Keeping Faith by Cindy Bradford (serial 61)
Patrick looked at the clock. It was 4:10 p.m. on Sunday and he was expecting Carol to call any minute to let him know she and Olivia were home. Thinking she would be back by now, he was worried about them driving, especially today when it was drizzling rain. He heard a knock at his office door and looked up.
Stan Harmon and Roland Wilson, two men from his church, and friends as well, walked in, both wearing somber faces.
“Hey, what brings you two here looking so serious?” Patrick asked as he stood to greet the men.
“Patrick, you need to sit down. The news we have is not good.”
“What do you mean?”
“There has been an accident; Olivia has been killed and Carol…Carol is injured. She’s in critical condition.”
Patrick looked at the men in shock, his face the color of the white walls surrounding him, crashing in on him. His chest felt like a weight had been dropped in its center.
“Where? Where is Carol? How bad is she? What happened? Stan, Are you sure about Olivia? Tell me quickly,” he begged, as he began to pace.
“Patrick, the state patrolman, Jim Taylor, a friend of mine, you know Jim; he came to my house because he knows we’re friends. He thought it would be best if you heard it from me. I called Roland and he met me here. Apparently, they were almost home, only about twelve miles out. Carol must have lost control; it was probably slick, we don’t really know yet. No one else was involved though. Olivia was thrown from the car. She was dead when the officers found her. There was nothing they could do. Carol is at Harbor Memorial in surgery. Come on. I’ll take you.”
Dazed and lost, Patrick looked around his office. His world was spinning out of control with him standing still in the middle.
“Here Patrick, I have your jacket,” Stan said, putting his arm around him. “Let’s go to the car.”
As the two men got in Stan’s car, Roland said, “I’ll follow you.” He was having a difficult time talking as he watched Patrick, the tall, strong individual who was always helping others in times of crises, looking suddenly small and weak and vulnerable.
When they arrived at the emergency room, Patrick tried to put his emotions in check, briefly. Bolting from the car he ran in, but an orderly stopped him.
“Sir, may I help you?”
“My wife… my wife is in there,” he said, as tears streamed down his face.
At that moment two doctors walked through the double doors where Patrick assumed they were working on Carol. He recognized one who came toward him because they had served on a town committee together.
“Reverend O’Brien, we are doing everything we can, but it doesn’t look good. She is badly broken up; there is a great deal of internal bleeding, but I’m afraid the worst injury is to her head. We don’t know the extent of the damage; there is too much swelling and bleeding. The next twelve to twenty-four hours will be critical, if we even have that much time. She’s in a coma.”
“Can I see her?” By now, Patrick was sobbing. His daughter, his baby, was gone and his wife was dying. “Please, let me see her.”
“It will be a few more minutes and you can go in. Let me check and I’ll be right back.”
Several members of Patrick’s church had arrived as well as friends of Carol’s from the Art League. Tom and Jean rushed into the waiting area holding their daughter, Susan’s hand. She and Olivia were to have started kindergarten together on Monday.
The doctor motioned for Patrick. “I am afraid you need to be prepared. Her appearance is not good,” he said with a compassionate tone, knowing that she was dying, but trying to give Patrick time to absorb it all.
One look and Patrick knew there was very little chance of survival. He reached to kiss her on the only part of her face and head that was not bandaged.
“Carol, can you hear me?” he asked, but he knew she couldn’t. “Carol, I love you with all my heart. Please try, please hang on. I need you. We all need you.”
Patrick sat there for a long time, his head down, thinking through the fog in his own head. He kept talking to her, hoping to see some twitch of her hand, even a moan, but the only noise he heard, or movement he saw, were on the monitors and machines that crowded the space. Finally, one of the nurses came to him. Reverend O’Brien, we need to move her to ICU; she needs to rest now. You can see her again in an hour. Patrick wondered if she would even be alive in one hour.
“Please God,” he prayed, “Please give me one more chance to see her alive.”
When he went to the waiting area, he was immediately surrounded by friends, hugging him, trying to console him, crying for and with him.
“I have to call Carol’s parents,” he told Tom. Standing there thinking out loud, he said, “I’ll call Nancy first. Maybe she or her parents can break the news. They’re going to need to be with them.”
When he went to the pay phone in the corner of the room, he sat down, but couldn’t remember the number. Carol would know it; he forgot himself for a minute. He called the New York City information operator and then, dialing Nancy, he waited for what seemed like hours. Marie answered.
“Please let Nancy be home,” he thought aloud.
