Standing by his gravesite, I was flooded with my still very vivid memory of Stan's last week. It started on my 50th birthday (Monday) -- not being able to take him home as was the discharge plan, but instead to the hospital. I drove him -- my very, very sick father with a failing heart and failed kidneys sleeping next to me. I remember it feeling a bit surreal; like this could be it, he could go out on me right there rolling up 280, his all time favorite highway, past SLAC, to the exit for Stanford Hospital.
He rallied and made it: a ‘rolling admission” (hospital variety not college) – an in-and- out stay for the very sick elderly who come in from a nursing home and are discharged quickly back to the nursing facility. The dialysis was keeping him going, but not for much longer they predicted. We gathered family and friends.
I invited Peggy, of the Good Death Institute, to meet Stan. He had been so quiet and withdrawn. I just had this sense that if he could become aware of his imminent death, he might choose to use the time he had. He had struggled so desperately his last months with his want to have time, to be awake, not to be asleep when he had so much to write, read, say, share. It had been driving him crazy; how his bio-ryhthms were so out of whack. How the kidney failure affected his cognitive process. As a child with my own sleep issues, he had so stressed the joy of being awake. It just seemed right to bring him this woman who helps the dying person die a good death.
Peggy met him on Saturday afternoon 4ish. Stan had been quiet all day, closed eyes, not responded to anyone including cousins Sandy & Mel, Joe, Gene, Helga, me. Peggy held his hand, rubbed it, told him I'd invited her, and that she came to talk about his heart. He opened his eyes. Looked straight at her and said, “My heart? I can tell you a lot about my heart, but you should hear about my kidneys.” Within minutes Stan was alert, upright, and fully engaged, as we all know he can be, and then asked, 'Who are you?" In finding out she was not a doctor, or nurse, but rather a person who talks with people before they die, Stan looked genuinely puzzled, and said, “die”. “Do you think I’m going to die?”
Peggy later told me she’d never in 20 years of hospice work met a person like Stan, so unaware of dying, and found him absolutely remarkable, brilliant, funny, witty and loveable all at once. They talked about the ways of death, of rituals, of the middle ages, of the big bang and the origins of the universe. Stan, said repeatedly, “I am so enjoying this. Thank you so much, Jo, for bringing her to me. But what do I call you? I need a name for you. I know, I’ll call you the ‘warner’”. He pleaded with Peggy to come back as soon as possible.
She said she’d be there Monday after his dialysis and could stay for a few hours. It was stunning. To have Stan back, his brain woken up, his intellectual curiosity aroused. Most incredible was that Stan was bright on the phone in the morning, and when I arrived Sunday afternoon, he wanted to talk more about the Einstein article in Scientific American. He watched football with Zach and Bill and Dan. He talked to Twyla and Lani. He stayed engaged. He was present. He was looking forward to the next day: Walter was due to arrive at noon, he would go with Stan would go to dialysis, Peggy was coming after that.