When a family friend told me, at some point between our time at the hospital and the funeral, “it’s hard to come back from being in the bubble,” it rang true if a bit dramatic. She had a point, which I remembered from experience the first time around, but other than the difficulty returning to everyday life and moving forward, it shouldn’t have been THAT hard. After all, I knew from experience what to expect from myself, and would be able to navigate around those pitfalls rather deftly this time around.
But the bubble doesn’t work that way. The bubble, for those of you unaware, is a metaphorical containment where you live when you’re dealing with the long term medical emergency of a loved one. From the moment I stepped off the plane in Boston on 8/20/15, I was submerged, stuck in a holding pattern until anything definitive could be known for certain. The bubble keeps you contained, sequestered from normalcy or the world around you, since nothing else matters. One thing is of importance, and it’s imperative you stay focused on the task at hand.
When I arrived back in Boston, the expectation, once my father had survived that first night, was that he would be unconscious for a few days, as the swelling in his brain receded and the level of physical damage and trauma (caused by MATTHEW MICHAUD) could be assessed. I’m not sure if I was the one who felt this way, or if I’d discussed this possible outcome with any family members, but I assumed, for whatever reason, that he’d wake up and, while being in physical pain and having a long, LONG road to recovery, would resume being the lovable, sarcastic dick we all knew Dave Swierk to be and loved him for.
The second night I was back, my sister and I remained at the hospital, waiting to get the go ahead that Dad was fine for several hours so we could head to a hotel for some brief rest. And we waited, and waited, and waited some more, until we called into the station. We’d been told several times that our father was still on his way back from another CAT scan, and they were “working” on some things with him. After what felt like too long, and several instances where we were told to wait, the nurses let us in, and maybe, in hindsight? They shouldn’t have.
There was Dad, lying unconscious, with his face and lips swelled so large that he appeared to be a real life version of Hitch during the allergic reaction scene. It was horrific, and confusing, and terrifying. Why did he look like that, what was happening? His brain was swelling, his body retaining all fluids, and he wasn’t responding to the treatments and medications they applied. They couldn’t relieve the pressure of his brain on the skull, and, as you may imagine, the human brain isn’t designed to stay effective if it swells and squeezes against its bony encasement.
“From your expressions, I’m assuming the gravity of what I’m telling you, and what this means, is sinking in…” The neurologist, a short man who didn’t seem much older than me at the time, looked upon my sister and I with great empathy. But he was firm, and forthright, and making sure the message was clear: our father was going to die that night, likely within the next couple of hours.
But then, he didn’t, and despite the emotional rollercoaster we had been on that night, he somewhat seemed to improve. They needed to see if he would wake up, if he would respond, and, with cautious optimism, we were told he could make a recovery. Until they told us, in no uncertain terms, after eight days from hell, that he probably wouldn’t wake up and, if he did, the likelihood that he would be the same person we all knew and loved was virtually nil. At that point, we had a decision: keep him alive with machines for our selfish need to keep him around (if only physically; his soul never left the pavement of Long Pond Road in Hudson, NH), or take him off all life support and let him go.
Frankly, it came down exclusively to what HE would have wanted, and how HE would have wanted this to have been handled. Dave Swierk was an active guy, full of life, who loved doing things and being an active participant in the world. Some people may prefer clinging to life by any means necessary, not caring whether they had any ability or faculties of their own. Not him. If he ever had woken up, and had any conscious idea what we’d done, and the way he was still breathing, well, he’d never have forgiven us.
I’m drinking a Harpoon IPA (Dad loved Harpoon), listening to the recurrent mix I have for when this time of year rolls around to immerse myself in the sad bubble again, and in some way, regain that feeling of optimism and hope. It’s fleeting, of course, because there’s no way to pretend what happened hasn’t already passed, but the bubble is comforting in its bizarre, fucked up way. It keeps you from having to face reality, from having to go back to the world as a new person because, literally, it’s not just someone close to you who dies; YOU, who YOU are and who you know YOURSELF to be is dead too.
When I did emerge from that bubble, back from Brigham & Women’s hospital, back from two weeks at my wonderful cousin’s house and another week at my sister’s, and returned to CA for a final few days before moving back to MA, I was struck by something: everyone else had kept living. Life continued onward while I was gone, while I dealt with the unimaginable circumstances of David Swierk’s tragic passing, and despite my feeling like I’d only departed a few days prior, the reality kicked in hard that OVER A MONTH had passed. People moved on, and when they’d heard I wasn’t moving back permanently, they discarded any remaining semblance of expectation from me. I was gone, and given how awful I am at keeping in touch with people (which I wasn’t shy about discussing), everyone seemed to have moved on from my existence entirely.
Which isn’t true, of course. People thought about me while I was gone, the friends and acquaintances I had out west were devastated for me and were willing to comfort me upon my brief return. But the bubble doesn’t just keep you hidden away, it shields you from reality. I had my perspective on events and my expectations, but they were only mine. Life had already sprinted ahead and proved to me, once again, that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
I’m fucking sad right now. I’ve been crying the past week, in brief spurts, when I’ve let my guard down and allowed that mourning to wash over me. I don’t like to, partly because I think about my dad and think about how he’d want me to act about his death, regardless of the circumstances and details. But it’s hard. It’s so. Fucking. Hard. Hard to keep living, to accept this, to accept that life sucks and then you die. But you have to. You HAVE to.
Time will help, as it always does, but I’m not sure this wound will ever fully heal. I’m gonna try, and I’m gonna keep moving forward, and I’ll write these posts to help myself process and provide any sort of cathartic relief to me over this whole thing. But I feel how I feel, and even though I want to find closure, to move onward and find a way to put this behind me in some way, given the way the past three years have played out, it’s hard to see how.
Man, I miss the bubble sometimes.