When she said, “Hello,” he broke down crying again. His voice cracking, he said, “Nancy, Carol is hurt really bad; Olivia is dead.”
“Oh, Patrick, how? What happened? How bad is Carol?” Her speech was rapid and her voice pleading.
Patrick related what he knew and then said, “Nancy, I need to call Carol’s parents, but I think it would be best if your parents were with them when I break the news. What do you think?”
“I’ll call my father; he’ll take care of them. They’ll want to go to you immediately. As soon as I call them I’ll take the next flight for myself.” Nancy was crying now, her voice choking. “Oh Patrick, what do you think? Can she pull out of this?”
“Nancy, I think it would take a miracle, but that’s what I am praying for.”
The nurse came in an hour just like she had promised, “Reverend O’Brien, I’ll take you to ICU.”
Nothing had changed. Patrick took Carol’s hand. It felt good to touch her; her skin was cool. He wondered if she needed another blanket. When he rang for the nurse, she appeared almost immediately, but it was to tell Patrick he would have to leave again.
“Would you please see if she is cold?”
“Yes, Reverend O’Brien, I will. You can come back at seven o’clock.”
When the phone rang in the waiting area, Jean answered.
“Jean, I am so glad you answered. Do you know anymore? Is there any improvement?” Nancy asked, glad that she had met Jean earlier under better circumstances.
“Not that we have heard. Patrick is up in ICU now.”
Nancy continued, “Would you please tell Patrick that my mother and father are with Carol’s parents? They’re making plans to leave. We’re all having trouble getting flights this late. Marc said he would drive me so we’ll leave tonight. David will fly tomorrow while Marie stays with Hannah and Heath. Jean, I hate to ask this, but has anything been done about Olivia?”
“No, Patrick hasn’t wanted to leave the hospital. They are only letting him go in ICU once or twice an hour so he doesn’t want to miss a chance to see Carol. We hesitate to bring it up. What do you think we should do?”
“I guess nothing. We can deal with that tomorrow. I’m sure the funeral home is doing what they need to do. This is all too much,” she murmured, crying again. “Please tell Patrick I called and the message.”
“I will Nancy. We’ll see you when you arrive. We’ll not leave Patrick’s side.”
At 10:00 p.m. one of the doctors walked into ICU where Patrick was sitting. Patrick looked up, hopeful though it was obvious the doctor was not. “We need to talk, Patrick.”
As they walked down the long hospital corridor, Patrick suddenly felt sick to his stomach and leaned against the wall to brace.
“I was going to wait until morning when you had some rest, but it doesn’t appear you are planning to do that. Patrick, there is no brain activity. Nothing. She might live a few days, but it is doubtful, because her major organs have been so compromised. She is completely on life support. If we turn that off, she’ll be gone.”
“Are you telling me there is no chance? No hope?” Patrick asked his voice breaking.
The doctor noticed he was shaking and pale; “Let’s go sit down,” and he gave him a minute to regain composure and then said, “Yes, that is what I am telling you. There is nothing more we can do. Her brain is …not showing any activity.”
“My father-in-law is a physician. He will be here in the morning, if not before. I’d like for him to see her first. Maybe you could talk to him?”
“Certainly, if I am not here when he arrives, the other doctors helping me will know. I understand.” Lightly touching Patrick on the back, he said, “I’m sorry.”
When Tom found Patrick, he was sitting, holding his head. “The doctor told me. He came to the waiting room. Without saying more, he put his arm around Patrick’s shoulder and the two men cried together.
When Nancy and Marc arrived at 5:00 a.m., Patrick had not slept and he looked like it. Nancy had obviously cried most of the drive, her eyes red and swollen, make-up long washed away. She hugged Patrick tightly.
“Nancy, there’s no hope.”
“How can this be, Patrick? Tell me it’s not true.”
Meeting her eyes, he continued, “Nancy, I have been so worried about Carol. I didn’t want to leave. It’s so hard to think of my little Olivia all by herself.” He paused, “I haven’t done anything. I don’t even know where to start. I’m a minister. I’m supposed to know how to handle these times, but I can’t believe Olivia is gone. I haven’t even seen her. All I can think of when I look around this hospital is the day she was born here.”
“Patrick, you are a man first. No one expects more. When my mother and father arrive with Carol’s parents, we’ll all think this over and plan what to do next,” she said through tears.
“I’m glad you’re here. I need to thank Marc for coming too.”
“Oh Nancy, you know how much she wanted another baby. It just never happened.”
