You didn’t know Jorge. He was just one of thousands of mentally ill patients living in one of your state mental health hospitals.
I wonder sometimes how his sister, his only surviving relative, is doing. I wonder if she knows the truth about how and why he died.
Jorge didn’t die from his heart disease, COPD, diabetes or long term dialysis treatments due to kidney failure. That’s how we all expected him to die. Fifty-five years old, in and out of hospitals much of his life, he was sure to die earlier than a healthy person his age.
Then he landed in one of your state mental hospitals. A few years after being admitted, his paranoia, his delusions and his lack of impulse control were somewhat improved. All we did to help him was of no help on his last day on earth. His last transport out of the hospital was in a body bag.
We told the patients, his peers on the ward, a couple of days later. Some already knew about it and some didn’t care. Some said “good riddance.” At the time of Jorge’s death, employees felt their own PTSD flare up again with increased respiratory rate, heart palpitations, and tears sneaking out during the unit de-briefing or later, in break room conversations.
Jorge’s dead because another patient killed him in the middle of the night when the unit was understaffed. He’s dead because your hospital refused to hire staff at appropriate patient levels based on the violent tendencies of many of our patients.
We know that the patient who killed Jorge will not be held responsible because of his own mental illness. Both men were mentally ill, both hospitalized for care and treatment. The hospital administration, and you—where the buck stops—is accountable for Jorge’s death. My colleagues know that. The doctors, the nurses, the janitorial staff all know it.
Yes, Jorge had a mean and nasty mouth on him, I’ll give him that. He could rile the calmest person in the room. That was his M.O. He was stingy. He was funny, flirty, kind at times, and very sad. He also played a wicked game of chess.
And now he’s dead.
I’m sleeping. Sort of. I was tossing and turning all night. Stresses of the day added to a damn head cold.
DING. Cell phone message alert. I think about rolling over to check it. It takes me a minute.
Mom, could you come stay with Micah? He’s still sleeping and the rest of us are leaving to go get Rachel.
I think about saying something smart-ass about the fact that I was still sleeping. But it doesn’t really matter.
Yes. Be right there. I mess around a bit, making the bed, getting dressed until I hear their car rumbling awake.
I walk the 20 steps over to their place, say goodbye to the wide-awake-gang, grab some coffee and sit down for SNL – smiles and laughter, good. I read through the local paper: American Canyon (Inc. city in Napa County) researches becoming a sanctuary city. Great. I was actually wondering about Napa City/sanctuary sometime during my sleepless laying awake bothered and bewildered hours.
Micah’s up now. He’s 4, walking around looking for the family. He lays on the couch, plays with my phone a brief few minutes. He looks a little funky to me, more laid back than the real Micah. “When will they be home?” he asks. “When will Nana be here?”
“In a while, I’m not sure.”
“Wha what..’s…Daddy’s er, Daddy’s daddy’s name?” he asks, the words stumbling from his lips.
“You mean Lowell? Pop Pop? The guy in the picture there? With the beard?”
“Yeah… he …not coming today?”
“No honey. I’m sorry. He’s not, he died. He’s gone now.”
“No, he not!”
“I know it’s sad. He’s in our hearts now, where he’ll always be.”
“NO! HE! NOT!” He rolls away from me, looking up at the picture of his Pop Pop.
This is our first Thanksgiving without Lowell. We are so happy to have Rachel here with us this week. We all need all the love we can get. We miss him so very much.
Micah watches some TV, and asks for a bowl of cereal. “I want it mixed. Honey Nut Cheerios mixed with Honey Oat Crunch.”
I go take a shower and go sit down with Micah again, checking my email and Facebook.
“When they be here?” he asks, his little fingers twirling my hair.
“In just a few minutes, they’re right around the corner.”
Mollie just texted me to say so.
Everyone arrives, excitement in the air. The two grandmas hug and check in with each other. She’s had a long day already, having left Arizona to arrive in Oakland at 8 a.m.
I love Sundays. Mollie brought me a donut.
