Monday, March 12, 2012

We're All Made of Stars

I hate late night phone calls. There comes a point in your life when late night phone calls aren't drunk-dialing friends or booty calls from your FWB or an alert that your bestie is in labor.  They won't call you after 10 o'clock at night to say you won the lottery or that you have been chosen for Dancing with the Stars. 

On Friday night, I was brushing my teeth when the phone rang. I didn't know the number, so I let it go.  Minutes later, I noticed a voicemail.  Listening, I could hardly comprehend what was going on.

My dear friend is dealing with the "worst case scenario" that all of my married girlfriends fear.  Her husband is going to die. Today.  At 12:30. And she's the one who has to say "yes" so that it will happen.

Here's the thing: he shouldn't be dying.  He's only 50, perfectly healthy, and he went to Saint John's in Santa Monica for a knee replacement surgery last Monday.  It was successful. He went into recovery and spent the next day there, in a lot of pain but doing well, and Bren said good night to him on Tuesday, planning to see him the next morning. He was given an Ambien, on top of pain meds, and went to sleep.  The nurse checked on him at 1:30, then took his break. When he returned at 2, Steve had flatlined.

They revived him, but he never regained consciousness, stuck in a state of paralysis while they assessed the damage to his body (so much brain damage, liver and kidneys shot). Their best guess is that he had a sleep apnea episode, something blocking his airways, then went into cardiac arrest.

That's the physical part of this story.

I spent hours with my friend on Saturday afternoon, watching her smile through sad eyes and talk to her husband lovingly from his bedside while the beeping machines help him breathe and keep him alive.  She's being asked questions like, "Where will the funeral be?" and "What will you do with his stuff?" while she's looking right at him, clinging to his remaining hours on this Earth.  She wants him to wake up and help her navigate the details - they have a will, of course, but it doesn't tell her how to teach her son about astronomy or drumming or how to deal with waiting through the entire weekend until they can take him off the beeping machines and allow him to die in peace.

At one point while I was there, the neurologist told her, "It's best if can start to get on with your life."

A week ago, if she'd been told that, she would have reeled from the insensitivity. But now, she understands. There's only a little of her husband's energy left in his body.  He needs to be let go and she's the only one who can let him go.

Her birthday is next month; she'll be 40. He's only 50. They got together the same night that Raf and I did.  We were college friends, but we also lived next door to each other in Hollywood after that.  On the way out to LACMA on a Friday (a weekly ritual for our apartment "family"), she told me about this guy at work that she'd invited to meet up with us, and then she said, "I know it's crazy, but I think this is the guy I'm gonna marry." And we met up with our neighbors, and her husband-to-be, and Raf was there, and we all went out to the Snake Pit later (where another neighbor looked at me and Raf and pointed to herself and said, "Bridesmaid?").  Clearly, it was the night everything changed for all four of us, the very beginning.  We married, they married, we had kids, they had a beautiful boy.  I always observed how deeply in love they were, how she never had a mean thing to say about him, never complained about their life because she was so happy to have "her guy." 

Steve was an Eagle Scout and an amateur astronomer.  He took a group of us to Joshua Tree in the year before Raf and I got married - the first and only camping trip my husband has been on - and led us on a hike that lasted HOURS in the desert.  It was crazy, hilarious, wondrous, unforgettable. He was a drummer, a rocker, an encyclopedia of rock-n-roll and pop culture.  He knew a little somethin' about everythin'.

And he had a spark. You know what I mean? That twinkle in someone's eye that says, "There's so much more to me than I can ever even tell you."  The thing that makes you say, "Okay, fine, but can I sit down and just listen for a while?"

There's a song by Moby from several years back called "We're All Made of Stars." Thinking of Steve and his connection to the stars, to the world beyond this one, I began to think... Maybe it's true. Maybe we *are* all made of stars, of the same crazy, cosmic energy as every other thing, each of us miracles wrapped in a flesh-and-bone package, suffering through the human condition as we make our way back to the cosmos.

This post doesn't make as much sense as I'd like, but I wanted to write it to affirm that our lives are happening now.  We may not get another chance.  We may not make it to retirement.  We may only get a string of moments to say "I love you" and hold each other tight and lay our heads on each other's chests while watching bad TV at the end of the night. And when that's done, I hope we all make it up to the night sky, linking ourselves together into a constellation that wraps around the universe.


  1. What a beautiful post. After my mother passed away last October, I received a children's book called "The Next Place" by Warren Hanson. Google it. You would love it. I am so sorry to hear this sad news. I will pray for your friend today as she faces the unthinkable.

  2. Thank you, Tiffany. I just ordered it and cannot wait to offer it to her and her family. Love to you!

  3. I came across your blog when I checked in to Brenda's FB page. I spoke/cried with her over the phone yesterday and it is so heart breaking. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences with Brenda and Steve. It is comforting to hear these stories.

  4. Beautiful, Erin. Brenda, I am so sorry. I'm mourning a man I never met. Such a powerful post.

  5. Erin,
    I had to track down your blog to find out what happened to Steve, and I thank you for writing this. Although I haven't seen Brenda in years, facebook has been a place for us to reconnect and catch up on each other's lives. I too was with you all on that memorable Joshua tree camping trip -- the daylong hike Steve led that I thought I'd never make through, and yet I did, and remember distinctly how much Brenda cared for him, and he her. I am so heartbroken for her and Anthony. When you see her next , please give her a hug from me.
    Lisa Briggs

  6. Hi Erin,
    I too was on that camping trip. Mark (Tindle)and I stayed behind with our pug Harry and a nice dog named Marley.
    I feel such a loss of not keeping in touch with Brenda over the years, and Steve.... An amazing character and loved her the way she should be loved, with all his heart and soul.
    I know we remember each other Erin. You are a beautiful warm woman, and I am so grateful Brenda has you in her life.
    Tell Brenda I am sending love and peace, to her, Anthony, and Steve in his "new place" because we know he is still around us, hanging with some astronauts and muscians, and Edgar, their great white cat I adored.

  7. Oh gosh, Kathie, of course I remember you, and your crazy pumpkin parties, and your pugs, and Long Beach... Please let me know if I can help you get in touch with Brenda directly - I know she'd love to hear from you. See you Friday? xoxo E