Archie's Last Six Months
I first met Archie in 1973 at a high school football game. I was 12 and he was 15. He was my first boyfriend. He found me again in 1999 and we were together 8 years. I still remember the day he told me he had 5 years to live.
I knew going into this that he was living on borrowed time. The one thing I promised him was he wouldn't die alone. I left him for the final time in August of 2006.
Old habits are hard to break. I would go shopping and if I caught something I thought he'd like or need at a good price I bought it. We became good friends because anything more was a disaster.
Just because you love someone doesn't mean you can live with them. Just because you can't live with someone doesn't mean you don't love them. I know couples who would benefit from my logic. We had arguments during our final year together that lasted all day. We'd only been postponing the inevitable.
It's been four months now since I lost Archie. He made it 10 years instead of 5. I felt the need to tell his story one more time.
Archie was diagnosed with lung cancer early in 2008. The diagnosis was 6-9 months. He wasn't a candidate for chemotherapy, radiation or surgery due to all of his health problems.
It's not easy to watch someone die.
My story of our last road trip begins on Monday, April 26, 2009. Our destination was Mountain Rest Cabins and Campgrounds in Oconee Co., SC. Archie reminded me of a young child when I picked him up that morning. He was so excited about returning to the mountains he loved.
Our first stop was Isaqueena Falls in Oconee Co., SC where Archie wanted his ashes scattered. I have a photo of Archie made at a creek at Isaqueena. There's no other way to describe the photo except eerie. He looked as thou he were cut out and pasted on top of the scenery.
I was photographing everything in sight with three cameras around my neck, and having a blast doing it.
Next we stopped at Stumphouse Tunnel where the south had planned to build a railroad prior to the War Between the States. The war brought the railroad project to a dead halt. You can walk back in there if you have a good flashlight and aren't afraid of bats. We stayed close to the entrance.
Our final stop was at a country store were I purchased a quart of homemade molasses. Archie wanted to play on the giant peanuts outside the store. He even posed for a few pictures.
He'd been bragging about these cabins for weeks. We pulled up to the office and I loved the rustic look. It was like stepping back in time 100 years. The staff there is very friendly and gave us a lot of pamphlets on waterfalls in the area.
I park and my back tire is flat(not a problem because I carry a battery powered compressor). We go inside and it's really cute. There's a fridge and a microwave and a small sitting room with 2 chairs, a TV and a stereo. No running water (we got the cheapest cabin they have), no indoor plumbing (a bathhouse is nearby), no phone, no cell phone signal. The hermit in me was applauding. It was HEAVEN!
Archie called his 18 year old son Linc and invited him to join us. This was the one daytime call that got thru. Linc arrived an hour later. I chose to remain at the cabin and give them some father/son time.
First I turned on the TV and found there was no signal. There was also no antennae and no cable. Then I spotted a guitar on the wall. Glued on the wall. Finally I decided on a walk (again with the cameras around my neck) and started taking pictures of everything.
I heard the chickens and started following them around. At some point the manager came back(he checks on you often to see if you need anything) and at this time I found out there's no TV signal.
I remembered thinking about the movie Devil's Pond. If you haven't seen it look it up. At this time I didn't know Crystal Lake Road was the first left off the main road headed up the mountain.
The manager opened the office and I returned to the cabin with a stack of VHS tapes. Archie and Linc come back and the three of us spend time together watching movies.
Tuesday morning I woke up with a snake in my bed.
There is a moment when you first wake up in the morning where dream and reality are almost the same. My eyes were still closed and I was unsure whether I was ready to get up for the day. Until I heard Archie and Linc were talking about how beautiful "it" is and how they were going to put " it" in the bed with me. They were whispering and all I heard was "it" and "bathhouse".
I KNEW what it was before I opened my eyes. Talk about an early morning rush! Archie was lucky I didn't kick my way out of the cabin. I'm not going to touch a snake, have one in the bed with me, or even look at pictures of them. My tolerance is about three feet if someone is holding one or ten feet if they're on the grass.
Archie loved snakes and wanted to bring it along for the day. I convinced him to leave the snake behind and we all headed to the fish hatchery. Linc drove his SUV and it was nice because I usually have to do the driving. Archie had seizures and was unable to drive.
