Gary was a fixture in our community. Nearly every day, through our kitchen window, Tom and I spotted him beyond our fig tree. He sat contentedly on the park bench in front of his condo, wearing his favorite cowboy hat, smoking a cigarette. Our neighbor–an eighty-six-year-old-man with a wry sense of humor and perpetual cough–died last week.
Over the past few years, Tom and I watched Gary’s slow slide and the constant care Pat (his devoted wife of fifty-three years) provided. In recent weeks, Gary’s decline had become more precipitous. We knew it was only a matter of time–days, hours, minutes, seconds–before he left. It happened on Good Friday right outside his front door and ours. He died under our fig tree.
On Friday afternoon, after receiving our second Pfizer vaccinations the day before, Tom was napping in the sunroom. I was feeling fine, writing in our den. Around three o’clock, I heard a thud followed closely by a shriek. Gary had fallen. Pat had just seen it happen. I raced outside. I found Gary crumpled on the ground in the ninety-degree heat next to his Chicago Bears cupholder.
Pat, Bob (another neighbor), and I did our best to lift Gary and situate him in a chair in the shade near the gnarly fig right outside our door. But the color in Gary’s face drained. His breathing stopped just as the Scottsdale paramedics and police arrived. They worked to resuscitate him, but Gary was gone.
For the past few days, I’ve been feeling the trauma of that moment and the side effects of the second vaccine. I remember telling Pat to call 911. I remember my heart racing. I remember consoling Pat briefly, then–after the EMTs arrived–reaching out to hug Danny, a long-time friend of Gary’s who had heard the commotion and looked on in amazement. I cried in his arms. Danny and I don’t know each other well, but I am certain we both needed to feel comfort in that frightening moment.
Until Good Friday 2021, no one–not even my mother or father–had died in my arms. It’s going to take a while before I can process the meaning behind all of this. But, of course, writing about it helps.
I think Pat, Bob, and I did what many people would do. We tried to ease the pain of a husband, a neighbor, a friend, a dying man. As a result, we will be bonded forever by the personal gravity and trauma of the experience.