America lost a great warrior this week, when Major General David Meade died of dementia at Watson Fields.
Lisa and I visited him and his wife, Marina, at their home a few years ago. He had begun wandering, after three years of gradual cognitive and behavioral slips and misses. They got by with the “two heads are better than one” tactic for a few years.
One of Dave’s jobs was to command the 10th Mountain Division of the US Army and he led troops in Vietnam, jumped for the 101 Airborne and was admired by other warriors who visited him over the years at Bellamy and then Watson.
Other than sore knees and a bad back from years of parachuting, he was a robust physical man and I worried about PTSD as his illness advanced. There was never a hint that combat had scarred his psyche. The mind of the general was insulated from the brain disease, somehow.
I had a guest during the General’s stay who flew a helicopter gunship, a la Apocalypse Now, in Vietnam. As George’s Alzheimer’s overcame him, his mind retreated to the jungle where he flew low over the enemy and civilians and would retell the carnage and mayhem he caused, until it destroyed his soul as the disease destroyed his brain and mind.
When the General’s orthopedic problems made walking too painful, he moved to Watson to a comfortable, wheeled device that afforded him mobility without ambulation. Marina provided the horsepower for him to get around our flat layout and in the warm sunshine outside my office, they sat in the October light until two days before he died.
About a half dozen nursing staff who are my hospice whisperers noticed the change in his reaction to some mild upper respiratory congestion, a syndrome he had recovered from at least ten times over the years. They advised me that this was different and it was.
The heart of a champion, a Warrior General, resists death, resents it, finds it downright annoying and inconvenient, with so much left to be done in the Universe.
The heart commands the extremities to return their energy to the core and the extremities become cold, mottled.
The heart notices the lungs tiring out and commands them to inhale and exhale. They resist, then relent but the time between breaths, called apnea, lengthens.
The heart has been without a drink for many hours. It begins to overheat and a fever ensues.
We are near the end.
The heart inventories and thanks the body parts for 80 years of dedicated service and gives the soul a high five. They reminisce about glacier skiing in the Alps and German Shepherds in Vietnam, about their families. The soul says, “about this life after death thing the Chaplains always mentioned at funerals…”
The heart replies, “I guess we’re about to find out…”
“Ready?
“Ready.”
In my Buddhist mythology, there is no last breath.
There is simply no next one