Almost Level With the Ground . . .

Thorn Tree in the Garden, by Derek and the Dominos off the album \”Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs\”

There are a number of really strange things that have happened since our new story began.

Obviously, there’s the strange events of the hospital.  When Andrea passed away, the doctors were fantastic, all supportive, worried that I hadn’t told the kids yet.

But After they took me into a room, I thought to give me privacy but now I wonder if it was so I’d stop being so loud and calling attention to the fact that someone died in their hospital, they showered me with platitudes, brought in a chaplain, asked me if I was OK, even gave me a glass of funky tasting water since I’d gotten a little dehydrated.

But the thing that bothered me the most was that about 20 minutes to a half hour later they just started inundating me with information.  They wanted me to decide on a mortuary – then and there, no holds barred, immediate decision – and get them started in dealing with Andrea’s body.  I know this will sound crazy, but it seemed like a bunch of little kids worried that they might get “cooties”.  Oh my God, there’s a body in there!  I hadn’t even had a chance to say goodbye.

Then they gave me a full list of everything I’d have to do.  I have to be honest with you, they beat the mortuary drum loudest, and I picked one.  The one closest to my house.  I got insanely lucky that the people I chose were great people, worked with my church, and were sincerely wanting to help me.

But 20 minutes after Andrea’s death, I’m getting pelted with things I have to do.  I haven’t even had time to fathom she’s gone.  I didn’t know HOW I was going to go home and break my kids’ hearts.  I didn’t know what to do.

I asked to say good-bye.  I went in the room.  I heard some nurse complaining that I hadn’t put on the scrubs, rubber gloves, all the crap I wore for days because she had some sort of infection on her leg they never figured out.  I ignored her.  They were in a gigantic hurry to get me moving so they could process her body, but she still had the IV hooked up, the syringes and wrappers still being picked up, and she had the tube in her mouth.  I couldn’t kiss her goodbye.

I don’t remember what I said.  I put my forehead on hers, said a prayer to myself, and told her goodbye.  I didn’t want to stay, it was just so hard, but I didn’t want to go, either.  This was the very last time I’d ever see her.  I made my peace, took a deep breath, and steeled myself for the trip home and what I had to do.

Then the chaplain grabs my hand . . . clamped around my wrist, and just says “pray with me” . . . and starts chanting the “Our Father”.  I’m sorry, I’d said my words.  I had prayed to God, talked to Andrea, begged him to make sure she was finally safe and happy.  I told the chaplain I’d said my prayers and stalked out of the room.  I wasn’t going to let these people drag me through any more emotional sludge.  I had enough pain to deal with now.

I got home and intentionally waited until right before their closing to call the mortuary.  If they wanted her out that badly, they’d have to do it on MY timeline.

The next few weeks, though, showed some of the most amazing pieces of humanity I’d ever experienced.  My parents were the first.  You have to understand, my father absolutely despises California.  He hates the scenery, the people, the attitude, everything about it.  Just coming here is hard for him, I can tell, but he doesn’t stay away.

The night Andrea ended up on a respirator the hospital called me at two in the morning.  I’d actually just gotten into bed, and Hannah and Noah were sleeping in there already.  They told me the nurses laid Andrea, a patient who can hardly breathe and fighting pneumonia, the weight of her body pushing on her lungs making it harder to breathe , on her back to clean her up.  Instead she went into respiratory arrest.  They said she was on sedation and respirator but they couldn’t calm her down and could I come there . . . it was really bad.

I called my Dad and Mom on the way.  It was raining, pitch black, and I’d had to leave Abbi to watch the kids.  I was a mess.  I didn’t know what to do and I was freaking out.  I knew what respiratory arrest meant and they didn’t know how long Andrea had been without oxygen to her brain.  I told Dad, near hyperventilation what had happened.  Dad is usually my voice of reason, my calm in the storm.  They had left Nebraska, were on their way to visit my older brother in Texas and had stopped in Norman, Oklahoma to spend the night.  I knew I was in trouble when Dad just said “Oh, God.”  That was it.  Dad is never without an answer, but this night, he just said we’d have to hope she comes out of it and that the doctors are helping her fight.  “Oh, God,” he said again.  I told him I just needed him to calm me down, which he did.

“We’re on our way, son.  We’ll be there in a couple days.”

While I was on the phone, they’d gotten dressed, packed up, and just jumped in the car, at 4am their time, and turned the car West.  They got to our house just a couple hours after Andrea died.

At the funeral, it was hard.  At the cemetery was harder.  People wanted to crowd into the tent with us and I kept them back so the kids and I could be there.  I got through the prayers.  Andrea’s sister got us all flowers – roses, her favorite – that we could put on the casket.  Everyone left, and something inside me just collapsed.  I lost it, hysterical, to the point I started to fall.  And there . . . was my dad.  He grabbed me, held me in his arms tighter than he had in years.  He told me he knew, it was OK.  I could take as long as I needed.  When I was able to stand up again, apologizing, he chuckled, picking up his handkerchief, saying “dammit, I thought I was going to make it through this.  Showed me, huh?”

He knew just when and how much to lighten me up.  He put his arm around me and helped me so I could walk back to the car.

They stayed until the weekend after they kids got out of school, literally months living with us and taking care of us until we could start walking again by ourselves.

Andrea’s best friend, a person I went to High School with, showed up and helped with the kids the day Andrea died as well.  If she’d done nothing more than be the godmother to Hannah that she was, we’d have been blessed.  Instead, she helped us get organized, and was yet another pillar holding up our foundations.  I know it wasn’t easy for her.  We were selfish, wallowing in our grief, and only now realize how insanely difficult in different ways this had to be for her, Andrea’s sister, all of them, it was.

That was the finite, emotional and physical help.  We go so much help to pay for things from others.  I didn’t have to cook for weeks after the funeral.  We paid for the rest of tuition and expenses and bills with help from friends I haven’t seen in years.  For every crazy, awful person that just wants to make themselves feel better by throwing cliche’d statements at me there was the friend who just wanted to take us out for pizza.

Then there were the crazy things – an anonymous donation to our bank account of a thousand dollars.  A thousand bucks!  Who does that?!  I don’t know, but if I’m ever in a position to do it, I will.  I was completely blown away by the support we got from our church community and those who loved and cared for us.  It was phenomenal.  I got two insanely expensive boxed sets – the 40th anniversary of Layla . . . the Deluxe Edition of Traffic’s “John Barleycorn Must Die”.  To this day, these insanely expensive sets, filled with 180g vinyl, dolby surround mixes, bound books and artwork, sit anonymously given, no name attached.  Sure, Clapton’s a given for me, but Traffic?  Only someone who knows me will knows I have the respect I have for Winwood.  I have no idea where these came from and I kinda like it that way.  It is help selflessly given, and make no mistake, to listen to Layla, or hear the last phrases of “Thorn Tree in the Garden” (even if it is about Bobby Whitlock’s dog) are amazing things.  Both albums gave me cathartic, new ways to look at this story of lost love.  The Majnun, the madman, dying himself lying on the grave of his love because they’ll never be together.  That’s profound.

I know I’m not the subject of a Persian love story.  But I do have love around me.  When I’m having an awful day and randomly this friend sends a text saying “love you, my friend,” I am pulled back up to ground level.

The old song says “I’m tore down . . . almost level with the ground.”  That’s the thing I have to remember.  I’m almost level with the ground.

But not quite.

One of the legendary 3 "Kings" of the blues, Freddie King
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