After the last entry, we got a call at 3am from Brenda's husband Bernie. She had died Wednesday morning.
Out of all of Christine's sisters, she was the one I was second closest to (Debbie is the first, and was the first one I met). Brenda and Bernie were like... peas in a pod. "Joined at the hip," was what everyone said. They dated and quickly married, and have been since 1973. They were married on Valentine's Day, and this Feb 14th was to be their 30th anniversary. They only had one daughter, Heather, who is married and has a daughter of her own now.
It's hard to just say Bernie, because it was always "Brenda and Bernie." Bernie was a quiet, soft-spoken man who I really liked because he wasn't all macho-man about guns and huntin' and sports cars. He was a slightly shy, but very funny person. He was so doting to Brenda, and put up with her many moods. Brenda was a real "spitfire," a term I only use with her because she was. She was a small, diminutive woman, but in stature only. She made up for her physical height by a big mouth, large eyes, and a rapier wit that was quick and close. Never get her mad, because it was only funny if you weren't the recipient. She was entirely self-sufficient, even in the last few years, when she got Multiple Sclerosis. She went through periods of blindness, partial blindness, and partial paralysis. Not that she ever complained. She'd be the type that would talk on the phone, and say in passing, "Why I do feel better! Yes, last week, though, my dog jumped out the car window and I freaked out and I run into a tree and flipped the car over. Silly me, though, that dog was fine..." You'd never hear about her many hospital visits or near death experiences except if it was a setting for another story. You'd be like, "You were paralyzed for a MONTH?" and she'd say, "What? Oh, yes. But that's not the point, the point is that those stupid nurses they hire there are crazy! This one girl..."
She was the girl who'd beat up bikers in a pool hall.
Bernie was just the opposite, but together they made a complementary pair. Bernie's sense of humor was always delivered dryly. The one famous story was that when Christine was little, Bernie told her he had an invisible parrot. Christine was five, and already suspicious, but after a lot of visits, Bernie had her petting empty air at the edge of his finger and "holding" the parrot for him when he went into the kitchen. Then, one day, Christine sat in a chair, and Bernie went, "Oh no! You sat on the parrot! He's dead!" Christine cried and cried, and while this may not seem funny, but almost cruel, Bernie delivered it differently than I can right now. Christine talked about it for years, and it became legendary. Last Christmas, we gave him a small electronic toy parrot that talked as a good-natured rib. I understand that humor, because for years we convinced Christopher he had a brother, but kept missing him ("He was just here, five minutes ago ... he went to school before you did, I guess.")
More is leaking in as far as information on how Brenda actually died. The day we heard about Brenda, Christine went down to West Virginia on that Tuesday, picked up their sister Debbie, and drove to Hagerstown to see Brenda. Brenda was sitting up and lucid, holding an oxygen mask to her face. The situation was grim. They said she had pneumonia, but she wasn't responding to antibiotics, and was on 100% oxygen, which the human body can't take for long. Debbie and Christine only had ten minutes with her, but decided to come back down the next day. We all knew it was bad because Brenda asked Bernie to call relatives and let them know. She never did that. She NEVER would have asked for anyone to fuss over her while ill.
Then we got the call at 3am.
Reminded me right away of when my mother got the call when her father died. Funny how fresh that stayed in my mind. I was a preteen, and I heard the phone ring late at night, and my mother answering it upstairs, and hearing my mother cry, and my father yell at her, and then an exasperated "My daddy DIED!" and heavy sobbing. I recall the cold pit of my stomach. Grandpa was dead. He had been sick, but now it was certain. No one woke me up to tell me, I didn't need it for the information, but it would have been nice to have someone tell me. I had to just "absorb" the information from clues, like I always did. My stomach felt cold. I was back in the present, and I heard Christine go, "Oh, Bernie, I am so sorry..." Same cold stomach. But now I am an adult, and I have to be there for people. I wasn't there for my mother, and I won't make that mistake again, says my inner child.
