On May 23rd, 2017, we removed Tim from life support.
The previous day had been a tough one. Tim’s family wanted to remove him sooner, to release his soul from his body, as per his parent’s spiritual beliefs. I wanted Tim’s friends to have the opportunity to come say goodbye in person. He had been an empty shell for a week already, there was no reason to rush the process. They asked for a priest to come, which I was fine with. The priest could not come until late though, almost 7pm, and I refused to remove him from the ventilator that late in the day, knowing how long the process could take. We had a tough conversation in the waiting room, our home for the past week. A loud conversation (that’s on me), that made the others in the vicinity scatter awkwardly. Arguing over death in a public place. Add that to your bucket list.
I insisted on waiting. I demanded that everyone go home. Shower. Eat. Rest. Come back first the the next morning properly dressed and ready to give Tim the presence and energy he deserved in his final hours. They agreed.
We gathered at 7:30am outside Tim’s hospital room. Tim’s parents, brother, sister, and myself. I instructed everyone to go in, one by one, to say our final goodbyes in private. I kissed his cheeks and forehead and brushed his hair with my fingers. I laid on his chest and felt his body rise with each mechanical breath. I told him how much I loved him. I promised him I would take care of our babies. Raise them the way we had planned to do together. I’ve kept my promise.
The hospice team entered the room and we gathered around Tim in a circle. They removed his intubation tube as we stroked his skin and spoke words of comfort and love. We told his it was ok to go. That we would be ok. He had permission to leave.
And then we waited.
I put on music, Aimee Mann’s “Mental Illness” album to begin with. We had been listening to that a few days before the heart attack, he had been enjoyed it. Tim’s grandmother and aunt arrived, and we sat and talked. Then friends started to arrive, his best friend with her partner and baby had driven through the night. Friends of mine from college and high school. Tim’s dear friends from college and grad school. They came in groups, in waves. They brought beer and bourbon and cupcakes. An old friend of mine who lived nearby sent boxes of sandwiches and snacks from Panera. On Tim’s last day, we had a party.
We sat and stood, the room bustling with energy. We cried and laughed and shared our stories and memories as Tim’s chest rose and fell in the center. We drank and ate and had exactly the kind of gathering Tim loved to be a part of. Intimate, loving, supportive.
In the morning, I swabbed Tim’s mouth with good coffee. In the afternoon, I swabbed a hoppy IPA. I rubbed essential oils on his neck and massaged his hands. I laid amethyst crystals on his chest and tucked Claira’s stuffed bunny under his arm. We played the music he loved, Bouncing Souls, Bruce Springsteen, Conner Oberst, Bright Eyes. This was his day.
In the mid-afternoon, the room quieted. Friends had left, or stepped out for a break. His parents had gone downstairs to get coffee and respite. His uncle sat on one side of him, his sister stood at the other, holding his hand. Bright Eye’s “Cleanse Song” played over the speaker at his ear. I heard a long breath release from Tim’s lungs. I stood, went to his side, cradled his head in my hands. One last breath, short, puffed from his mouth. Then nothing. I laid my hand on his chest and felt it’s stillness. Then the hospice nurse appeared from beyond the curtain. We locked eyes. She nodded gently.
He was gone.
A cry tumbled out of my belly. Then the room erupted in sobs. His friends and parents rushed in and encircled him in love. A dear friend had missed him by just seconds. We touched his body, kissed him face and hands, and felt the last of his warmth while it still lingered.
We could have two hours with him. After that, he needed to be moved. He was an organ donor, and while his organs were damaged beyond use, his skin, tissue, nerves, arteries, and corneas would provide precious use to hundreds of others. I asked a college friend of his to pour shots. He was a bourbon man. We toasted him. I played a singing bowl over his body to clear the energy from the room.
I sat to fill out the death paperwork and realized I could no longer read or write. His aunt wrote in the information for me. I packed up a box of the belongings, cards, gifts that had accumulated in the past 8 days. I gave him one last kiss, his cheeks cool now. I stepped out of his room, down the hall, I thanked the nurses, we filed the paperwork. My friend, Adam, hailed a cab on 1st Ave, and for the last time, we drove away from Tisch NYU. From Tim.
That night, and in the following days, I was held up by the love and support of my friends, chosen family, who supported me in the post-loss haze. I was driven from Brooklyn to Northampton to Vermont. I was fed and cared for and loved. I told 3 year old Byron that his father was dead on the front porch of my parent’s house. Then had to explain what exactly that meant. I flew to Madison to pack up our life and drove 1000 miles with Matt in a moving truck, back to Vermont. In the past year I’ve slowly worked to re-establish my life. My personhood. My being. I’m still working on it.
Tim was a person. He was a good man. Better than many. He loved people. He was an incredible father. He was altruistic. He was a loving partner. He was brilliant. He loved peanut butter cup ice cream and pizza. He really annoying about doing the dishes. He loved football and punk music and Quantum Physics. He loved bird watching and identifying rocks and minerals without any actual knowledge of what kind of rock it actually was. He loved riding his bike but rarely did so. He loved sitting at a bar on a quiet afternoon and writing poems and thoughts and doodles. and mathematical equations in his journals. He loved being around people and staying out late. He loved Bernie Sanders. He loved backpacks and hats and graphic tees. He was all at once an intellectual and an every-man.
He was far more than I could ever try to describe. But I will spend the rest of my life remembering him and loving him and making sure others do the same.