I took a lot of great pictures at the hatchery. I had no interest whatsoever in fish unless I caught them but once again I saw how much Archie wanted me to enjoy this. I had them drop me off at the cabin after that and they went on and did their thing while I watched movies. Linc had to work the following day so he headed home that evening.
At dusk we went outside to attempt a cell phone signal. Archie discovered the proper method to get a cell phone signal where there are no towers. First wait till nightfall. Then climb onto a picnic table .and stand up. Turn cell phone to "speaker." Raise cell phone as high over the head as possible and talk.
Wednesday was a blast and was the best day of all. We headed off on a road trip. I had the honor of picking our locations. It was near the SC/Georgia state line when I told Archie the car didn't feel right. We had a flat tire. This time the compressor wouldn't be enough. Archie didn't complain and was able to change it without help.
We cut across country and went to Otto, NC where my family is deep into the Foxfire history. My grandmother was one of the Carpenter's in the Foxfire books. We stopped at the Foxfire Museum in Dillard, Georgia but Archie was unable to go on the tour of the reconstructed cabins the museum is best known for. .
I stopped at several local cemeteries to photograph tombstones and Archie waited in the car. Afterwards we stopped off to eat then headed in the opposite direction to Tallullah Falls State Park, Georgia. I knew I would love the view but I really fell in love with the realistic animals behind glass inside the educational area.
Archie was able to walk to one of the overlooks. I took a picture of him there looking out over all of God's beauty. By the time we got back to the cabin that night we were both exhausted.
Archie wanted to shoot a few games of pool. The usual scenario when I shoot pool is to hit the ball straight up in the air and hope no one gets hurt. I saw how badly he wanted me to play him and didn't have the heart to turn him down.
That night I was really good. How in did I learn to shoot pool when I haven't even picked up a cue in 10 years? We played for over an hour. This was the happiest I ever saw him.
We were sitting outside that night when Archie told me he was afraid this was his last trip. I told him I didn't mind coming back if he wanted and he said he'd get a nicer cabin. I told him I didn't want nicer. The one we were in was fine. Even if the guitar I went to get down from the wall was glued there.
I took him back to his home that Thursday.
During the summer I visited Archie several times. Sometimes I'd sit with him for a few hours or I'd take him to visit his mother who lived nearby. One Saturday afternoon in late summer we stopped at a new pawn shop to check out the deals. I found a beautiful angel pendant and asked him to buy it for me. It was only a few dollars and I'll cherish it forever.
I confessed to him that evening why I wanted the angel. I told him it was because after he was gone I could sit and cry "this is the last thing he ever gave me." I was doing a really good fake cry and in my mind I was still in denial.
Aside from the weight loss he looked healthy. No one could look at him and know he was in his final months. He put his arm around me and told me he wasn't going to die anytime soon.
Archie remarried and the marriage was a disaster. I would visit him and his wife Debbie and was glad some of the responsibility was taken off of me. Until she left him.
We never made it back to the mountains. Archie took a turn for the worse in September. His headaches were getting worse and nothing relieved them. The cancer had spread and was now in his head. I watched a man with an extremely high threshold for pain cry when nothing relieved it.
During Archie's final month at home I visited more often. He slept most of the time because it was the only time he wasn't in pain. He'd gone from being the man who had a thousand stories to tell to the man who wanted visitors to leave him alone to rest.
I literally had to announce a closing time to his home and run everyone out at 9 p.m.Twice I brought him to my home an hour away where he could get away from everyone long enough to get some good rest.
He held up emotionally in front of his friends and family. During our private time together he cried.
The three times per week doctor visits were over at Archie's request. There was nothing a test could tell us that we didn't already know. What had once been measured in months was now in weeks. He was simply too weak to spend hours sitting in the waiting room to always be told the same thing. We were all waiting for the worst to happen.
On October 5th Archie had his last brain scan. His headaches had become so severe he cried. I called him the morning of October 6th and told him if he needed me I would come. He said he needed me so I went.
This was Archie's last week at home. He was a mental and physical wreck. I'd spoken to him that morning and he begged me to stay with him.
I spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with Archie. He would sleep and I would watch over him. The man who loved to entertain others with his stories now had me turning away phone calls and visits from friends. I administered his medication and made sure he ate. I helped him walk to and from the bathroom so he wouldn't lose his balance.
On Thursday night he had an "episode." He was talking about something and I sensed something was wrong. It reminded me a little of how my mama was when she had a mini stroke. I asked him his mother's maiden name and he answered me. Later I learned it was the wrong answer but it was close enough to being right.
I had to go to the unemployment office on Friday so I dropped him off at his mom's house so his sister Sarah could take him for his final doctor visit. He walked from his house to my car and from my car to his mom's car. He was unable to go up the three steps into her house.
With Sarah's help I got him into the car. Archie begged me to hurry back to him. I was shocked when I called later that day and learned he had been admitted and the new plans.
Archie's doctor said the cancer was in his brain now and ordered him admitted to AnMed Medical Center in Anderson, SC that Friday to await a room at Rainey Hospice House. Archie never wanted this because he wanted to die at home on the daybed in his living room.
On October 10th he tried to escape and security was called to restrain him. He broke the straps within 5 minutes. His doctor ordered him drugged him and kept him drugged until his transfer.
I realize that sedation may sound cruel to those who didn't know Archie. He was the type who would go to extremes to get what he wanted. Even with me by his side it would have been unsafe for him to go home.
I seriously doubt his pain could have been controlled. His physical safety was a very real concern. He couldn't walk without falling and he definitely would have been in danger with morphine in the house. Either from over medication or addicts who would break in or kill for narcotics.
I called Archie on Saturday and asked how he was being treated. He didn't sound happy, especially when I told him I'd be Sunday coming to visit. The hospital staff told me on Sunday that he'd been unable to eat since Friday due to swallowing issues. He was heavily sedated and I don't believe he knew I was there.
Archie's mother, his sister Sarah and his half sister Annette were in charge of his medical arrangements. All I could do was to stay by Archie and take some of the responsibility off of the family. I've been unemployed since March of 2009 and could do my job searching from anywhere with an internet connection.
I arrived Tuesday morning before the transfer to Rainey Hospice House. I told Archie I was going to clean out the valuables where he lived. Archie had settled in by the time I returned later that day. I sat by his side a few hours and then went home.
On Wednesday I came back with a packed bag of clothes and my computer. Rainey Hospice House has wireless internet and cable TV and the room was decorated like a bedroom. I placed pictures of his family around the room and settled in. Archie asked me where we were and I told him we were at Hospice House.
The words I remember most were "I'm getting up!" Out of frustration I told him to "come on." He had to see for himself he couldn't do it. He raised up and fell back on the bed.
On Thursday he called everyone in the family in to make amends. He had all of us crying. Anytime I left the room he tried to come up out of the bed and come after me. I'd noticed a definite change in his personality.
Archie was the most hotheaded man I ever met in my life. His temper was horrible and impossible to get away from. Anger management was not in his vocabulary. I still remember how things were in 2006 around the time I left him for the last time.
Going to another room hoping he'd calm down wasn't an option. He'd bang cabinet doors and break things and have no memory of it later.
The Archie I spent time with during his final weeks was a different man. My mama once told me that toward the end of life the good may get mean and the mean may turn good. This Archie said "please" and "thank you" every time I helped him drink. I'd always wished for two weeks with Archie where he wasn't complaining, blaming or arguing. In the end I got my wish.
It's not easy to help someone die.
I would like to explain the Rainey Hospice House to everyone. My research shows most hospices are operated under similar guidelines. You have no idea how many people came to visit and asked where the feeding tube and the IV were.
Others tried to tell me horror stories about people who were at Hospice House and how they were left to die. My answer to that is yes, people do die at Hospice House. The nurse told me sometimes they would lose 6 patients a night.
There is no feeding tube or IV because you’re not trying to get the person well. Archie’s son even asked me if they couldn’t send him back to the hospital so he could get well. It crushed him to tell him he wasn’t going to get any better. Hospice House is about comfort-not healing. It’s about pain medication and anxiety medication because by the time a patient gets to Hospice addiction is not a concern.
Archie would ask me where he was every few days and I’d tell him Hospice House and whether he would mind if I spent another night with him.
