Re: Mr. and Mrs. Drerio's Journey
I had just finished submitting my grades the day before (2005) and my phones rings. It was my mom. She was able to talk after her stroke but with little to no affect, so I was still getting used to her new voice. I thought right away it must be something to do with my dad. Since they had moved to O’ahu, he twice side swiped parked cars. His advanced age and dementia clouded his judgment. The last time he did it he left the scene, but someone reported him. I had to take him to court. He was not nice to me as a kid and now I had to be the adult. But, I refused to take any revenge out on him. So, I took it all in stride. My mom on the other side of the phone asked “have you heard from Jacque (my sister)?” I am confused and respond by simply just saying “no” a pause and then I ask “should I have heard from her?” “She called us from the Emergency room at Kona Hospital” my mom tells me.
My sister, Jacque, had been living in Kona, Hawai’i for well over 15 years. Prior to that she lived for short periods of time on O’ahu, Maui and Atlantic City, New Jersey. She was the second oldest and only girl among four siblings. We were not gentle brothers so she grew up knowing she had to compete like the boys in the family. In doing so, she surpassed us in so many things: She earned a black belt in judo (I only got to purple) at a time and in a dojo where earning a belt was hard to come by. Jacque, was one of the few female big wave surfers at the time, growing up on Kauai in the late 60s and 70s. She started life as a stutterer compounded with learning difficulties, but proved us all wrong in her academic prowess. She was accepted to Cornell Law School, but opted to postpone to save up enough money. Sadly, she never reapplied. Although, she did find her passion working in the hotel industry (management). She excelled in everything she did with the competitiveness of an olympic athlete, and yet she was a tender soul deep down. She took a lot of grief from my father as the only girl. And, her relationship with mom was sometimes strained. When I reflect back, she really had it harder than me or my brothers. Jacque was my big sister, my protector at times, the one who could console and touch my spirit. And, she could command respect from the hotel staff by working harder than any of them but still being fair minded and understanding of how to get the best out of them (not just push for the most). She pushed her body; exercise was a bit of her religion. While Jacque was intense about a lot of her life, she also knew how to enjoy herself and very easy to be relaxed around. Five years after she moved to Kona, she met G, who became her long-time boy friend. We never asked about whether they would ever get married. Jacque and G both seemed happy with what looked in every way like a marriage. In 2002, she changed employment to manage several different Time-Share properties. Although she spent six-months caring for my parents after my mom’s stroke, nothing appeared to unusual.
This is the first I had heard my sister was having any medical issues and my mom tells me that Jacque called from the ER in Kona. For almost 24-hours no word, I was finding it hard to sleep. I got a call the next day, it is mom again. “Jacque was taken by medevac helicopter from Kona to Honolulu.” I stood there stunned. I called the hospital and they refused to give me any information over the phone. Later, after my wife got home, I drove down to the hospital and inquired about my sister. After I proved to the hospital that I was her brother they allowed me access. I walked into her ICU room and G was there talking with the on-call physician. I had a lot of questions but the doc is moving onto the next room. She was hooked up to a ventilator and IV. She was conscious but couldn’t talk. The first time I had ever seen my sister looking helpless. She was normally the take charge first one up the hill and she laid there making eye contact but not able to move or communicate. I had time off, so I was able to visit her every day. Days later when I was able to talk with the Neurologist they said they could not give a definitive diagnosis but she had a obvious lesion in her brain stem. She could not maintain consciousness for long periods at a time, unable to walk, swallow and breath on her own. I will say the hospital staff worked heroically and they tried a lot of different therapies. At about week four post ICU, I was scheduled to go on a road trip to do some research at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. The day I left my sister appeared to be doing better. They had her up walking using a walker. I felt better about leaving. I called everyday and my brother and other relatives said very little. My wife and boys picked me up at the airport and we went straight to the hospital. My sister looked progressively worse. She could not even make eye contact. I was angry and upset. I felt helpless. None of this really had a major affect on my marriage other than I was moodier than usual but my wife was gracious through it all.
I was back at work in the lab but every evening and every weekend I was there in my sister’s ICU room. I would hold her hand talk to her and sometimes sing to her. I cried a lot, but always just treated her as if she could hear, feel and see me. She was totally unconscious at this point. What really throw me was suddenly G went from being there to completely absent. G, owned his own restaurant in Kona, but did not need to be there full time. He had a good manager in charge. He also had a friend on O’ahu who allowed him to stay there as long as needed. But, G was absent. I called him on the phone to inquire about why he was not with my sister. He told me “what is the point she is unconscious all the time, I am told she can’t see, hear or feel me.” I thought WTF, you are practically married to her and you abandon her now? Really? It wasn’t just me, it was my brothers, relatives, and friends who were scratching their heads in anger. To make matters worse G had the primary Power of Attorney over both her health and financial decisions. I had secondary on her health and my oldest brother on her financial affairs. At the end of week six, the head physician wanted a meeting with us, but required by law G had to be present. We set up the meeting G was there. The lead physician essentially told us they could not do anything more for my sister and we had to think about getting her affairs in order.
At 8am the morning of July 6th 2005, we were all there except G. We all looked at each other including the physician and he, the physician asked if we knew where G was or if we had heard from him. No one had any contact in the week since the meeting. The hospital called his (G’s) phone, he answered and immediately hung up. This happened three more times. At that point they were legally able to ask me as the secondary as to the decision to take my sister off of life support. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make. I said yes, with tears rolling down my cheeks. I did not want to see my sister die, but she really was not there anymore. I still remember the moment they removed the ventilator. I held my sisters hand tight and talked to her in a broken soothing voice (I was crying). Her body bucked and she fought to breath. Soon the life of my sister was gone. I looked over at my father and wanted to tell him it was his fault, but he looked lost and pathetic. Anyway, I knew it was not his fault. I had so many emotions raging through my body. What I took away from this experience was what that phrase meant. The one some of us say in our marriage vows. I said and some of you said it - “in sickness and in health, till death do us part.” G may not have been married to Jacque, but he practically was and was not there for her in her sickness and death. Why? I don’t know. I came home to hug my wife and realized that the phrase gave me so much more meaning than just those passive words we say because we are infatuated with our groom or bride.
In the final epilogue, G never showed up to her funeral service. A few weeks later family and friends convened at a hotel in Kona for a beautiful ceremony. The conclusion of which my two brothers and I paddled an outrigger canoe offshore with her ashes, flower petals, a bottle of her favorite wine and some Kona coffee beans. I threw the petals into the air as the Kahuna (priestess) chanted from shore and my brothers scattered her ashes. We said our final goodbye, poured the wine and coffee beans into the water. Aloha Jacque. I love you always my big sister.