Then Christine shook me awake. I was already awake, and she didn't know that yet, but she said that Brenda had died, and then she didn't know how she was going to tell Debbie, who was in our guest room downstairs. She did, and didn't come back up. I fell asleep, hearing my mother's voice telling me, "Your FATHER says I don't have to GO to Michigan! That I should just have someone TAKE PHOTOS! Know what? I already booked a flight to Michigan, and I am going. I have to leave you here, but don't tell your father until I call him from Michigan." The last thing I remember hearing in my foggy thoughts was a flashback Christine and I getting a call late at night in December of 1989, telling us that our friend Jo-ann had been murdered in a Georgia park, and how ever since then, late night phone calls always mean bad news.
I woke up at 6am to the sound of my mother's voice going, "My daddy DIED!" I see the bed was empty. Christine and Debbie were already awake, and had been since the phone call. They had to go to Hagerstown to be with Bernie. I went to work, CR went to school. Luckily, work was hell. It kept my mind off my mother's voice while I had to fix yet another "network event" that killed two of my servers. I spent all day trying to get my monitoring software (that I built) working again. I spent four hours barking up the wrong tree, thinking it was a corrupted Windows file, when it was instead a flaw in windows that happens when event logs get too big. Deleting the logs fix it, but now I had to undo the other "wrong fixes" I did to fix the problem originally. I then rewrote the code to make sub-logs of fixed lengths. Yes, I know, "Use LINUX!" I have to learn to use PERL better before I can rely on them, but I am getting there.
I had to get a lift home, and so I waited for them to come back, hoping they weren't a total mess. They weren't, but they had some troubling news.
The situations surrounding the time of death are alarmingly unknown. The mask she was holding up to her face was not clipped on because the elastic band was too large for her head, and they didn't have a smaller one. The one the had couldn't be doubled up because then it cut into her ears. But she was not hooked up to any monitoring equipment, and so at about 1:30, a nurse noticed the mask was off her face, and they called Bernie to tell him to come back. When he did, she was dead.
He is totally inconsolable.
How did the mask fall off? Did she fall asleep and relaxed her hand? Did she remove it because she didn't want Bernie to suffer anymore? Did she remove it because she didn't want to be hooked up to the respirator? The hospital says she probably got a blood clot in her lung and died instantly, but Brenda did not specify she did not want to be resuscitated, so why didn't they try and bring her back? They now think she may not have had pneumonia at all, but her lungs had swelled up because of the MS, and that was treatable. As I write this today, she is having an autopsy, and a biopsy is being performed on her lungs. Frankly, I don't care what she died from because she's gone all the same, but it's all very suspiciously like neglect.
Debbie and Christine have been holding together as best they could, and I want to mourn, but can't. I have to be there for her. It was like that when her Mom died. I loved her Mom, Sally was great. Same with a lot of deaths I have had in my life, including my own mother's because the moment she died, I was whisked away to a mental hospital for "signs of depression." So I had to act all happy and crap because being sad would have gotten me medicated. By the time the released me (for "lack of cause"), it had been long over. And I have no grave, my father had her cremated and tossed the ashes away, so ... she was erased. So I take this huge lump of pain and emptiness, take a big swallow, and keep it down. I want to liken it to swallowing a jagged pill, but that sounds so much like 7th grade Gothic poetry. Or Alanis Morrisette. Same thing. Anyway, it is more like keeping down a huge amount of vomit at gunpoint because you know the second it blows, you won't stop. And I can't be the weak guy, again, when my loved ones need me.
Times like this, I wish I had a mommy. I wish I had some big lap to curl into and go to sleep, hearing the soft but loud purr of a mommy cat. I used to get that from Oreo, because he was such a loud purr box. But now Oreo's gone, too.
We think the funeral will be this weekend. I am not sure if we're doing the Katsucon thing, it's too much, too close. Colette and Keith have already taken over some of our stuff. I am fairly expendable, so it's not a deep cut for me, but Christine runs their whole staff suite, a kind of pivotal role at the con behind the scenes. What happens we shall see. I'll tell you now, I don't think *I* will be able to do Opening ceremonies and Who's Katsu, because I don't feel I could take any more stress without barfing up that jagged pill.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000042.html