This past Monday, one of our elder neighbors was removed from life-support. The doctors had placed him on assisted breathing since he fell suddenly ill in the days after he had run his car into the creek that runs below the hilltop rancho.
After being released from an overnight stay at the hospital, I'd seen him pass my deck in the late afternoon walking after his Jack Russell terrier, Spencer, who was perennially after critters. He seemed fine and I had been surprised to see him up and about only a day after after learning of the circumstances surrounding his impaired foray into the creek.
Thus, our landlady informed us Monday morning that after two weeks on life-support he would be removed from the machines that have kept him alive. It was scheduled to take place at three o'clock that afternoon.
From the time she told us until they would do it. As per his DNR directive, his pre-written wishes and instructions. It would allow for family to arrive and make their final visit if they wished to.
Frank expired at 8:20pm on Monday night.
I began the piece below at precisely three o'clock on Monday and finished it about fifteen minutes later. I then went out to my car to run some errands. As I did so, a single quail flushed and furied from a bush to my right. I stopped and tracked it into the low bushes down the hill.Last HourFor FrankIn the last hour, I might walk pastyour window. You may look up tosee the last of me, some shape nottoo surprising, just enough to tellyou it was me. I’ll be looking forthe dog, the wiry little Russell younever cared much for because hewasn’t the heeling type, alwaysafter rabbits and quail, somethingto root through the bushes for.You will look up at your clockat precisely three when they’veagreed to disconnect apparatuses,the trappings of continuance, letme ferret on my own. It won’tlast long, we already know that.In this last hour glass will glintlate autumn sun as the sea willcatch and throw it back in smallcrests of distant waves. For somedays you will remember me.Each time you pass the curvewhere I ran off into the creek,you will remember and ventureto imagine how it might havehappened—me sniped by drinkand meds and age and few andfewer reasons to go on this way—there where the oak trees droopabove dried mud tracks that rainhas now worn down where thetow truck pulled the car out afterthe EMT’s had already taken me.In the last hour and the hour after,I might walk past your window.You may look up to see the lastof me, some shape quite surprising,a small rabbit, perhaps, or last in astring of scurrying quail, just enoughto tell you it was me, it was me.Joseph Gallo
Then a small low movement from my left caught my attention—a lone small rabbit emerging from behind one of the parked cars. It sat there and regarded me for several minutes as I stood and augured the not too subtle signs. Some call them omens—inexplicable coincidences that make themselves known in some auspicious way.
These things happen.
When my friend and caregiving client, Alfredo, died in January 2008, a single blue heron had come to land in the meadow next to the rancho. It stayed all that morning and into the afternoon in spite of a lingering rain. It briefly returned the next day as well. It seemed to me then as if he was communicating, by some natural coincidence, that everything was alright.
I did not know much at all about Frank as he lived down the road on the property, but not in the main house where I rent a small studio. We spoke rarely, but waved hello to one another once or twice a week as he would drive down the hill everyday with Spencer standing lookout at the passenger window. Our lives simply did not cross or trespass the seeming boundaries that came to be in place.
I've learned more about him in the days he's been in the hospital than I ever knew before. Ex-military, estranged wife and children, loner, and at seventy, far too young for all of this to come to such a sudden finality.
Strange how such things happen.
So, given the small augury of the animals that made their presence known to me after writing the poem below, I now share this, as I should, because some greater purpose may well be served in doing so.
It is, I suppose, a very human thing to do.
December 6, 2010