game of Pit. The bidding got good and loud, and it allowed everyone to just forget for a little while and enjoy playing with each other. Jet was happy with that.
One of the small things that happened was that one of Jet's stuffies, which he'd gotten from crimini, had a button eye torn off while in his suitcase. He asked me, early in the trip, if I could call N's house and see if N's mother could find the "true thread" to fix his Stuffy. I hadn't known what we would be doing or what we'd have to do, so I couldn't answer, but by Monday morning, after two full days at the hospital, I decided we'd make the time, following the old adage that there is never enough time, one just has to make it. I called crimini and she and N had President's Day off and no real plans for the day, so we arranged to go there at 2pm.
We had breakfast with family and went into the hospital. George's morning x-rays showed shadows that had moved about in his lungs, and they were unsure as to exactly what that meant. It was, however, obvious that the leukemia was making it difficult for his body to get the oxygen he needed, and the pneumonia made it worse. We sat with him, holding his hands, which were swollen enough, the nurse had to use a particular technique to get his wedding ring over his inflamed knuckles so it wouldn't cut off circulation to his finger.
George still liked it when people were talking with him, and he mentioned conversations happening. He did some problem solving in his bed, brow furrowed in thought over various things he'd mention in passing. His family was such a central part of his life, just having them near, and occasionally doing his best to name us seemed to reassure him. The efforts he had to make with his entire upper body for each breath was more visible.
A long-time family friend came to visit at noon, and it was a real effort for George to realize who it was and why they were there. John was involved in his feeding, and with getting water into him, and it was pretty close to 2 before the rest of the family was finally ready to leave for lunch. We left then and zoomed into Redmond to find teriyaki lunch and take it and Jet's beleaguered stuffy to crimini's and N's.
We spent the next two and a half hours letting Jet and N just play and talk and be boys together. crimini fixed Seltzer with the very same embroidery thread that put his eyes on to start, nearly seven years ago. That made Jet very very content. Many many thanks to crimini, and we were pretty sorry we couldn't stay long enough to see niherlas as well, but there really was a sense of there only being so many more hours that we could connect with George.
From there we headed back to the hospital, sat in George's room, and pow-wowed with the other brothers. Paul was already gone. Dave called while we were at N's, as he was heading out with Mary, so that he could go teach school on Tuesday and try to recover a little while he was at home in order to come back on Friday. We said our good-byes, knowing that we'd all meet up again in the summer, for the bigger family reunion that would include the cousins from the East Coast as well as the four brothers and Isabel. Walt and Cathie were staying the night with Isabel, and the six of us just camped out in George's room, just existing together, as George was still and sleeping under the morphine they'd added for his comfort.
At about 8 pm, Jet and I said our last good-byes to George, who was fast asleep. Jet gave him a hug and a peck on the cheek, and I did, too, murmuring, "Love you, George, your family knows you love them, too." He stirred just a little and settled again.
And we left.
Jet and I slept that night in Isabel's apartment, while John went back to the hospital and stayed there for the night. He got back at about 5 am, and helped us finish packing, have a little breakfast, and hugged us good-bye. The rain poured down. It had sprinkled on and off during our whole trip, but that morning it just came down in buckets. I drove our rental car off to the airport, having done the trip dozens of times when we used to live there, so it was simple and straightforward. Having Jet in the car as well allowed us to use the HOV lanes, and it only took us 30 minutes to get all the way through Redmond and Bellevue traffic. We were also headed the right way through Renton, as nearly all the Boeing traffic was from the South. Jet watched the lines and lines of standing cars on the freeway and said, "It's a good thing we're going this way."
We got to SeaTac with plenty of time to get through security, and I called John after we were settled with hot chocolate and mocha at the gate. George's heart rate had sped up significantly during the night. There were drugs that they tried to get the rate down, but the side effects weren't great. He was unable to eat anything but managed a little water. The CPAP was forcing more oxygen into his system than he could possibly get on his own, and it was also obstructing any effort he could make to communicate. So all four brothers and Isabel were talking over the idea of taking George off anything that wasn't solely for his comfort: basically, letting him go.
None of them were ready to do anything about it, yet, but they were talking, doing all the research they could, going to other resources about alternatives, and the worry in John's voice was apparent. I did my best to reassure him, and after hanging up, I just prayed. God would be with them and have them do what was best for all concerned.
Travel with Jet was easy. The flights all left on time, got into their gates early, and the crew was sympathetic and supportive of me going alone with Jet. Baggage took a while at Denver, but that crazy automated system under the airport has always given everyone fits. Jet and I got our bags, ate some Panda Express there, at 2pm, for our lunch, and then went out into the acres of parking lot and found the Passat. I had one bad moment where I forgot if I'd actually kept my car keys in my purse, but found them at the last moment.
Later, I found out that they decided to go with the comfort setup at 8 pm that night, and as soon as all the equipment came off, George woke up, asking for ice cream and he seemed very happy. Without the buzzers, monitors, wires, tubes, and equipment, it was just him with them. They interacted for a good hour or so before George tired and slipped into a natural sleep with real snoring.
Jet and I settled in back home for the evening, and Jet had an early Spanish class this morning, so I was up at 6:30 a.m. with him to get his breakfast, lunch, and ready for school. I dropped him off at the school, and while I was out, I thought I'd do the grocery shopping as well.
I was in the frozen aisle, staring at the Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie (the very same ice cream that Overlake's cafeteria had for George), when my cell phone rang. It was John, to tell me the news. George had spent a peaceful night asleep without any of the signs of frustration he'd had during the previous day. In the morning, while John was reading the paper in George's room, George passed away, silently, without any distress or sign. I cried with John right in the aisle, and after John hung up, I got the ice cream.
Tonight, there are 100 mph gusts. The wind roars against the roof, and it slammed my car door on me, but this morning, when I got back to the house from the grocery store, there was a brief half hour of calm and sunshine. The snow on our roof was melting, dripping on the patio. I got out my incense, joss papers, and Hell Money for the dead. I kowtowed to the East, burned the incense, joss, and money and prayed for George, his family, and that he would enjoy what he was going toward; and in that tiny window of time, the smoke rose straight to heaven.
Jet and I will be having chocolate ice cream for dessert tonight, and remembering.