This morning I woke up with a sense that the world had changed—and as soon as I cleared my mind, I knew it had. I woke up with grief on my heart, but joy in my soul. After spending two days and a night with my brother Donnie, I had come home to rest and prepare to stay another night, Thanksgiving night, if it was needed. It wasn’t. I hadn’t been asleep long last night when my sister Terri called to let me know that at 11:30 Donnie had gotten his wish for a peaceful transition from this world to the next.
Often, Donnie expressed his wishes to just “go ahead and die.” And he came close many times, but for some reason his body betrayed him and kept on living.
Each time, as he groused around about not dying, I could always coax a smile out of him when I would say, “You don’t get to pick your time, and it just isn’t your time, Virginia Fisher.” Donnie often told the story of coming the hospital with my mom to visit my mother-in-law when she was gravely ill. Virginia said her good-byes to everyone and then was fighting mad because she didn’t die once she was ready.
Mom always let Donnie know when I was coming to visit. The last time I visited him, he had refused his pain medication so he would be awake when I got there. After a few minutes, he pushed his buzzer for his pain medication. “It’s your fault,” he said, but I knew he was just teasing me. On a more serious note, he said, “I’m either asleep or in pain.”
When I visited Donnie, he was usually in a bad mood and had a lot of complaints. I would let him rage on and then steer him into reminiscing. He seemed to come to life when I brought up some of our shenanigans.
Although it seems that the “three little boys,” as we called Donnie, Marshall, and Mitchell, spent most of their time playing together, Donnie and I seemed to have this experimental flair for food. If I needed someone to share a lemon with, Donnie was always willing to eat the other half. One time we ate all Dad’s Tums without regard for how he was going to treat his heartburn. Another time, it seemed that toothpaste sandwiches had to be good. That was probably our worst idea.
In September, close to his birthday, Donnie went through a bad spell and wasn’t expected to make it through the weekend. He had not responded to staff or hospice. When I walked into his room, I said, “I didn’t bring you a lemon.” He quickly responded with “What kind of sister are you?”
Our conversations weren’t always just banter. Once he told me I had no idea what it was like for him. I agreed that I didn’t know what it was like. Sometimes I felt downright guilty that I have been so blessed and his life has been one of illness and disappointments.
Tuesday when I walked into Donnie’s room, it was the first time he had not responded to my voice. He seemed to be sleeping soundly and comfortably, pain free. Mom told us that last week Donnie told her he had a miracle happen. He said he walked to the nurse’s station and talked to them. He said when he got back, his bed was turned in the wrong direction.
Maybe it was this story that prompted the talk about haunting. In our family, there are no “sacred cows” and we’ve always been open with each other. My sister Terri made it plain to Donnie that she didn’t want him to haunt her. Tommy, on the other hand, told him he could come to see him anytime. I held Donnie’s hand and didn’t voice my opinion on the subject.
At one time, everyone left the room and I had a few moments alone with Donnie. I sang “Amazing Grace” to him. Okay, so he wasn’t in any position to complain about my lack of singing talent, and I think his roommate is hard of hearing. I whispered a few messages for him to pass along.
Yesterday afternoon, I said good-bye to Donnie and came home to rest and pack supplies to stay with him tonight. I was rambling around the house and decided to take a shower. I always do a lot of heavy thinking in the shower and my thoughts turned to Donnie and his “miracle.”
I stepped out of the shower and as soon as I wrapped the towel around me, I knew Donnie was there. I didn’t see him, and I think that was on purpose because he wouldn’t want to totally freak me out anymore than he would Terri. I could feel his presence and an image popped into my mind. He was smiling and walking. I knew he was saying good-bye and that he wanted me to know he was okay and could walk again. Then he was gone.
We always consider that the soul leaves the body at the time of death, but now I believe it may leave even sooner. It was another five hours before he stopped breathing.
Donnie was his own person, and danced to the beat of a different drum. He was often troubled, and in a perfect world, he would not have lived the past half dozen years. We all know this world is far from perfect, and there must have been a reason Donnie lived through out-of-control diabetes and multiple strokes. I don’t claim to know that reason and can’t even hazard a guess. Maybe Donnie knows now, and someday maybe I’ll know. In the meantime, earthly life goes on for the rest of his family and friends, but we are thankful that Donnie is experiencing the joy of reunion and new beginnings.