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I realized when I shook off my grogginess that the noise was the phone and when I looked at the time it was 4:30 a.m. I felt a cold chill go down my spine.
"Thank you. We'll be there as soon as possible," I said.
It was the hospital calling to tell me that Pietro had suffered a stroke, and was in very bad shape. I went down the hall and woke Sean and Jake. I told them that Pietro had taken a turn for the worse but I didn't tell them any more information than that. Needless to say they were very concerned, and I tried not to let my anxiousness show through. Jake was beside himself and wanted to know more than what I had told him.
"Is zio Ok, Pop? Did they say he was Ok?"
"I don't know, Jake. Let's not jump to conclusions," I said trying to calm him down.
The ride down to the hospital was a quiet one. We were all very subdued, partly from the lack of sleep, but mostly because we were afraid of what we would find there. When we arrived, we were directed to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), where we were taken to his bedside. He was hooked up to a ventilator, and had Intravenous lines running into his body. He was comatose and I knew he was basically gone. Jake tried to get him to wake up, but after some minutes the stark reality set in, and he broke down.
"I'm so sorry, Jake," I said as I hugged him as he covered his face with his hands.
Sean was in tears as well and he joined us in the hug. After a few moments the doctor that was attending to Pietro came over and asked us to step out in the hall.
"I'm afraid it's a matter of time," he said as gently as he could.
He told us that he had suffered a massive stroke as a result of the trauma he received in the accident, and that basically he was brain dead. I couldn't authorize them to unhook the ventilator, so we would have to wait until his body gave out. The doctor ushered us to a room that was off the ICU so we could be alone. I decided to call Dana and let her know what had happened.
"He's not going to last much longer," I said.
I could tell that she was taking the news very hard, and she said she would be right down. I told her that there really was nothing she could do, but she insisted.
"I can't do anything for Pietro, but I can help you comfort the boys."
Dana arrived a half hour later, and when she walked in the room she motioned for both boys to join her in a hug. They got up and the tears started flowing again, with Dana joining in. We all went in to see Pietro and Dana went up to the hospital bed with Sean and Jake on either side, with her arms around them. They just stood there without any of them speaking. I stood off to the side of them.
Finally Dana said, "Why don't we say a prayer," as she bowed her head.
The boys and I followed suit, and after some minutes we made our way back to the private room. Three hours later, he mercifully passed away. Jake was at his side holding his hand, and the three of us were behind him holding on to each other. Afterwards, a grief counselor from the hospital spent some time with us which helped and then we all went home.
When we got back to the Townhouse, Dana and I were very concerned at how the two boys were taking Pietro's death. We could understand Jake's reaction, but Sean was taking this just as hard. This was Sean's first brush with death, and he was very distraught.
We had something to eat, and neither boy had much of an appetite. They didn't have a lot to say, and both Dana and I found it hard to get anything but short bits of conversation from them. They went down to the Media room after they finished, which gave Dana and me a chance to talk.
"We can't let those two boys go on like this," Dana said.
"I'm going to call Reverend McLauglin. Both boys have a good relationship with him."
I made the call to the church, and he was in the office. He said he would be right over and I was grateful, as I was sure he could help the two of them cope with this traumatic event. It would also give me a chance to talk to him about doing Pietro's service.
"Randy is a down-to-earth minister, and is definitely not the fire and brimstone type. If he was I wouldn't be in his congregation," I said to Dana when I sat down on the couch beside her.
Neither of us was terribly religious, but we had a strong sense of ethics and humanity. I think that was one of the things that attracted us to each other. It was also one of the things I liked about Randy's services, as those were the themes he preached about in most of his sermons. When he arrived at the Townhouse, I introduced him to Dana and then took him down to the Media room to see them.
"Boys, Reverend McLaughlin is here to talk to you," I said.
They both perked up a little when they saw him come down the stairs.
"Hello, boys. I understand you're feeling pretty sad at the moment. Why don't I see what I can do to make you feel better," he said as he gave them a smile and sat down in the chair across from them.
I left the room and went upstairs to join Dana. Randy spent about an hour talking to them and when the three of them came upstairs the boys seemed somewhat better.
"Jake and I talked about the funeral service. Since Pietro was Catholic, I will assist my friend who is a Catholic priest, if that's ok with you," Randy said to me as he had his arm around Jake's shoulders.
I told him I felt that was an appropriate way to handle the funeral. I was glad he was going to take part of the service, but out of respect for Pietro, I understood why it was important to have a Catholic priest as well. The boys went back downstairs and Dana and I had a chance to talk to him in the hall before he left.