We talked about dying because he knew that was why he was there. One day he said Little Shane had asked him to go hunting and I needed to go get his gun for target practice. Little Shane was my neighbors son who died at 15 in a horrible wreck back in January. He and Archie were best buddies because they were so much alike. They both liked guns and fire and repairing things. I told him to go to Little Shane and his daddy and they could go to heaven and find Farrah Fawcett. He smiled at that.
I kept the blinds raised so he could look out at the fountain and the birds feeding. I took pictures of him and of him and his kids. His oldest son Jonathan, daughter Alison and son Linc visited several times and we also stayed in touch by phone and the internet. I gave him time alone with his family. I kept my internet family up to date on his condition.
His preacher came and prayed with him several times, as did his half sister Annette and her husband Tommy. I went home for one day on Monday October 19 and returned Tuesday at 4:30 a.m. I found out from his half sister that Debbie heard he was there and wanted to visit.
I always got along with her but Archie told a different story. He claimed she was mentally and physically abusive to him. I don't know how much of this was true. Archie was impossible to live with at times and I never got Debbie's side of the story.
I bought Archie a half gallon of buttermilk and he drank so much the day I brought it I was afraid to let his bed back down. Everyday I told him what liquids I had and let him choose. Sometimes it was Gatorade while others it was juice, tea, or water. He refused Ensure. By this time Hospice was bringing me a tray of food 3 times a day plus a snack cart went around at night. I managed to find him some ginger ale. His mind still lucid and would specify he wanted all of his liquids served "ice cold."
From the time he arrived there he was given as much liquid morphine as it took to take away the pain. Also Ativan cream to calm him. We were on a routine. After Archie was given his medication I would sit by him a few hours then go back to the couch because he refused to close his eyes. I guess he didn't want to miss anything. I slept with one eye open so I wouldn't miss his left hand going up if he needed me.
.On Wednesday October 21st I was awakened to the music of a harp. It's a very memorable experience. That day I felt comfortable enough to go home for 2 days. I was exhausted by this time. I called the nurses on Thursday and they told me there was no change.
I came back on Friday for my last stay. Archie's neck had been locked down to one side since he went into the hospital but this morning his head was thrown back and he was gasping for breath and his eyes were half closed. His sister Sarah had talked to me on Thursday night and told me he couldn't have anything to drink so I knew not to offer anything. Still I wasn't prepared for this.
Saturday was a better day for Archie. His breathing had eased and he appeared more comfortable.
On Sunday October 25th, Linc's mother Tammy visited and brought a few men from her church. They prayed with him and over him and had special pray that I would hold together until this was over. At this moment I knew Archie was going to heaven.
I later spoke to the staff and they agreed there had been a change in Archie. He was content and prepared to meet God.
That night I made a change in the bed routine. I moved my bed over so I could reach over and hold his hand during the night. By this point I was sleeping very little. Afraid to take my medication because he might need me. The staff was great but sometimes mucus would come up in his mouth so fast I had to suction it out myself.
I felt bad that he couldn't drink without choking. The liquids had been banned during a time I wasn't there and thought maybe with me there we could try the straw again. I sat by his bed and asked him to swallow so I'd know he could. He was still with us enough to communicate and did as I asked.
I told the nurse he could still swallow and she tried to give him a drink of water using a syringe. He didn't have enough control left to avoid choking. We failed but at least we tried. One of the nurses suggested lemon flavored glycerin sticks to moisten his mouth. I could dip them in water and let him suck the moisture out.
It's not easy to give someone permission to die.
This was unplanned on my part. I believe God allowed me to see into Archie's mind. The trouble was Archie's mind was telling him to fight to live. I pulled my chair over close to Archie on Tuesday and had a serious talk with him. It had taken almost two weeks for me to face the truth. He had a strong body and a strong will. I told him to go ahead and die. That this was a fight he couldn't win.
Things had taken a change for the worse with Archie's family. His mom had to be hospitalized and we didn't know if she would see him for one last visit. Even if she made it back in time there were problems. She saw her son for the last time on Wednesday.
The doctor visited around noon that Wednesday and I gave him a quick update on Archie's conditions. We were cautioned Archie could die at any time. A person can only go 6-7 days without water and we were on day 6. His mother and Sarah were in the cafeteria so his mother didn't know how close to the end we were.