I was over at my daughter and son-in-law’s house this morning, keeping an ear out for my 4-year-old grandson playing in the next room. My fingers paused on the laptop keys as I waited for the creative juices to kick in. Please kick in. I wanted something fresh and funny for the upcoming open mic.
Problem was, I wasn’t feeling fresh and funny. I was feeling worn, torn, and battle fatigued with the overwhelming election coverage this year. The Cubs’ World Series win brought me much needed relief and excitement — even if it was drawn out over and over again. That high didn’t last near long enough. I was missing that consummate Cubs fan who killed himself ten years ago. The big win was just one more in a string of life events he’s missed out on.
An hour later, I was still looking at a white screen without one string of words to be seen.
You know why?
Well. My friend had some studying to do, so I suggested she bring her 4-year-old daughter
over to play. The more, the merrier is my motto. She dropped off her daughter along with the best of offerings — doughnuts, coffee, and hot chocolate. Woo Hoo!
Twenty minutes later, it was time to wash and dry those cute little hands and faces. Time
to chase the dog back out after she knocked one of them onto the floor. Time to put that laundry in the dryer. I checked my email. Ah hah! A personal note from the Clinton campaign. Please, would you donate just one dollar? Sure, here’s 5. Would you like to double that? Sure, make it ten. Get out the credit card and load up the webpage with all the necessary information. Thanks – want to give more? No. Not today.
Then I checked Facebook. I peeked at a bit of online campaign news. I clicked around youtube and listened to a couple of tunes. First there was Bob Dylan, then John Lennon. I felt better. Kids were playing nicely. They were chattering away and giggling in their own little world.
So, anyway, I got back to business. It was a sunny day outside and I glanced into the living room. My eyes landed on Mollie’s memorial corner. Three framed portraits hang over the aging upright piano.
Lowell: strong and courageous father of three sons, dressed in his lifelong beard and glasses. Mollie’s husband’s father, he died just last year, after a tough battle with aggressive metastatic melanoma. He was such a wonderful man, full of love and passion… a man who would do anything for his family.
Katie, my beautiful grand-daughter, gone from us much too soon. I look at her smiling, in her pensive way; I wonder what she was thinking when that picture was taken. Our hearts broke the day she died, leaving behind her baby boy Jack. Her laughter had filled our world. We miss her so much.
And Matt, my former husband, father of three, baseball fan extraordinaire, former Stratamatic player and political junkie, a voracious reader who died before Mollie even knew she’d be marrying Matt, her new boyfriend.
Each of them gone now from this world for widely different reasons, each one of them leaving a big hole in my heart. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t imagine Katie or Matt or Lowell standing with us in the sunshine, laughing at a birthday party, playing with the kids, or repairing something or other.
Cheering the Cubs.
Damn. Pass me that doughnut.
Do you see him there? The little guy in the dark blue suit.
Carried into church by his Mama for his Auntie Karen’s wedding
Fall breezes quietly tickling his cheek
His bright speckled blue eyes missing nothing.
Katie’s got him right there in her lap of dreams
Her little boy, full of wonder, in church again
Sitting close, so sharp once again in that cute little suit
Here in the winter cold, at his Mama’s Grandma’s funeral mass.
A few months later, Katie’s gone too, much too soon
Gone with her smile that brought the sun up in the morning
Her laughter that rippled the waters
Her bright blue eyes that she shares with little Jack.
Little Jack is firmly in his Papa’s arms now
Sitting still and quiet on the dark and hard wooden pew
Wondering eyes topping his cleaned and pressed suit
Searching the sunbeams for his Mommy.
Katie’s off onto a new journey now
Taking with her the love of a million memories
Leaving behind a world of hurt full of love
Sprinkled with shattered pieces of hearts.
Written in loving memory of my wonderful grand-daughter, Katherine Patricia Green Broder. With gratitude, “Jack’s Suit” was recently published in the California Writers Club Literary Review, October 2015.
The experts say our planet had the warmest year ever.
The warmest year since they’ve have been counting.
My eye catches the clouds soaring over our dying tomato vines,
Green and orange fruit still struggling to ripen.
Raindrops drizzling their softness on the baby blue pool cover.
And I wonder.
What will the experts say about my saddest year ever?