"I tried to give them some comfort, but I'm afraid both of them will need some time to get over this. Certainly Jake is in worse shape than Sean," he said with a sombre look on his face.
I told him that I had made preliminary arrangements with the funeral home in town and that I would be in touch when I knew more details.
None of us got much rest that day, as there were calls from family and friends that occupied much of our time. The boys spent a long time on Skype with Mara and Melissa and both girls were going to come to the funeral. Rachel called and Jake was on the phone for an hour. When he came downstairs after the call I could see that he had perked up a little. I also had a call from Anne and she indicated that she would be there as well.
The next day I finalized the funeral arrangements and there would be one viewing and the funeral would be the day after. Internment would take place at the cemetery in town. I was able to locate some of Pietro's relatives in Italy, as well as Jake's father. Pietro's other sister was going to come, however, Jake's father declined. I wasn't sure why, as his friend who translated for us got things a little garbled. I decided not to tell Jake of his refusal, and Jake never mentioned him so I left it at that.
The day of the funeral the weather was sunny and cool. I was surprised at the number of people that attended, as Pietro was a fairly private person. Most of his colleagues from the cab company were there as well as the sister from Italy and a few other friends and neighbours.
Jake had worked on a eulogy with Reverend McLaughlin's help, and was going to deliver it himself. Randy told him that if at the last moment he couldn't go through with it he would do it for him on his behalf.
When Jake got up to deliver the eulogy, Sean got up with him for moral support. Jake told us of his fond memories of the good times he had with his uncle and what a good man he was.
"Reverend McLaughlin told me that I should do things that keep my Uncle alive, and I will every time I play soccer like he taught me, and read the Italian newspaper. Ti amo, Zio and I shall never forget you. You and Mom are together as brother and sister once again."
There wasn't a dry eye in the place as he sat down with Sean's arm around his shoulder.
Just Randy went to the gravesite to do the internment as the priest left after the service at the funeral home. All of the family and most of Pietro's close friends and colleagues were there.
Randy gave some final words and then said, "In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother Pietro; and we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth; ashes to ashes; dust to dust. The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious unto him and give him peace. Amen."
Jake then stepped forward and threw one red rose on the coffin. He paused for a few moments, then stepped back and joined us. I was so proud of the way he had conducted himself. I doubt I could've done the same at his age. Everyone then left the site as the coffin would be lowered later by the cemetery maintenance staff.
I had my arm around Jake and asked as we walked to the funeral car, "How are you doing? Are you OK?"
He just shook his head yes and didn't say anything. My heart ached for him, but I realized there was nothing I could say that would make him feel any better. He would have to work through this himself.
We had a reception at the church afterwards and most people came back to express their condolences. Jake was naturally subdued, but having friends and family around him perked him up somewhat. Rachel, Melissa and Mara kept together with Sean and Jake. The three girls kept the boys occupied and their minds off of the day's sad events.
"That poor boy. I hope somebody's going to take him in," Anne said.
I told her Pietro had named me as his guardian, and she was relieved to hear that.
"If there's anything I can do, please don't hesitate to call me," she said as she left with Mara and Melissa.
Sean went back to school the next day but Jake stayed home with Dana and me. He decided the day after that he would like to go back to school to get his mind off of things. Both Dana and I thought that was a good idea, as he was aimlessly wandering around the house not doing much of anything. He was far from the Jake that we knew. Dana was going to stay in the spare room for a few days until the boys started to settle down.
I remembered that he had a soccer game that evening and I was anticipating that we would all go down to watch him play. When he got dropped off from school, he came in to the kitchen to get a snack. Dana cut up some fruit, vegetables and put out his favourite dip for him.
"Dana and I have already made dinner and when Sean gets home we can eat and get you to your soccer game," I said as I sat down at the breakfast bar beside him.
"I'm not going to play," he said without looking up.
Dana and I just looked at each other with concern.
"Your team is really going to miss you," she said as she came over and put her hand on his back.
He just looked at her and didn't say anything. Finally he finished up and said, "I'm going to my room. I have homework to do."
Dana was going to go home the next day, but after that she said, "I think I should stay a little longer. I can't leave with him like this."
After a few days Jake still wasn't himself, and he showed no signs of shaking off his grief. Even though he was back at school, he didn't want to go back to playing soccer or any of his extra-curricular activities that he was involved in. He also was acting like he was just a guest in the house, and didn't seem as if he was feeling like he belonged.
Both Dana and I were up one morning having our coffee and were in the kitchen as Sean came in from his morning run. He was a little out of breath as he went to the water cooler to fill his water bottle.
"Why don't you see if Jake would run with you tomorrow morning," I said.
