8/15/11

Another Time and Place

When I saw those hospital curtains, my mind traveled elsewhere. Suddenly I was 8-years old, brought to see my maternal grandmother on her supposed death bed. Amid shuffling nurses and beeping instruments on wheels with tubes and digital screens, the curtains to her stall opened like the unveiling of a museum exhibit.
I saw my dad sitting by my grandmother’s side. He waved me in, had me hold her hand, then stepped out with my mother. In the hall, aunts, uncles, and cousins waited around. Standing by her bed, her papery fingers laced in mine, she looked up at me with milky eyes and mouthed the word “water.” I broke grip and got the nurse who said, Of course she can have some water.
     Soon, a priest came in and prayed over my grandmother, and my uncle explained to me about the last rites. She would live for two more months.
     This time, I pulled back the curtain and saw my mother under a swale of blankets, an IV plugged into her arm, her eyes clear and alert. Two aunts and a cousin stood chatting by her bed. She had gone in that morning with sharp pains in her abdomen. An inflamed pancreas, the doctor told us, caused by gall stones. We were in New Hampshire, a few miles from my mother’s childhood home, for a family gathering. She goes every summer, but I hadn’t been in a decade. After bending down and kissing her cheek, I held her hand, and she reminded us that the last time she laid in a hospital bed was 27 years ago when I was born.
     Of course, she’d come through. But I realized right then that the reason I came to New Hampshire that summer was to be there in case my mother needed a glass of water.

8/13/11

For John

My friend John Phillips passed away this summer. At 27 years old, he was president of Pursuit Watch, an organization dedicated to educating the public and the police about the dangers of high-speed police chases to third party civilians. John’s father had founded Pursuit Watch after a runaway felon struck and killed John’s older sister in 2001 during a high-speed pursuit. When John’s father died of a heart attack in 2007, John stepped in as president.

I had heard the news that John was in the hospital fighting for his life through a group on Facebook, "Stay Strong for John," but the page said little else. Needing to know why, I Googled “John Phillips” and “hospital” and found an article from Michigan that said 10 days earlier he had accidentally hit and killed a child chasing a ball into the street with his pickup. The child's mother's boyfriend had run out of the house with a large knife and, in a swell of anger, stabbed the driver. The boyfriend was now awaiting trial for attempted murder.

The article featured a mug shot of the boyfriend with pursed lips and hard, angry eyes. This man stabbed John, I thought. John must’ve been visiting his girlfriend’s family in Michigan. I imagined John in his truck when he struck the child. He must've jumped from the cab and ran to help the boy. When the boyfriend emerged from house wielding a knife, John must've shuffled backward, waved his hands in the air and shouted No. As the knife plunged in, he must've buckled over, holding the wound while emergency sirens grew louder, bearing down on the bloody melee.

I emailed the article to my mom with the note, ‘More tragedy for the Phillips.’” Two days later, the Facebook group announced that John had had a stroke. From the blood loss, I figured. And then, when John died, the stroke was all that was mentioned—nothing of the stabbing. My mom emailed me back that the John Phillips who got stabbed in Michigan was 34 years old, not 27. It was a different John Phillips altogether.

By the time I got home for the funeral, my embarrassment for spreading that false information was overshadowed by my sense of loss. I wrote a short elegy for John and kept it in my pocket during his service in case I felt compelled to speak. I didn’t get up and share it, but it touched on our elementary school years, our golf games, John’s passion for the Braves and the Magic.

The last paragraph read, “I came to consider John a personal hero. Never preachy or passing judgment, John led by example, always proceeding with strong moral character and conviction. He had been through so much and remained in good spirits, found the resolve to turn hardship into growth, setback into solution. Charitable, altruistic, he embodied the positive change he demanded of the world, touched the hearts of everyone he met, and the world is a better place for having had him in it. We’ll miss you, John.”