13 days

Michael with his hero, my dad. They were quite the team.

On this day 13 years ago, the intake nurse from hospice came. Michael was, as usual, in good form.

“Do you use tobacco?” she asked, clicking her pen.

He held up a half pack of Marlboro Reds. “I’m not gonna quit now.”

“Do you use drugs or alcohol?”

“I did, but I’m sober 11 years now.”

“What was your drug of choice?”

I could see the wheels turning as his eyes lit up.

“Whadaya got?”

The nurse looked up from her clipboard, startled, and Michael laughed.

“I was whatcha call a garbage head,” he said. “Whatever altered my conscoiusness was good with me.”

She laughed and seemed a little more at ease. This was someone who knew what was happening to him and decided he could still laugh. He intended to exit laughing. He had charmed his hospice nurse.

The nurse ordered a hospital bed and tray and a walker, which were delivered that same day. James and Janet arrived in the afternoon with the last of Mike’s belingings, including his gaming computer, which he and James had built. They used to build or refit computers for people who were newly sober and trying to put their lives back together. Some of those people were already getting in touch to visit and say goodbye, and for the next 13 days, our driveway and house would be full. You might think the mood would be sad, but it wasn’t because Mike saw every day as a gift and even though he was pretty much confined to a small bedroom, he was enjoying every moment.

It was a new chapter for us — Mike’s final chapter. I can’t even put into words how it felt to know this, but it was right about this time I decided my heart would stop when his did. That’s how I would cope with my child dying; I’d go with him. It wasn’t reasonable and I didn’t say anything to anyone, I just believed it.

We have a family joke that came from something my mother-in-law said back in the 1980s as my husband and I sat down to watch a program we had taped earlier.

“Oh, I’ve seen this one,” she said. “The guy dies.””

It’s the family spoiler alert.

“Oh, hey, you know what happens, right?”

Yeah. The guy dies.

We had just 13 days left with him.