Uncle Frank’s last trip north


June 12, 2000


            They brought my uncle Frank north today, back to a hospital in the old neighborhood where -- I'm told -- he is likely to remain until he dies.

            With Frank that could be a long, long time.

            I managed to visit him at Beth Israel yesterday, driving the long way into town because I had heard highway construction had started and I didn't know which streets would be closed.

            Since moving out of Passaic on Dec. 31, 1989, my visits there had dwindled, numerous visits early on as I made my daily jog there from East Rutherford to almost nothing over the last two years, with a brief stopover a little over a year ago when I came to get a copy of my birth certificate.

            Frank, however, hadn't returned at all for over three decades, although during his days as a milk man and truck driver he had spent a great deal of time weaving through the narrow streets, dealing with the changing immigrant populations.

            His return north was in a way a homecoming, since he and all of his brothers had spent most of their youth wandering through the downtown, shopping here when limited funds allowed the family the luxury.

            For me, his return bode well, since I was unable to make regular visits south. About month ago, I took a day off of work and made the trip because word came north from his brother that Frank was about to die.

            Seeing Frank in the south jersey hospital bed, I was convinced he would, even though for years doctors had predicted his demise. In 1985 -- doctors told him he had less than two years. Frank told them to screw off. Later, enduring collapse after collapse, he seemed to come closer and closer to the inevitable conclusion, and each time, he managed to slip free.

            This time, he did not seem as if he would escape death.

            Sitting in the room with him, I was reminded of my last visit to see his brother, Ritchie in 1997, the machines enhancing his struggled breathing. At one point, my sneaker scraped on the floor tiles creating a high pitched sound. Frank's eyes jerked open. He looked at me but I could not tell if he was conscious of me, though in his eyes I saw a look of desperation, a consciousness trapped in a body that no longer worked.

            Later, I encountered his brother, Ted, at the gas station where he worked. He grumbled over Frank's intransigence.

            "He wouldn't sign a living will," Ted bitched. "The son of a bitch is going to stay a live on those machines no matter what we do."

            Ted had a poor history when it came to death, and the money associated with it, drawing complaints from Frank over the handling of their mother's will. Frank believed Ted had deliberately delayed settling the issues in hopes that Frank, Ritchie and my mother might die first, leaving him with a greater share.

            But if Frank was as bad as Ted said and Frank seemed when I saw him, I didn't see a point in letting his life linger. When Ted called to announce Frank's coming north, I was puzzled. Why would they transport a dead man so far if only to have to bury him.

            Yesterday, Frank was much more conscious, full of his usual complaints, and though still regulated by the various machines, he did not seem near death at all, he being too angry at Ted and the world to deprive them of this presence by dying.




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