It's the morning just after my brother died. The hospice nurse pulls up perhaps around 5 in the morning. I don't know the exact time but the sun is not yet up. I shuttle my mom and my niece out of the room where he lies now still, never to draw breath again. I figure that my niece doesn't need to see the grissly process of the nurse pronouncing her dad dead. Shortly after, the nurse by law is required to dispose of all my brother's narcotics. I gather them all up and deliver them to her in the kitchen.
"Wow. That's a lot." she observes as I set them down.
"I wasn't kidding when I said that we tried everything." Hydrocodone, oxycodone, various doses of morphine, methadone, fentanyl, hydromorphone are all present as a testament to the pain he suffered.
"I noticed there are cats in the house. Do they have any cat litter?" the nurse asks. The protocol is to wet the pills and add them to cat litter to prevent their being distributed at places like the local high school. The number of pills stacked far exceed the amount of cat litter she brought. I go find some more cat litter and then just plop onto the floor to observe the disposal. Someone has to witness it. Well, someone has to sign that they witness the disposal. I figure I might as well watch and the floor seems as good a place to sit as any. What else am I going to do? What are you supposed to do after just watching your brother die? At that point, my sister-in-law walks by and sees me on the floor with my head in my hands. Clearly, I must not look good to her eyes.
"Are you ok? Do you need me to do this?" she asks.
"Nah, you go be with the kids." She is moving back and forth between her daughter and son, consoling them as best as one parent can. I figure the least I can do is save her this mundane task. My brother is dead but there are still protocols to be followed. It's just so surreal. The nurse finally finishes up and on the form I throw my scribble which passes as my signature. With the length of my last name, it became a classic illegible doctor signature long ago. On the form, I glance at the other notes the nurse wrote.
Under "Disposition" is written the words "somber, quiet". Seems accurate. Grief has indeed paralyzed us. Under "Death Witnessed by" is written "Wife, brother." Somewhere in a county records storage, there resides a form that details the death of my brother and my signature is on it. It somehow seems a fitting and painful testament. I loved my brother deeply and did everything I could to help. And yet the knowledge of that will haunt me for the rest of my days.