When Carol’s parents arrived with Nancy’s, Patrick was brought to tears again. Together they stood for a few minutes with heads down, not knowing what to do or say next. Finally, Patrick said, “I’m so glad you had a nice visit with Carol before this happened. Olivia was so excited to see you before she started school. I just wish I had gone with her.” He hit the wall hard with his clenched fist.
“Patrick, you can’t blame yourself. We have done the same. If only we had come here, instead of her coming to our house. If, if, if…” his mother-in-law said.
“Dr. Neilson,” Patrick said, never able to allow himself to call his father-in-law anything else, “I need to talk with you for a minute.”
The two men walked outside. Squinting because the light hurt his already burning eyes, Patrick explained what the doctor had told him about Carol’s condition. “I’d like for you to talk to the doctor.”
“I will Patrick. We can go together.” Lowering his head for a moment he stopped and looked up. “But it will change nothing. The reason I know that, Patrick,” his voice faltering, “I know because I have looked into the eyes of mothers and fathers and told them their child was dying from leukemia or cystic fibrosis or any number of diseases.
“I have watched their expressions, seen their lips quiver, their shoulders droop and their tears fall. At times I have even believed I could hear their hearts racing and or breaking. And I couldn’t do a damn thing about it, nothing, but just stand there and give them that terrible news and wait for their responses.”
By now his voice was louder, his hands pounding the stone column next to where he stood. He began to cry, his chest heaving and his breath labored as Patrick went to him, putting his arm around his normally stoic and distant father-in-law. For a long time there was silence, interrupted only by their muffled sobs.
“I couldn’t do a damn thing for them, and now I can’t for my own daughter.”
“Dr. Neilson,” Patrick said, but his father-in-law stopped him.
“No Patrick, please, before we go in, I have a question for you.” His demeanor had changed and he had gathered some semblance of control. “You well know I don’t have the same convictions as you. I don’t share your beliefs. To me they are folly, useless, mindless folly. But today, I need something. I need to believe in something. But what God would do this? Tell me, what God would let this happen to an innocent five year old child and her mother?”
Patrick was stunned. He had not expected this outburst or these questions. He stood silent for several minutes, thinking, pondering, and searching his heart.
“I know you are hurting, Dr. Neilson and I know how helpless you feel. I have those same feelings. But I don’t believe God did this or necessarily let it happen. I think there is a plan, however, and somehow our actions figured into that design. I don’t have all the answers, sir, but I do believe I was given your daughter and our Olivia for these few years for a reason and so were you. We didn’t question it during those good years, did we? The scriptures say ‘through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear…. that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ I realize to a man like you that may not be enough, but it is enough for me.”
Dr. Neilson stared at Patrick and shook his head as if to show resolve, but not understanding. Then in a voice that seemed more kind and mellow than Patrick had heard before he said, “Let’s go in Patrick. We’ll talk to the doctor and do what we have to do.”
Patrick put his arm around his father-in-law as they walked back inside the hospital. When they arrived in the waiting area the doctor, looking directly at Patrick, said quietly, “I’m sorry, but Carol is gone.”
Patrick lowered his head and cried softly.
Although the news was no easier than it would have been hours before, Patrick had worked on his emotions, trying to prepare himself for the inevitable. He was also filled with a strange sense of relief, knowing he would not have to make the terrible decision to remove the life support. Carol had saved him that choice.
Turning to his in-laws, Patrick said, “I guess I’ll go home and shower. I need to go to the funeral home. There are a lot of plans to be made. I’d appreciate your help if you think you can.”
“We’ll need to go to the hotel for a short time. Could we meet you at the funeral home at 9:30?” asked Dr. Neilson.
Patrick went to tell Nancy and his other friends, but they knew from the doctor’s low tone and the look on Patrick’s face that the end had come.
“Patrick, can I help in any way?” Nancy inquired.
“Yes, I’m sure, but give me a little time to know what. I’m meeting Carol’s parents at the funeral home in about an hour. They’re going to the hotel now.”
When he arrived at the house, he had never felt so alone. Though Tom had volunteered to go with him, Patrick had said no. This was something he had to do alone. When he opened the door it was apparent that Tom and Jean had sent someone with their key to turn the lights on. Even with the artificial illumination and daylight, he could feel the darkness.
There was a note that friends had taken Rocky home. Groceries already lined the bar. A small vase of flowers sat on the breakfast table. Everything else was as he left it the morning before, the morning that he had looked so forward to his family’s return in the afternoon. Peri was curled, sleeping on their bed.
