On May 23, 2014 Vernon Adams was involved in a serious scooter accident as he rode home to see his family. He suffered a broken pelvis, femur, jaw, arm as well as a traumatic brain injury. He is married with two wonderful children, ages 12 and 4. This site is designed to share updates and stories about Vernon.
Over the past couple of weeks, as we approached the end of Vernon’s life, I kept thinking about the Ocean. Lets think of it the un-earthy world that it is—something vast and strange and powerful, the home to fantastic creatures without lungs. The final frontier. A place that humans enjoy playing on the edges and on the surface of. But though we are 60% water ourselves, and being near the sea calms us (as deep calls to deep and liquid calls to liquid) we can only dip our toes and bodies in the waves or sail around on boats. We are attracted to it, we marvel at it, but don’t belong in it. We don’t have gills. Even the best swimmers still need oxygen to survive.
From the beginning of Vernon’s last visit to Hoag a few weeks ago, it felt like we were getting glimpses of heaven, getting closer to the edge of this other world beyond. I imagined the ocean. It felt at first like coming into a coastal area from inland: suddenly there is a marine mist in the air, your skin feels a bit different, and if the wind is right, you can smell the saltwater. As you get closer, you noticed people around you look a little different: they are tan and wear flip flops. You see surfboards on roof racks. You notice local cottages are decorated with gifts of the sea: driftwood, old fishing nets, shells, starfish. As you get to the beach itself, the water is startling cold and frightening…your nerves react to the saltwater sting, you can’t jump in, you can only flirt with the foam as it dances back and forth on the sand. The waves are too loud sometimes, and the color changes to something darker, not the idyllic jeweled blue and green it seemed from a distance. Close up, it looks a lot more endless than it did before.
In Vernon’s hospice season, it began to feel as if we were pushing him out on a boat that just wouldn’t leave the shore, but kept coming back with every wave. We stuck with him, surrounding him with support, getting wet ourselves, sputtering at times, exhausting our strength.
I remembered the painting Vernon did a few months back.
But finally he got it, and it wasn’t a boat that took him out. After a week of changing breath patterns, he learned how to un-breathe at last, and he was ready for this vast and magical new environment as someone who could survive there. He stopped breathing, the color drained from his face in seconds. It was not dramatic but peaceful. And I was there to see it happen in a moment. All that time and then a moment. One last gentle puff of air.
Vernon passed away at 8.50pm on Wednesday, August 24.
Finally, he is…sans oxygen.
A friend sent this screenshot to me this morning from Vernon’s Google Fonts page. It’s the sample phrase for Vernon’s ‘oxygen’ font So I decided to look at the other sample phrases on his page. I made my own screenshots and then wrote down the phrases as I’d saved them at random. I thought perhaps I could create a poem out of them, moving each phrase around to what felt best. But even as I wrote them down, I could see they were taking on a beautiful poem of their own. This is exactly as I copied them into my notebook. A poem from Vernon via Google Fonts. He is still speaking from the semi-beyond.
My two natures had memory in common.
Almost before we knew it, we had left the ground.
The face of the moon was in shadow.
Waves flung themselves the blue evening.
It was going to be a lonely trip back.
A shining crescent far beneath the flying vessel.
Silver mist suffused the deck of the ship.
All of their equipment and instruments are alive.
She stared through the window at the stars.
The spectacle before us was indeed sublime.
The sky was cloudless and of a deep dark blue.
A red flair silhouetted the jagged edge of a wing.
I watched the storm, so beautiful yet terrific.
Then came the night of the first falling star.
(Pictures found today on Vernon’s Google+ page.)
“He lives most life whoever breathes most air.” ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Even with the oxygen treatment being added to make Vernon more comfortable (his blood oxygen levels are running around 74%) his lungs are working hard. His breathing is so slow…but it has been for days. The thing that I’ve noticed more this morning than even last night is that every few breaths, it takes longer to get to the inhale. Suddenly I sit up: was that the last one? Is another coming? It’s not unlike listening to a sick baby’s breathing patterns: Wait—where is the next breath?! Every once in awhile, he’ll make a loud gasp as he exhales…of course that startles us all. It’s very hard to listen to. I shall have to come in and out of the room more frequently today, I expect.
We have to go in and out emotionally too. We cant’t be heavy all the time. It’s exhausting. Every time there is a sacred-feeling moment, and it seems like the end must be close, I feel so connected, so primed for the moment. It feels like the last goodbye….and then, he lingers and we have to pull ourselves out of the moment and take a break. I called my friend Andrea earlier to talk about it: “It’s so hard, his hanging on like this. It’s already 17 days since his last Dialysis. We expected it to be so much sooner. Is it just that he’s young and has strong working organs? I don’t think he has any unfinished business that I can think of.”
