A Sad Trip to Green Bay

Saturday–Sunday, April 28–29, 2012
From our Family Journal, edited.
Posted here April 15, 2022

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The trip to Norlen’s house

Norlen Meton, a friend of mine since youth, lives in Suamico, WI, just north of Green Bay. His wife, Kim, was dying of cancer, and we wanted to see her before she passed, so we drove up there on the morning of Saturday, April 28, 2012, arriving at 2:13 p.m.

We arrive, see Kim, and visit with Norlen

We talked for a while; Norlen’s neighbor Donna stopped by and brought him chicken noodle soup and bread from a nice local restaurant, which we enjoyed. ~ Went upstairs to see Kim; she was sleeping but had a noticeably raspy breathing. Norlen remarked that she hadn’t been like this before; it had started, intermittently, at about noon, but had become more pronounced since about the time we arrived. He wondered if it was the so-called “death rattle,” meaning the end was near.

In the kitchen, Norlen showed us a photo album full of pictures taken on their trip to Hawaii in January of 2011. They had always wanted to go there, and when Kim took ill in the fall of 2010, they made plans for the trip. Norlen said that Kim was weak and sickly for much of the trip, but they still had a good time. ~ Norlen told us the story of how Kim got sick, was diagnosed with cancer of unknown origin that was incurable and terminal, then underwent treatments which halted the disease’s progress for about a year. Finally the treatments stopped working, and she was placed in hospice care about a month ago, at home. Norlen had taken off work on FMLA to care for her.

Kim’s flute music strikes a familiar note

During a recent phone conversation, Norlen had told me that he wished he had some recordings of Kim playing the flute. I just happened to have a tape from Fellowship Baptist Church from 1981 that included three solos by her. I had brought the tape; Norlen found a cassette player, brought it into the room, and played the entire tape in Kim’s presence. Though she had been entirely unresponsive until now, she moved her arms and legs, seeming to indicate that she recognized the music.

Dinner, then TV; Kim worsens

For dinner, Norlen cooked up ground beef, added some black olives and Prego spaghetti sauce, then served it over shell pasta, with green beans on the side. It was quite delicious.

Typically on Saturday nights, Norlen and Kim would watch British comedies on PBS. In an effort to keep things as “normal” as possible, he turned on PBS so we could watch the comedies with her. We chatted and kept watch of Kim during this time; we didn’t really pay too much attention to the programs. At one point Wendi noticed Kim with her eyes open. “She’s watching the program with us,” she remarked, but I doubted it. It looked more like she was about to pass away.

Kim quietly fades away

Norlen served us Spumoni ice cream for a late night dessert at 10:00. When we finished, I took the bowls downstairs to the kitchen to rinse them out while Norlen and Wendi kept watch of Kim. I was gone only from 10:11 to 10:16 p.m. As I returned up the stairs, I heard Norlen ask, “Is she fading?” He took a blood pressure cuff to her side and tried to take a reading. “They said to watch her blood pressure,” he said. “They told me it would rise slowly over time, then fall quickly right toward the end.” I noticed that Kim was still breathing, but the raspiness was now gone, and the breathing was shallow and quiet. Norlen checked the blood pressure meter; it gave an error. He tried it again, and again it gave an error. By now we noticed that the breathing had ceased, and the color was beginning to leave Kim’s face. It was 10:20 p.m. Wendi checked for a pulse; there was none.

Comparing notes later, none of the three of us had ever been present at the death of someone close to us, though nearly so at times. Norlen and Kim were at the bedside of people they cared for who died, when they worked in hospice care years ago in Beloit.

The aftermath

The next hours were spent with Norlen making phone calls; we talked about what had just happened. Norlen said he was glad that we were there with him. I rarely drink, but Norlen offered me a Pepsi and Gentleman Jack, and under the circumstances, I took him up on the offer, twice. The man from hospice arrived at 11:21 and took down some information so all the proper papers could be filed. Norlen and I chatted downstairs over the drinks while Bud finished up his work. ~ The undertakers were there from 1:17 to 1:35 a.m. By now, Wendi had fallen asleep in a chair in the living room. The man from hospice left at 1:48 a.m.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A great breakfast, a bit of music and our departure

Up 7:45 a.m. ~ Norlen made breakfast: scrambled eggs with medium Cheddar cheese, hash browns with onions and peppers, sausage, bacon, and toast with strawberry jam. Drank coffee and mango juice. ~ Norlen spoke on the phone with his aunt and uncle, also Neil at Schneider Funeral Home in Janesville about arrangements. The visitation and funeral will be held this coming Friday at 10 and 11 a.m.

We packed our things to leave, but before we left, I got out the ukulele and played and sang two songs: “I’m the Umm” and “Amazing Grace” (which I had never practiced). Wendi sang along with the last song. Norlen liked the singing and playing. ~ We left the house at 11:59 a.m.

Norlen would spend the next several days finalizing funeral arrangements, contacting family, and gathering things to display at the visitation; it would be a very trying time for him.

We visit Wendi’s sister in Green Bay

From there, we went to visit Wendi’s sister, Debbie, who lives in Green Bay. I got to meet her boyfriend, Don, for the first time; Don is 62, Debbie 54. Debbie suffers from corticobasal degeneration; he said it is caused by some sort of protein attacking the brain, as in Alzheimer’s, but the symptoms are more like Parkinson’s, a movement disorder. Debbie’s speech is slurred, and her balance is off for walking; in fact, she fell while trying to get back into her easy chair, and Don had to help her up. But she was in good spirits; she laughed and joked and even hugged Wendi. I took her picture, and with a smile, she didn’t look much different than we had remembered her from before she got sick. ~ We were there from 12:20 to 1:41 p.m. Debbie and Don left when we did, on their way to see The Hunger Games at the movie theatre.

We cheer up somewhat with lunch and a trip to Seroogy’s on the way home

Wendi and I went to lunch at Perkins (100 N Military Ave; checkout at 2:49), then bought gas at a Marathon station down the street (3:07; Wendi bought a bottled water there too).

We felt depressed after Kim’s death and then seeing Debbie in such condition, so we tried to cheer ourselves up with a rare trip to Seroogy’s Chocolates (784 Willard Drive). Wendi knew the owner of the place when she lived in Green Bay years ago. We spent nearly an hour there, looking around at all of the candy and stuff; we ended up with a $36 order of goodies to take home (4:00).

We left there at 4:10 p.m. and arrived home at 8:07.