|Anthony and Karrlea, Redondo Beach, 2006|
Today is the day, a year ago, I watched my love of 23 years slip away from me. Our last words to each other were ones we’d said hundreds of times – I told him “Remember who loves you the most.” and he responded “You.” Then they administered the anesthesia and the last sound I heard him make on his own was when they put the ventilator tube in. That was not the last sound I wanted to hear. No one really indicated to me that it would be.
I spent the day prior to his last day with him...trying to understand why he was the way he was. Why was he breathing like that? Why was he hallucinating? What was going on? No one ever told me he was dying. He got worse and worse as the day progressed. It was SO hot that day, and there were thunderstorms all over the place. The power in the hospital went out momentarily, and the a/c never did come back on. I was trying to take care of him, along with the nurses. It was SO hot in that place! They kept telling me I was doing a great job and asking why didn’t I ever become a nurse...I couldn’t do what I did that day for anyone else - but I felt like no matter what I did, it wasn’t making anything better. He was getting worse. They transferred him to ICU late that night, intubated him at 12:30 on the morning of the 16th. He died at 7:23 that evening.
I wasn’t there when he died. I was on my way to pick up my mom at the airport. Several of his friends offered to do that for me, but for some reason, I felt like I needed to be the one to go. I feel like he actually may have waited for me to leave so he could do his thing on his own. He never liked to see me cry...and I know he wouldn’t have wanted me to see him go. I said my goodbyes before I left – I knew he wouldn’t last until I got back – kissed him on the forehead, and left. I was on the 405 about 15 minutes from the airport and stuck in traffic when I got the call from the nurse. She told me that she and another nurse were there holding his hand when he finally went. Of course it should have been me holding his hand when he drew his last breath. That's surely the one thing that will bother me for a long, long time. It should have been me.
When I picked up my mom, she hugged me, and we went and ate dinner. And then Anthony’s nurse called and asked me if I wanted to come to the hospital to say my last goodbyes. I didn’t know what to do. I thought I had done that already... So I thought it over and called the nurse back a few minutes later and told him I’d be there. I was not prepared for what I saw. It truly wasn’t him anymore. He was profoundly gone. The man who was so full of life, had so many stories, and was my best friend...he was just...gone. So I was left wondering – did he know he wasn’t going to be coming home when he went to the hospital on July 4th? Maybe. Did he know he was living his last day on the 15th? Probably. Did I? No. Would I have believed it if someone told me? Maybe.
During that last day, most of his friends showed up to say their goodbyes. One stayed with me until I left to go to the airport. One gave him the Last Rites. I kept talking to him, telling him how much I loved him and would miss him – the nurses kept telling me that people can hear when they’re in that state. But again, his eyes never opened, he never spoke to me again. I put my hand on his chest just to feel his heart beat. Now, when I think of him and it’s quiet, I put my hand on my chest to feel my heart beat...and it makes me somehow feel closer to him.
So if you read this today, and you’re coming up on 7:23, California time, stop for a second, and send a happy thought his way. He’s in Mammoth now...with Rudy...his favorite little dude, in his favorite place.
I love and miss you, Anthony... Remember who loves you the most.