“He has been dying a long time, ” she said. “He should have died the night of the accident, but he didn’t. He kept coming back from the brink for over 2 years (and 3 months yesterday.) You have always made sure he has love and music around him, you visit him all the time, even now in hospice, you give him a lot to live for, a lot to stay for. His spirit may be saying…I’ve got forever to enjoy eternity, I just want a little longer with them here. What seems like too long too you may seem to short to him.”
That really helped my perspective this morning, even though it did make me cry. To see it from his possible point of view makes me relax a little, and think: the timing isn’t up to me. Like birth, its inevitable, but his timing doesn’t belong to me. It’s still Vernon’s story. It’s still his life.
Here is a ‘message’ I saw from Vernon last week in a shop. Loud and clear in his Amatic font, which seems to be everywhere these days:
I checked out of the hotel this morning, sure that it wouldn’t be necessary to stay any longer. Of course, I thought that the day before that…and the day before that. We’ve seen signs of decline in Vernon, but they are still so slow that I never know until the afternoon what to expect for that evening. My friend Andrea, who was keeping me company this afternoon, offered to stay with me tonight, but the hotel was booked up. No room in the inn. So I decided to take Suzanne up on her offer to stay with her.
I met Suzanne in passing in the early days of Vernon’s time at Mesa Verde. I don’t remember how long she said her husband had been living there, but he had a stroke five years ago. They have been married 30-something years. We noticed each other because there aren’t many other wives we’ve seen taking care of their husbands…at least not on the notably younger side. Though we’ve exchanged numbers and sometimes chat in passing, I haven’t really talked to her at much length until this week. As soon as she heard Vernon was going to be on hospice, she offered a room to stay in if I needed one.
So tonight, finally deciding it was safe to leave Vernon there another night, asking the nurses to check on him every hour and let me know about any significant changes they might see, I drove down to the address she gave me on the Balboa Peninsula, about three miles away. Now I wish I could stay longer. It’s lovely. And she brought me tea.
Thank you, Suzanne, for giving me space to rest. Just what I needed, right when I needed it.
Citizen:a person who legally belongs to a country and has the rights and protection of that country
(Vernon under this photo in Joshua Tree, a place he resonated with. He was always fascinated by the deserts of America, so mythic and unusual to his European experience.)
This morning I started filling out new forms for the removal of his body. I discussed options with our Chaplain. Of course he was okay with the options I decided on immediately after coming into the hospice season. It seemed much more efficient to have all my major decisions over and done with right away, but after all this time of waiting with Vernon, I had a change of mind. So for that alone, I’m thankful this is taking longer than expected. Maybe that’s even why.
But I can’t bring myself to fill out the forms any more than the very basics on the first page. Not right now. Not this morning. Not today. Fortunately, I don’t have to. The basic things I will need handled have already been arranged.
I’ve filled out SO many forms for Vernon since his accident. But the great irony lies in the forms I filled out for him for naturalization. They literally took me all summer to finish. When he had gone to the hospital last week, I had printed the last letter out and made all the necessary corrections. There must have been 50 pages. In fact, the last thing I had to do to finish up the packet was take a 2×2″ passport-style photo of him with a white background. Of all the the things I’d collected, I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten that detail till so late. So I used the pillows of his hospital room as a backdrop, even though I knew already it was pointless. Those papers would never get sent. He opened his eyes and tried to look straight at my camera. He was always on board with this citizenship idea, to the very end: in his mind, I believe it solidified him with the land his family was in. That’s where he wanted to be. It didn’t seem to matter if he had a temporary catheter sticking out of his neck and wires running across his chest. *
But Vernon has never really belonged to any land. He grew up in England but was happy to leave and live in Norway as soon as the chance came up as a young art student. He lived there for many years, learning the language and finding a wife. He lived in Dusseldorf, Germany for a time. He lived in England again. He moved to America. He was a citizen of the world. And soon he will be a citizen of heaven. I don’t even have to fill out anymore paperwork for him till after he goes. It will be an afterthought.
As my friend Sandy used to say when her husband died: “I haven’t lost him like everyone says…I know exactly where he is.”
A few Here is our favorite Simon and Garfunkel song. We both always loved it.
Discover Vernon's fonts on fonts.google.com
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- The Ocean
- Poetry in Motion
- A Room of Her Own
- Such Great Heights
- Calling All Angels
- Labor Pains
- Hotel Days
- Bracelet Clasps
- Mythical Beings
- A Guide to Dying
- With This Ring
- Miracle Moments
- Walking Home
- Fake Plastic Trees
- Sub ICU
- Two Peas in a Bed
- Being Present
- Sutures and Stuff
- Family in Town
- Cast Away!
- Newport Dialysis
- I don’t know the future.
- The Changing of the Guard (and Surgery)
- Hypotention to the Hospital
- Citizen of the World
- Sundays are for Singing
- Past Self/Future Self
- Orthopedic Consultation
- ER Visit Number ?
- A Portrait of the Artist
- What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
- Family Time
- Of Course…