At 1:00AM Neil died. At 1:00AM my wife's night stand lamp turned on all by itself. At 1:05AM the telephone rang. It was one of the caregivers calling my wife to let her know that Neil had passed on.
My wife manages two assisted living centers where we take care of people who can no longer take care of themselves.
I am the ultimate skeptic when it comes to ghost stories so when my wife told me she thought the light turning on was Neil saying goodbye, I wasn't a believer. But it was the first time that the light timer had malfunctioned, it was the first time that the light had ever come on by itself.
Neil's passing wasn't completely unexpected, it wasn't a big surprise, but it's never easy to watch someone you know stop breathing, their features go slack, their life escape into nothingness. So now, I don't know.
Neil came to us because he had nowhere else to go. He'd been in the hospital for months, but they couldn't cure the damage. Years of alcoholism had ruined his liver and his only hope now, was a transplant, but to even get on the list, he had to get better.
That was what we tried to achieve. He got the constant care that the hospital couldn't provide. It wasn't that they didn't want to, but there were too many patients that needed their time. With us he got the modified diet to prevent the need for constant blood transfusions. His food and liquid intake was measured to the ounce, all in hopes that we could keep him alive long enough to get on the list, but in the end, there wasn't anything we could do.
He was one of the most pleasant clients we had ever taken care of. For the few weeks that we had him, even through the excrutiating pain, he was always willing to talk, always willing to listen.
It was obvious he knew the end was near. He talked of things that he never had the chance to do. He talked of ideas he never had the chance to pursue. He talked about how he wanted to design a swimming pool for the new house he would have when he got better. My wife gave him some drafting paper and a pencil to let him draw the pool of his dreams, but unfortunately he never got the chance to use it.
He jokingly called himself the martian man. The lack of a functioning liver had turned his skin a dark shade of green. Even the whites of his sparkling brown eyes were as green as a blade of grass. He constantly worried about his distended abdomen saying that he used to be quite the ladies man and it wasn't attractive. We laughed with him as he tried to suck it in, but the liquid buildup made his belly the biggest beer gut you've ever seen.
You can judge him for his drinking, you can judge him for his choices, but be careful where you point the finger. There's not one of us perfect enough to cast the first stone. Alcohol is a silent enemy that sneaks up on you while you're not paying attention, wraps its tentacles around your throat, and squeezes the life out of you. Those that are able to get the help they need can fight off the attack, but the enemy never leaves. He's waiting in the shadows for you to let your guard down.
I still don't know whether or not I believe the ghost story, but there is one thing that I do know, don't be like Neil. Don't give the enemy a chance. You see, Neil was only 42.
I'll return next week with my regularly scheduled stories about writing.