Thursday, July 15, 2004

Tribute to a Greek God (Part VIII)

A Note to my readers: Again I have to apologize, but I couldn’t get this all written last night, and as it’s turned out, I have even more to say than I had originally outlined. Therefore I've decided to add an additional part, with the epilogue to the story to be posted (hopefully) later tonight.

Saying Goodbye
As I read through my “Alzheimer’s file” the other night, I came across a copy of the eulogy that my little brother (Lbro) delivered at David’s funeral. I'd forgotten that I had it, and couldn't remember whether or not I had actually read this printed version. It is a wonderful piece of writing. Lbro is an attorney and writing has been a part of his career for many years. He did a great job at a time when it was hard for any of us to even think straight. I remember being a little bit jealous that he got the opportunity to stand up and tell the world what David meant to him. I remember wishing so much that it was me up on that podium because I wanted to shout from the rooftops how much I loved my big brother.

However, reading his words again now, I realize that I don’t hold the title deed to loving David, or missing his presence in my life and in this world. I’m just one of many people who felt every bit as much at loss with his passing.

David was almost a spiritual figure to me, because of the fact that I probably spent less time with him than any of my other brothers did, our youngest, Lbro. That’s because when Lbro was in high school, he was a regional president of DECA, a national organization that David was also involved in at a similar age. This afforded him the opportunity to see David on a fairly regular basis, as Lbro spoke at DECA events all over the country. Anytime he was near Indiana, he would arrange to stop by. They spent a lot of time together. I had forgotten about that until re-reading the eulogy.

I was wrong to be jealous of my younger brother. He earned the honor, and was indeed the best-equipped person in our family to deliver that final public tribute to the man who everyone seemed to love.

This story has been my eulogy to our Big Brother.

As a child, I shared little in common with David, apart for our similarity in looks and our last name. As an adult, the two things we had in common were our sons (born just three months apart), and our love for Baseball in general, and Little League in particular.

Yes, while I’d never had the chance to play it, I coached my son in Little League and beyond for six years. At the same time, David was likewise involved with his son. So whenever we spoke on the phone before he time came that he was finally unable to do so, he’d always ask about the teams that I coached; how were they doing; how Shawn was developing as a player. Everyone in my family seemed to really be happy that I decided to become involved as a Dad in Little League, even though I hadn’t gotten the opportunity to play it as a child.

One of my very most treasured memories of David was a phone conversation we had sometime in the late 80s. We’d been talking, and the conversation was winding down.

There was a pause, and he said to me, “You know we have a special bond, you and me, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I do.” I nodded, smiling as a lump formed in my throat.

“I know we don’t talk much, but you know how special you are to me. Don’t ever forget that, AJ.”

I never have, David. And I never will.

A Final Glimpse
At the behest of my brother Jack, my Dad decided to celebrate his 70th birthday with a trip to Indiana in early July, 1992. By this time Lbro was living in Dallas, and since my family was in Nashville, it was an easy thing for us all to get together for the big outdoor party at a local park that had been planned. Once again the family was united — almost.

David had lapsed into the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s dementia. Cindy had been forced to place him in a nursing home to care for him. He was still physically strong, but almost completely out of touch mentally. He became quite the chatterbox, with a constant flow of nonsensical jabber coming out of his mouth, punctuated by wonderful, but brief, glimpses of clarity.

The afternoon following my Dad’s birthday party, Jack, Lbro and I went to visit David. Jack warned me of what to expect. He could never have warned me enough to prepare me for what I saw. David was as skinny as a rail, his face was drawn and his eyes were miles away. Who knew what kind of thoughts raced through his brain, or how often, if at all, he was aware of who or where he was?

There was a beautifully manicured inner courtyard in the nursing home compound, full of roses and flowering shrubbery. The three of us took turns walking him in the courtyard, trying to talk with him, but only receiving a constant chatter of his incoherent babble in response.

As the two of us walked, I tried to respond to some of the things he’d say, no matter how off-the-wall the subject matter — just to engage him in some kind of conversation anyway I could. We'd been walking for about ten minutes and he hadn't even addressed me by name to that point. Then in an out-of-the-blue moment of clarity, as if someone had flipped a switch in his brain, he stopped, looked at me and said, “So how’s the team, Bro? How’s Shawn doing?” It lasted only long enough for me, nearly breathless from the shock, but hopeful that it would continue, to say excitedly, “Really good David…I think we’re gonna have a good team this year.”

But that was it. His eyes just as instantly retreated to that far away place where I couldn’t follow. But I am so grateful that for that brief moment I had him, if but only for a few seconds, one last time.

It was the last time I would see David alive.

The Anguish of the Inevitable
Nearly two and a half years later, on Election Night, 1994. Michelle and I were watching the returns on TV when the phone rang. I got up and jogged to the kitchen to answer.

“AJ, it’s Cindy. David passed tonight.”

Again, I felt that familiar wave of heat travel up my spine and burst into flame on the back of my head. She said something about the circumstances of his death at the nursing home, but it didn’t really register. I somehow managed to maintain my composure for the 30 seconds or so she continued speaking. I muttered “I’m so sorry Cindy” a few times and remember her saying that it was okay, it was really for the best, and it really was. David had been catatonic for about 6 months. He was just a shell. It hadn’t really been him lying in that hospital bed quite some time.

We said our good-byes and I somehow managed to hang up the phone before collapsing to the floor, and began wailing uncontrollably. Michelle came running, asking what happened. I told her, and she tried to comfort me, but I was completely inconsolable. I got up and began pacing the house in anguish for what seemed to be hours.

We all knew it was going to happen, but yet it caught everyone by surprise. He was three days shy of his 46th birthday.

As had been he case with most of my family members before him, David succumbed to pneumonia, a common cause of death in these cases due to the fact that once victims become catatonic, with little or no movement, their bodies become extremely susceptible to any kind of infection. He became the youngest of all of the previous Alzheimer’s victims in my family at the time of death.

It happened too soon, but perhaps not soon enough. Finally he was at peace.

Next: The Funeral
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