The Scenario Begins
“Hi, Marian, this is Kenny, do you know where your brother Mark is?”
Our cousin Kenny, who lives in an apartment close by Mark’s in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania had called me in Florida late Sunday morning.
“No, I guess he’s in church. He always goes. He never misses.”
“I don’t think so,” Kenny said. His car is in the parking lot, and I knocked on the door and there’s no answer.”
“No, answer?” I exclaimed. “That’s odd. He has a set routine and if his car is in the parking lot, that means he’s at home.”
This strange conversation resulted in the landlord unhinging the double-bolted door to his apartment and discovering No Brother Mark.
“We looked everywhere,” the property manager Gale said, at a loss.
Cousin Kenny offered, “I’m going to call Lancaster General Hospital and see if he’s been admitted.”
Horrors, Mark, in severe pain, had called 911, summoned the ambulance and was transported to the emergency room. This set in motion an action plan in Florida: My sister Jan and I booked flights, she a one-way ticket to Harrisburg, me taking a wild guess about the date for our probable return.
The Shocking Story Unfolds
On May 3 my sister Jean picked Jan and me up at the airport in Middletown and we proceeded to the hospital, where our brother had been admitted. For the past eight months, Mark had been treated for what the doctor explained was pre-leukemia. Though Mark experienced ups and downs, he had responded well, we thought.
“Now Mark really has full-blown leukemia, the dreaded disease we hoped wouldn’t develop,” I wailed in disbelief. Our little brother, younger than any of his three sisters, is gravely ill.
None of the doctors seem optimistic. Jan voices our thoughts, “This doesn’t seem right. He’s too young, only 64 now.” After three days in the hospital, the oncologists all agree, Mark needs to go into hospice care.
Hospice! That means he’s going to die! How can this be? He had led a quiet life, eventually caring for our mother and aunt in their homes. HOSPICE! I shared his kind and caring activities in this blog post.
He was transported in a wheel-chair van to Hospice Care facility near Mt. Joy, a lovely facility in a bucolic setting. Birds chirp from the rafters of the Craftsman-style building, gabled, earth-toned. A walking trail along a bubbling creek borders the property. Pink dogwood, budding azaleas set the campus ablaze in beauty, a fresh spring contrasting to the waning lives within the walls.
Crazy Outpouring of Love and Sympathy
Mark’s friends pour in: Neighbor Gene Raffensburger, who worked with him at Longenecker Farm Supply, Pastor Fred and Linda Garber and church friends in a small group from Bossler Mennonite Church, who bring the service to him.
A horde of patrons and servers from Gus’s Family Restaurant brought balloons and a huge poster with dozens of signatures.
A few men that sat with him at the restaurant looked dumbstruck. One or two went out in the hallway. I heard stifled sobs. “We can’t believe it. He was just here last Friday!” They have saved “his” chair at the coffee shop counter: place mat, newspaper, and glass of water. Again and again, they bring him grits and “Gus’s” water with a straw. I heard the names they often greeted him with when he walked in the door: Marky-Mark, Sparky, Sparticus, Schweetie Pie.
The Spiritual Journey
We sisters are noting Mark’s reckoning with his abrupt life change.
Thursday, May 3 “I’m trying to get my bearings.”
Friday, May 4 “Am I going down the tube?” Mark remarks in the hospital before he is moved to hospice care.
Saturday, May 5 Jean: “Do you want to listen to music?” The boom box sits silent.
Mark: “I would if I felt better.”
Monday, May 6 Hospice nurse; “Hi, friend. I hear you are having some pain. We are giving you morphine.”
Mark to sisters: “If I don’t move, I don’t have pain.”
Tuesday, May 7 Mark: “This is where I want to be.”
Wednesday, May 8 Mark: “I’m still here.”
Later: “I can’t believe I’m still here!”
Thursday, May 9 “How do I get up to heaven?”
His sister Jean, “You remember Ruthie said she’s ‘going up on the next cloud.’”
Sister Jan adds, “ You have Jesus in your heart and when He’s ready for you, He’ll take you up!”
Friday, May 10 To a church friend, Evelyn: “I’m going to heaven soon.”
Later: “Better here than a jail house,” he says of hospice center. (Weak smile)
Then: “I see people up in heaven . . . “!
Saturday, May 12 “I’m done,” he says to a nurse.
“What did you say?” she asks.
He has talked to his nieces and nephews on the phone and in his room. His daughter Kiki camps out in his room when she’s not at work.
Sunday, May 13, Mother’s Day
Mark talked to sister Jean who held his hand: “What about my apartment? I don’t think I can live there anymore. What about my car? I’m too weak to drive now.”
“You don’t need to worry. Everything is taken care of,” she assured him.
(Just a year ago we said goodbye to Aunt Ruthie on Mother’s Day.)
Monday, May 14 The fridge in the kitchen/gathering room is filling up. The suffering sisters, Kiki and her mother Betty don’t lack for food.
A Yoyo and Molasses
A toy and thick syrup have nothing in common except that they are metaphors for the dying process. In Mark’s case, it’s up & down and slow . . . slow . . . slow . . .
Daughter Crista calls, “You are a tough cookie, Mom, but you need to get out, go to a movie. You guys are like mother hens, hovering.” She’s right. But we feel pulled to the man in bed at the center.
Our Comfort as We Wait
Wait for the LORD, be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD. ~ Psalm 27:14
I will blog only intermittently in this space. So far our bedside vigil has lasted for two weeks. My heart is full today, so I’m posting. Writing is therapy. Right?
Thank you for sharing your experiences and observations.