He finished a big gulp of water and said with an exasperated look on his face, "I've asked him the last three days, and he said no each time. He hardly talks to me anymore."
When Sean went upstairs Dana said, "I feel so badly to see Jake like this. Something is terribly wrong. He should be bouncing back by now."
"I agree. I think I should book an appointment with Phil Barnet to do some grief counseling with him."
When I called his office later in the morning, I explained what I wanted, and Mrs. Gallagher asked me to hold on. She buzzed into Phil's office, as he wasn't with a patient at that moment. I explained the problem and he insisted I bring him over near the end of the day after he came home from school. He had some time available, and he felt it was quite important to get on top of the problem as soon as possible. He had met Jake at the Golf Club and he knew his personality.
"The person you're describing is not the boy I know. I'm very concerned," he said.
When he came in from school I let him get something to eat, and then I gently broke the news to him that we were going to see Dr. Barnet.
"I don't want to go," he said with a very determined look on his face.
Dana and I looked at each other, and we were both going into damage control mode, as neither of us expected his reaction. Just then, Sean came in the door and joined us in the kitchen. Dana got him something to eat and while he was devouring the snack he realized that something was going on.
"Am I missing something?" he asked as he looked at each of us.
I explained to him that I had booked an appointment with Dr. Barnet and that Jake said he didn't want to go.
He turned to Jake and said, "Why not? Dr. Barnet's cool and you need to talk to someone. You won't talk to me, you won't talk to Dad, and you won't talk to Dana. I don't know who you are anymore," he said as he got up and grabbed his arm. "You're real screwed up, man."
It was as if Sean had hit him between the eyes as he stepped back away from his grasp with a startled look on his face. Sean just stared at him and said, "Well?"
There was a long pause and finally Jake said, "OK! Whatever! It doesn't matter anyway."
Sean was starting to get very agitated and was going to start in on him again. I put my arm across the front of his chest to keep him from getting closer to Jake. He was clearly not doing much better than Jake, and his anger was a result of his frustration with seeing his best friend withdrawing into a shell.
The ride over to Phil's office with Jake was a very quiet one. I got one and two word answers to my attempts to make conversation with him. When we arrived at Phil's office Mrs. Gallagher came from behind the counter and put her arm around Jake's shoulders and told him how very sorry she was to hear of Pietro's death. Jake gave her a feeble smile and said thanks. Just then Phil came into the office to get Jake.
"C'mon, young man. Let's see what we can do to find that happy boy I know from the golf club," Phil said as he put his arm around his back and led him to the office.
I sat in the waiting room, as I read some of Phil's outdated magazines. After about an hour, Phil opened the door and called me into the office. When I walked in, it was obvious Jake had shed some tears, as his eyes were a little puffy and red.
"Al, Jake and I have had a good talk. I can't tell you all of the things we talked about, as Jake has not given me the same permission Sean did to talk to you. He has agreed that the three of us can talk," he said with his professional look on his face.
Phil outlined basically that they had explored Jake's feelings at losing the third parental figure in his life, and how alone he felt. He told me that they had talked about some things Jake needed to reconcile in his mind. He then told me that Jake wanted to tell me about how he felt about living with us.
"I know you said that I would come to live with you if Uncle died, but I think you just said that because you're really nice and you felt sorry for me. I know it's going to be a lot of work for you to raise both Sean and me and I don't want to make any more trouble for you," he said as he looked down at the floor.
I was dumbfounded, and was at a loss for words as I couldn't believe what I had just heard. I also was kicking myself for not communicating better with him as I hadn't told him about Pietro's will and the provisions in it naming me as his guardian.
I finally gathered myself together and said, "Jake, shortly before your uncle died he asked me to be your guardian. I told him that I would be honoured to have you as part of my family. If your uncle hadn't done that, I would now be doing everything I could to get custody of you. I'm as fond of you as I am of Sean and I consider you as much of a son to me as he is."
I got up and went over to him and held out my arms. He got up and we put our arms around each other in a firm hug.
We stayed like that for a few moments and I broke the hug and looked at him and said, "I don't know how you ever got that idea that I didn't want you. I've considered you a member of the family ever since you went to Disney with us."
Phil got up and said, "I think you two need to go home now and join the rest of your family. I'll see you next week, young fellow, and remember what you're going to work on."
We walked out of the office with my arm around his shoulders, as his mood was a little more upbeat. The discussion on the way home revolved around his opinion of Phil and that he thought he was a big help to him. He said he wished that he could've talked to someone like him when his mother died, as it took him a long time to recover from that. It was obvious to me that he had baggage from that event that had not been resolved, and it was now catching up to him.
