This week just gone, the focus of our family was firmly on the ICU at Monash medical centre. The surviving patriarch of our clan was the reason for the focus. In his 91st and consequently final year on the planet, his on going health struggles finally took their toll, and he passed away peacefully, surrounded his wife of 65 years, some of his 6 daughters, a few of his 20 grandchildren, and a few of his sons in law.
For just under a week he vacillated between going downhill, unconsciousness, rallying back to cognisance and finally at 5.25 pm on the 27th October, it all ended.
If you’ve never done the ICU dance, let me tell you it’s a tough gig. You only go into ICU if your are really sick. As the name suggests, the care is intensive, the attention unrelenting, the emotional roller coaster seemingly never ending, always with a twist that you weren’t expecting lurking around each potential corner.
This is as painful as it can get i.e. watching someone that you love dance the steps between life and death. In the midst of the struggle however, there is beauty worth noting. You don’t have to look hard, but you do have to look and acknowledge what your are seeing. Here is a bit of what I saw when I looked.
The doctors and nurses do a phenomenal job. They focus on the person that they are caring for with the intensity of a sheep dog rounding up sheep. Never once though do they seem to forget the humans assembled around the bedside. They treat both the patient and the families with dignity and respect, never dumbing down the explanations as to what is actually going on. But perhaps my most enduring memory will be the moment I was watching the nurse attend to Angelo after he had passed. He spoke quietly to Angelo as he worked around him to fulfil his final medical obligations. Anytime he had to move his head or a limb he did it as gently and respectfully as he could.
Beauty, grace and dignity at the pinnacle of the pain
The tale of a few sisters
Not all of the Mollica girls could make it. The ones that could showed the depth of character and care that the man they had come to care for had instilled in them.
Family came and went all week, and believe me, this is a big family. At the core of the bedside vigil though was 4 of Angelo’s daughters, one of who is my wife I’m proud to say. These ladies never shirked the issue of being present to whatever was required. Throughout the week where hope fluctuated like a roller coaster ride at an amusement park, they stayed the course and rode the ride through its flickers of hope, right up to the final sad outcome. They chatted, they prayed, they took care of their mum, they made sandwiches for Angelo, they swabbed his mouth, they listened to doctors, and the watched and waited and hung on at each and every turn.
I’ve known these girls for coming up to 40 years. Last week I saw them rise to a most difficult challenge and shine through with grace, poise and dignity at a level which I had not previously witnessed.
Angelo would have been humbled by what you all did last week.
(Special note here to my brother in law James “the rock” Eagles who walked through this whole week alongside his wife Maree)
A ride home with my daughter
This is a simple one but no less profound for me. As the week unfolded there was one night where I needed a lift home. My daughter offered and we headed out on the 1+ hour journey from my sisters house.
We fell into a deep conversation about life, death, illness, music new and old. It was like this beautiful moment of respite in the midst of the chaos and I loved it. As we were preparing to farewell one person I was struck by the thought that moments like this should be cherished for what they are.
When news got around that Angelo was gravely ill, my sister Helen was quick to respond with an offer of making her house available for any and all who needed a bed, a feed, a whatever.
One thing I’ve learned in life is to never underestimate an offer of hospitality from my sister. Her generous spirit and attention to needs is humbling to say the least.
The Mollica girls along with their mother Gwen took advantage of somewhere to sleep, recover and be with each other throughout the week. But that’s not all. I will “NEVER” forget walking into Helens house on the night that Angelo passed away. We had all been through that heart wrenching moment of realisation that Angelo was no longer with us. Once again the offer was made to come back to Helens. My daughter Sarah Rose had cooked a meal. As we walked in the door the scene of candles, a set table and the smell of dinner greeted us. It was entry into a sacred place and time as we gathered to catch our breath and grieve. The girls sat around their mum to give her comfort, an emotional toast to Angelo was made, and my sister Helen ever so quietly in the background saw that it all happened with a level of welcome and hospitality that is difficult not to feel emotional about whenever I think of it
The last breath
Angelo took his last breath at 5.25 pm. I saw it. I wasn’t the only one, but I was one of the privileged ones who did. A most sacred moment. Like some sort of bizarre countdown, his breaths were reaching their finite conclusion that afternoon. None of us know how many more we have. We didn’t really know that afternoon if Angelo had 100 more, 1,000 more or a million more.
But they counted down and I saw the last one. As MAREE said to me “it’s funny, you’re there one minute, and then you’re not”. Because that’s how it goes. This body, this vessel that has exuded so much life and charm, so much music, loved into life 6 daughters, witnessed so much life with his wife, grandchildren and great grandchildren; prepared so many meals, welcomed so many people into his home, volunteered so many hours, prayed so many prayers and so on; now there are no more breaths to breathe. He has gone somewhere but he is not here, and we will miss him, we do miss him.
A man of simple but profound faith. His last breath was the bridge between here and an eternity with the God that he loved and served, and I saw it.