Things were about to get crazy. His sister Sarah and his mother were going to Atlanta on Wednesday to catch a plane. This was a trip that couldn't be postponed. I know there was nothing they could do by staying closer to Archie but this left me confused. I talked to his mother alone while they changed his bed. She told me she had almost decided to stay Annette. When she went back in to tell him goodbye it was all I could do not to yell THIS IS THE LAST TIME YOU'LL SEE HIM ALIVE!
Shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday Archie whispered his last I love you to me. At this point his eyes changed. I can’t describe it but you could tell he wasn’t in there. The rapid breathing had started back that morning and his heart rate was 125.
Earlier in the day a couple had come to the room and asked if I would like a touchstone of him. A small ball of clay is rounded and Archie's thumbprint was made on one side and mine on the other. I'd originally turned this down and decided I wanted this. My touchstone is black with gold specs and looks similar to a polished rock. I'll always treasure it.
I spent a lot of that day crying. I stayed by his bed and cried and then I’d sit on the couch and cry. His legs were like ice all the way to the knees by 5 p.m. His heart rate was in the 160 range and his respiration was in the 40’s. By this time they were checking him every hour and writing down the numbers and keeping me informed.
I wasn’t considered family legally but they kept me updated because I was the one with him constantly. By midnight his respiration was 45 and it was hard to watch him. They had replaced the liquid morphine with something more concentrated. The nurse assured me he wasn’t aware of the panting and to call her back if he seemed in pain. When they turned him at 2 a.m. the nurse gave him more pain medication.
I got panicky and called Annette and Tommy. They returned and had prayer with him. Tommy told Archie to talk to God in his head. That God would hear him and forgive him for all of his sins. By this time all I could do was lay behind him on my bed and hold his hand and cry. I cried so hard I hyperventilated.
He didn’t get any worse for an hour and I told them if they wanted they could go home. Tommy was yawning and I felt so bad for him. At around 3:30 a.m. he had a seizure of some kind. The nurse brought more Ativan to relax him. I pinned the call button on my pillow and lay down to hold his hand again. At 5 a.m. the room got VERY cold and I sensed someone was there to take him home.
At 5:45 Thursday the beginning of the end came. He stopped breathing and I hit the call button for the nurse. Everyone came running because at this point his legs were cold and stiff all the way up and his hands were cold. He’d quit squeezing my hand back before midnight.
We turned on the lights and gathered around him. The nurse checked and his heart rate was still 125. Then he started breathing again. He didn’t struggle. He didn’t take one final painful breath. All I could do was stand there and watch as the nurse called the heart rate and the apnea until at 6:03 a.m. she called the time. Annette made the necessary phone calls.
She called Alison back and called his youngest son Linc and Linc came to Hospice. I NEVER would have called him to see his daddy like this. The poor man will probably have nightmares for years by the way Archie looked. The end of cancer isn’t pretty. I’m glad his daughter didn’t come. I wish I hadn’t had to see it. I had to stop by the drugstore on my way home and was screaming and crying by the time I got away from there. I don’t know how I drove home.
I end this part of the story knowing I did the best I could for my best friend. I picture him waving goodbye every time I visited and left him. I remember him in April in the mountains and how much he loved the woods. He taught me to deal with the world because some days he was the toughest person in the world to deal with and I survived.
I experienced a miracle on November 3, 2009. Two days before Archie's birthday I said my final goodbye to him and hello to someone else who needed my help.
I decided at the last minute to visit with the family at the funeral home but was in doubt whether I'd be there past that. I stopped by Rainey Hospice House for my touchstone. It was beautiful and every time I hold it I remember the moment it was made. The funeral home was empty except for the staff. I arrived early to have to little private time with Archie.
The family picked out a wooden coffin just like he wanted and he is buried beside his father. He was dressed in jeans and a tee shirt with his cap in his hands. I remember teasing him about the cap by telling him it covered his bald spot. I'd laugh and tell him the bald spot looked like a light bulb and even offered to take a picture of it as proof.
