I started to write this entry, one which was to mark the second anniversary of my open heart surgery. It was to be an upbeat commentary, following upon a wonderful week we had just spent with our very good friends Beny and Maria visiting us from Palermo. But when I sat down to write a draft, heartbreak intruded, perversely imitating the ethos of Exit the King which we saw only a few days earlier.
Last Monday morning we received a call from Suzanne, the daughter of Ann's cousins, Sherman and Mimi, who had suddenly arrived in Florida where her parents now live. We immediately thought of her father, Ann's first cousin, Sherman, who had just been released from a prolonged hospital stay and ninety days of rehab, who can no longer walk without assistance, and has advanced dementia. His wife of 56 years, Mimi, had been by his side every day and was now caring for him at home with the help of round-the-clock nursing aids.
But exactly on the second anniversary of my being put into a four day induced coma after open heart surgery, Ann and I rushed to the ER of a Broward hospital that Monday night, as it was not Sherman, but his caregiver, his wife Mimi, who had collapsed and was in a coma. Mimi had been like a big sister to Ann, particularly during Ann's first years in New York City when she arrived as an eighteen year old, fresh from high school graduation in her hometown, Atlanta.
They became close companions in spite of the 11 year age difference and loved living in the Big City which was Mimi's adopted town as well. They biked down to hootenannies in Washington Square park in the early 1960s, went to jazz concerts and Operas in the Village, dancing at the Latin Quarter and Roseland, enjoyed folk singing concerts, Shakespearean plays in Central Park, and took trips to Philadelphia and The Cape and Newport, RI together. Mimi was her mentor to NY life and they became best friends.
They were happy in the community they chose in Coconut Creek, but rather recently, Sherman was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Rather than commit him to a home, Mimi was determined to stay in their complex, selling their upstairs apartment and buying one on the ground floor for easy egress, and hiring competent home healthcare aids for her husband. In spite of their age (83 and 85 respectively), she was determined to shelter her husband in familiar surroundings rather than consigning themselves to an independent / assisted living facility.
Mimi was like a force of nature, self actualizing and one always thought indestructible until we got that call last Monday from her daughter, recounting the sketchy facts as she knew them at that point: her mother had had a very severe headache, and soon thereafter passed out. It was a severe brain hemorrhage and she was rushed to ER and when we saw her, unconscious, on a ventilator and life support systems, those memories of my own medically induced comma came flooding back. But this was very different.
We returned to see her on Wednesday. and Friday and during that time, testing for brain activity was negative. She was moved to ICU and she lay there looking peaceful, even healthy except for the tubing and the wiring that was basically breathing for her and keeping her hydrated. Their son, Michael and his wife Miriam, had arrived as well and the decision was finally made to transfer Mimi to the Hospice unit of the same hospital and to disconnect her from life support. Friday was a day of misery for all. Suzanne and Michael, of course, carrying the brunt of the grief, we and others there trying to support them. but being deeply distraught as well.
Mimi was a special person. Her home was open to all. If a foreign exchange student needed room and board for a school semester or even a school year, Mimi would provide it. If there was a foster child that needed looking after, she stepped up. She sat with friends who needed care, wrote long letters to each and every one of the hundreds of friends she made along the way, her giving knew no bounds; she was larger than life, the last person one would imagine dying so suddenly. But she lived life with zest and a song, particularly folksongs and Broadway melodies. Her children set up a CD player at her bedside and we listened to all her favorites while waiting, waiting, for any sign of life. When I first entered the room, I heard "Don't Fence Me In" being sung. When she was taken off of life support she died with the refrains of a Pete Seeger folksong in her ear.
Our hearts go out to Suzanne and Michael, such difficult decisions, but the right ones. We all recognize that Mimi really died the moment of the massive brain hemorrhage and she only medically survived as the 911 EMT was so swift and efficient.
My own memories of Mimi go back now about 44 years, one of my favorite was a vacation the four of us took up to Lake George, enjoying Oktoberfest at a resort and even managing to get them both out on the Lake itself for a boat ride. And how do we count all the many family gatherings as well, Mimi and Sherman and Suzanne and Michael were always there, at our home in Weston, CT or we at theirs in New City, NY. So many years, so many wonderful memories.
As King Berenger says in Exit the King, "Why was I born if it was not forever?" Thanks to that play, I've become pretty hung up over how I "spend" my time. (what an expression -- time as some sort of a currency, only one that you can't make any more of. We're all born with a certain quantity in the bank, unequal ones thanks to genetics, environment, accidents, and the twists and turns of life, and choices we make. I guess we "buy time" with medical advances -- I certainly have.)
I suppose that is one of the main reasons I write this blog.It is not only a record of where my time goes, but it also forces me to think about it. I could more easily just go see a play or read a book, but I would surely forget about much of it and perhaps understand less of it without delving into the details with an essay. It is of course merely my take on those matters and, to a degree, I probably remember the past here as I want to and record the present as I would like to remember it in the future. It matters little to the world, but as I've said frequently, I write this mostly for myself.
Others live those moments on line differently. I don't Twitter, those ephemeral little birds of thought that go out there and then get lost (or is there a database of Tweets?). Then there is the ubiquitous Facebook which could be easily renamed "Hey, look at me!" I guess we're all trying to be the stars of our own reality shows. One could accuse my blog as being just one big self indulgent look-at-me exercise, but I would like to think that the differences (between this, Twitter, and Facebook) are obvious. This endeavor really does involve a lot of thought, albeit perhaps time not wisely spent, so I return basically to the beginning of this entry, anniversaries.
Given my medical history, every day since my heart surgery and comma of four days has been a "bonus" day. Even before Mimi's ordeal, I was fully aware of the approach of this anniversary during the last few weeks. It hit home as our friends, Maria and Beny arrived for a brief stay with us from Sicily. Only two months after my operation two years ago I had flown to Sicily (where Ann already was visiting her best friend, Maria), to join everyone in the celebration of Maria's son's wedding to Mariana, and meeting Mariana's parents who were so thrilled to have their daughter marry David. It was undeniable that the two sets of parents had become best friends and loved being together. The year following their wedding was hell as within months, Mariana's mother was diagnosed with cancer and sadly she is also now gone, a relatively young and vibrant woman just turning 60. All of that just during the last 24 months.
With Maria and Beny here, we were able to "spend" some quality time with them, including a day on our new boat, the 'Reprise'. Coincidentally, we planned a small trip up the Intracoastal to Guanabanas Restaurant in Jupiter, one that we had last been to by boat with our friends Cathy and John only a week before I entered the hospital for that surgery which turned out to be much more serious than anyone could have imagined. (In fact, as we gaily ate lunch with Cathy and John, my "widow maker" artery was already 99% blocked, of course unknown to me, and I was a candidate for a massive heart attack as I munched on my grouper.)
Arriving at Guanabanas with Maria and Beny I could not help think of the irony of being there again, precisely two years later. How strange it all seemed, but our visit with them was wonderful, the weather finally cooperating for boating, the clear blue water near the Jupiter Lighthouse reminding us of the waters of the Bahamas.
Meanwhile, I conclude this sad anniversary entry with other photographs of Mimi and Sherman, and Ann and I, taken during that Lake George vacation more than thirty years ago. Although scanned from faded black and white prints (I used to do my own developing in those days), they capture the essence of her personality (she's in the foreground on the right in each). This is the way I would like to remember her.