Friday, June 17th 2016 at 11:10PM my uncle died. At least that was the time the nurse declared him dead. If we’re splitting hairs I think he actually died at 11:09PM. I almost said something to the nurse…but we were having this conversation at 11:13PM 3 feet from my uncle. In that moment the minute didn’t seem to matter.
My uncle, Charles Wilk, was a smart-ass. The good kind. At the age of 22 he suffered a stroke after some blood-born something or other messed him up pretty badly. He wasn’t supposed to walk again. I guess when you’re 22 sometimes you do know best. While he never regained full use of the left side of his body he certainly walked, and more…
He was my Godfather. In my family tradition that meant his role was to become my legal guardian if my parents died. They didn’t, but he took that seriously (as did my Godmother for the record). He was concerned about my education and he gave me the gift of curiosity. A man of science, he was constantly reading and learning. While he was unable to work due to his disability, he volunteered thousands of hours in his life to museums and libraries.
In the last year my family has lost my 4 year old nephew, my 88 year old grandmother and now my 65 year old Uncle. Mourning sucks…and it sucks more to watch your family do it.
When my Mom and her siblings made the decision that it was time for hospice I went to the hospital. Sometimes dying takes a while. I knew we were probably in for a long day, maybe days. I went home to say goodnight to my kids. It occurred to me on the drive home that my Mom and Aunt would probably be taking the night shift. I sent my mom a quick message offering to take the night shift. I don’t know if I thought she’d say yes or if I thought she’d stay overnight.
In any case I arrived back at the hospital at 9:45PM. I let my unresponsive Uncle know I was going to hang out until 5AM or so. I pulled out my laptop, turned on some music and starting working on an upcoming presentation. We listened to the Beatles, a favorite of mine and his. Every few minutes I told him what song was coming up next and reviewed his vitals. At 11:08PM the nurse came in. She and I had not talked much. She looked at his monitors and listened to his heart with a stethoscope. I paused the music, closed my laptop and put my hand on his shoulder…and she looked across the bed at me and said “yeah…” I thanked him and said a prayer. It seemed like a lot longer than 2 minutes, or 1 minute or however long it was.
“He’s dead, I’m sorry for your loss.” She stood there long enough…to make sure I wasn’t going to panic or do something weird I guess. I walked to the foot of his bed and she left the room to get paperwork. At that point I got lost in my thoughts a bit. She walked me through all the info she needed from me. I called my Mom and gave her the news.
And then I walked out of the hospital with a clear plastic bag containing his leg brace and clothes.
When I got home around midnight, I recounted some of the things that seemed important. While we were talking of music Rhonda asked what song was playing. I didn’t remember…but I popped open my laptop and looked at the paused song. Blackbird.
I feel honored to have been there when he made the transition from living to dead. I didn’t want him to be alone when he died. Neither did my mom.
I posted an entry about nostalgia almost a month ago. I’m looking forward to getting back to that state of mind.