Archie had once told me that's why he loved having me around. I still teased him about things I found funny. I never treated him any differently because he was sick. If I was mad at him I told him I was mad. I didn't hide laughter and I didn't hide tears.
He wanted me to tell everyone in this story about how to treat the dying. You treat the dying as you do the living. Don't be afraid to show emotion. That's where a lot of family and friends of the terminally ill make a mistake. They stop calling and they stop visiting because at the end words are hard to come by.
I held up well during visitation. Almost all of his friends were there at one point or another. They all wanted assurance he didn't suffer and I was able to offer closure. He definitely didn't suffer at Rainey Hospice House. He DID suffer before being admitted there.
I'd already talked with the family and warned them I could disappear at any time. None of them held it against me. I was there for him when it really mattered and that's what was important.
I was on my way out the door when Archie's pastor called for family prayer before leaving for the cemetery for final services. I kept going and never looked back or said goodbye. There was an urgency I couldn't explain. I stopped for gas and the feeling stayed with me.
The road I take home is peaceful and in the country. There are no service stations. Only churches, farms and timberland. In my head I was still with Archie at the funeral home. How could I run out on him? Would the family understand? Something crossing the road in front of my car brought my attention back to my driving. I squinted and tried to identify what it was.
As I grew closer I saw it was a kitten. A really SMALL kitten, oblivious to the dangers of the road. Every time I take this same route I see at least seven road-kills. There really was no question of my going back. I had to save it.
I turned my car around in a church parking lot out in the middle of nowhere. When I pulled my car over I feared it had run off and I'd never see it again. I walked over to an old barn and looked down. I don't know why I looked down at that exact moment but it was an experience I'll never forget.
The smallest kitten I've ever seen sat quietly at my feet. It looked at me and I looked at it and in one move I scooped it up. It didn't try to fight, bite, scratch or anything. Keep in mind I was dealing with a feral kitten that should have been terrified of humans. It was also identical to many cats I've owned over the years. I was looking at my own custom ordered kitten. It was a long haired gray tabby with blue eyes that would eventually turn green.
My new baby sat in the passenger seat and later finished the ride in the floorboard of my car. When I was about ten minutes from home I called my daughter and gave her instructions. I told her to bring a pillowcase out to my car when I pulled in the yard.
She couldn't believe I was bring home a baby kitten. Several months back she had wanted a kitten and found an orphan up for adoption. We were unsure how our family of three dogs and a cat would welcome a new addition.
As it turned out we didn't need the pillowcase. My new kitty didn't try to escape. I quickly learned it was a boy and he was all fur and no cat. My thumb and index finger could meet around his belly. We had to be careful feeding him those first few days. He had flea problems and malnutrition problems. His worst problem was a fly larvae worm growing in his neck. The vet said he was about six weeks old, cleaned his neck and put him on Clavix.
I now believe there are no coincidences in life. I left the funeral home because Archie and God were bestowing a special gift upon me to take away some of the pain . What are the chances I'd be on that road at the exact moment my favorite color/breed kitten crosses in front of me. Four seconds in either direction and I would have missed out on finding him.
From day one he marched in and took over. He climbed onto Archie's blue blanket that covered him at Rainey Hospice House. This is where he slept. I named him Furby.
Archie had two Furbies he kept on a bookshelf over his day bed. He moved them after they started talking to each other in the middle of the night and almost gave him a heart attack. Every time I think of my Furby I remember his Furbys.
My Furby has been with me four months now. He has endured lancing his neck, fleas and ear mites.I'm convinced he knows the plan God gave him. He was neutered a few weeks ago and is healthy and growing.
He gets along with everyone, both human and animal. He now has two websites and both of us also write for www.pictures-of-cats.org. Yes, you heard right. Furby is a story teller. His style is a lot like Archies.
Furby also has his own site at www.furbytheferalfeline.shutterfly.com.
I believe God wants me to write. Archie's story has been a challenge. God has been in control each step of this story. Including which web site to publish it to. It's a strange feeling to watch a computer with a mind of its own. I've only been able to make progress at certain times. The rest of the time I either can't get online of the browser doesn't work. It's taken me 7 days to write Archie's story. I still don't know what the message is. Only that it's there waiting to be read.
It's not easy to go on and pretend life is normal when it's not.