Patrick went from room to room… Carol was everywhere. This was her house; even when it was their house, it was still hers. This was who she was before him, with him. This is where they first made love, where they laughed and cried and planned. And now, she was gone.
When he walked into Olivia’s room, he noticed her blankie was on the bed. Someone must have taken it from the car and placed it there because he knew Olivia had taken it with her; she would never go off for even a night without it. Now it lay as lifeless as he knew she had been when they found her. Looking around, he saw the teddy bear that he had won for Carol at the Prater in Vienna; Olivia’s toys were scattered in a corner, but her art work, like her mother’s, was neatly tacked to a small board on an easel, so much unfinished playing, and so many lost dreams.
In her closet, her small dresses hung side by side, but the one she was planning to wear to her first day of kindergarten hung on the door. She had shown it to him at least six times before she left to visit her grandparents. Her lunch kit and tiny satchel were next to the dress.
Rushing to the shower and then hurrying to dress, Patrick knew he had to get out of this house. How was he ever going to live here again?
The remainder of the week was a blur and later Patrick could recall very little. He remembered calling his dad and John and then talking to Carmella, but little else.
At Nancy’s suggestion, the memorial services were moved to the larger Presbyterian Church. Giving Patrick the excuse that his sanctuary was much too small for the crowd of mourners who would be attending, the real issue was the memory–the harsh reality that every time he walked into his church he would see the two caskets, would have to deal with the goodbyes all over again. It would be hard to face, harder to forget.
Patrick made certain when he planned the services with his Presbyterian colleague that they were simple, what he knew Carol would want. In compliance to a request Carol had made one night when she and Patrick had discussed what should happen if either died, she was cremated. In some ways it didn’t feel right to Patrick to cremate Olivia. He didn’t know exactly why cremating an adult seemed different than cremating a child, but burying her wouldn’t have been any easier–it was really her dying that didn’t make sense, but he wouldn’t consider cremating Carol and burying Olivia. He would not separate them. They were connected, an extension of each other.
After the services, friends and family went back to the house to provide comfort and support, to hold Patrick’s hand, to touch his shoulder or to merely share his grief in a moment of inexplicable silence. He paced for a while, alternately sitting and standing. When he thought he might implode, he walked outside where the world was larger, the air less heavy. When finally the sun slipped behind the trees and darkness spread like the wings of an eagle, Tom said, “Patrick we must go in.”
“I’m not sure I can. It’s so hard to stay in that house.”
“Would you like to go home with us?”
“No, Tom. I have to do this. I just don’t have to do it well.”
One by one the friends left and Patrick was alone. Quiet replaced the steady hum of voices, whispers, and sounds. Emptiness swallowed him like a hawk might an ant. There was nothing left but what was and what might have been. The ringing of the phone brought Patrick back to the present. Carmella and Stefano were calling from across the vastness of an ocean. And while they talked and cried there were giant pauses in a conversation thousands of miles apart.
“Patrico, it hurts so much to not be with you. We will come to you, but perhaps it would be good for you to get away. Would you come here for a stay?”
“There is so much I need to do, but I want to think about it. I know I need to get away from here, but on the other hand, I need to stay. Here, at least, I feel close to them. But it is that closeness that is hurting so bad. I don’t know; I don’t seem to know anything right now except nothing will ever be the same. I want to scream and throw things. I want to just go out in our boat and never come back. But I know myself. I won’t do any of those. I’ll survive, but it will be the most difficult task I have ever had. God has tested me on several occasions. He raised the stakes this time, and he’s almost broken me.”
He paused as if he had just made a decision. “I’m going back to work tomorrow!”
“Patrico, do you not need some time?” Stefano pleaded.
“Time is what I don’t need. I need work. I need to focus on everything but what life was here in this house. Winter is coming soon. Carol’s flowers will die too and I hate to watch that. It will happen slowly, and then there will just be brown leaves and lifeless, muted blossoms on the ground. Some will blow out to the sea where I’ll put their ashes. Maybe I’ll go to you then. I remember telling you once there was a rhythm to life there in Tuscany, a peaceful, busy, contented rhythm. We had that here too, but the flow has changed… the music has stopped.”
“Patrico, we would give anything to be there with you. We would do anything to ease your pain,” Carmella said, her voice breaking.
“I know, but no one can do that. It’ll just have to come in time. It’ll get better I know. It won’t ever be the same, but it will get easier.”
For the next month, Patrick poured himself into his work and taking care of all the details related to the accident and deaths of Carol and Olivia.