"I don't know what you have to work on before your next visit, but I'd like to help you if I can."
"Thanks, Pop, but it's stuff I have to do myself," he said as he sighed.
When we arrived back at the Townhouse, Dana and Sean had dinner ready for us. Jake went upstairs to freshen up, as he didn't want Dana and Sean to see him until he had washed his face. Sean wanted to go upstairs immediately, but I told him to give Jake a few minutes. Sean was chomping at the bit to talk to him and after a couple of minutes we let him join Jake.
"He felt really bad after he teed off on him," Dana said.
"Jake needed a wake-up call and without Sean's outburst he may not have gone to see Phil. I'm also a little concerned how Sean is taking this whole thing."
When they came downstairs, it was obvious they had made their peace. They were talking to each other during dinner and were almost back to the two best friends that they had always been.
The next day, Jake and I had an appointment with Jim Sampson to go over the details of Pietro's will. I picked him up at school after his morning classes and we went out for lunch and then to the lawyer's office.
The will was as I expected, and I was named Jake's guardian as well as executor. Jim had most of the information on his financial details, and it would be up to me to carry out the duties of the executor. This was something I had experience with on three other occasions. I had wrapped up my parents estates as well as Lorraine's father's will, so I was well aware of what was involved.
Pietro left everything to Jake, which amounted to $125,000 from the net proceeds of the house, about $10,000 in investments and cash along with an insurance policy for $125,000. As well, Jake had a trust fund that Pietro was managing, that was left by his mother's estate that amounted to about $100,000. In all, he inherited $360,000 before the settlement from any lawsuits. Financially Jake would be Ok in the future as the suit would likely be in the seven figure range. When all this was settled I would be having Dave Stratton set up his financial affairs for him. That also reminded me that I had to set up Sean's trust fund with additional funds, now that I had his birth certificate.
Jake was a little subdued on the way home, as I expected him to be a little more upbeat at the fact his guardianship had been confirmed and that he had financial resources. On the way back we dropped by his old house to get the rest of his things from his room. I also wanted to see what things he wanted to take with him to the new house in terms of keepsakes, family heirlooms and furniture. I had a week to dispose of the rest of the contents before the deal on Pietro's house closed.
We loaded all his clothing into the Lexus, along with some family pictures. The only piece of furniture he wanted to take was a special antique chair his mother had been given by her mother in Italy. I would come down later in the week and get it. Other than that I was going to donate the rest of the contents to charity.
When we arrived back at the Townhouse we got something to eat and were sitting at the breakfast counter. Dana was out setting up a catering job, so we were alone. I decided I was going to try and find out what was still troubling him.
"Please don't shut me out, Jake. I want to help you. This grey hair may mean I'm old, but it also means I've gained some wisdom over the years. I know something is still bothering you," I said.
He paused and finally said, "Sean told me you have Cancer. What happens to me if you die?"
I could see from the look on his face and his reaction over the last few days that this was a big concern to him, given that every parental figure he had known had left him one way or another. I was guessing that this was one of the major areas of discussion he had with Phil. We moved to the couch in the living room, and I put my arm around his shoulders and brought him into a cuddle. I hadn't thought about guardianship for the two boys, so I would have to book an appointment with Norm as soon as possible to change my will.
"I'm not planning on dying soon, Jake. Yes I have Prostate Cancer, but I'm almost in remission. You need to realize that you are now part of a fairly large family, and we all have grown very fond of you in the short time we have known you. I'm going to be changing my will as soon as possible and my daughters are going to be guardians of you and Sean if something was to happen to me. You will not be alone again."
I could feel him relax a little as he pondered my words. I knew though, that there was something else.
"I know there's more, young man. Do you want to tell me what else is bothering you?"
He sighed and said, "I don't know how you want me to act or anything."
"I told Sean shortly after he came here that I had two rules. The first one is to always do your best at whatever you do, and the second one is always be the best person you can. I don't expect you to act any differently than the happy boy I've known for the last few months," I said as I gave him a squeeze.
He looked up at me and smiled and cuddled into my side. I could tell that we had turned the corner and that a weight was lifted from his shoulders. I knew that it would take some time for him to become comfortable with me and the situation he was now thrust into, but I was confident he would adapt. We sat like that for a couple of minutes and then got up and went to the kitchen to finish our snacks.
Dana and I had made it a practice while she was staying with us, to say goodnight to the boys together in their rooms. That night when we were sitting on the side of Sean's bed I decided to raise the issue of how he was coping with Pietro's death and Jake's reaction to it.
"Dana and I are both a little concerned how you're dealing with this whole situation. If you think you need to see Dr. Barnet I can book you an appointment as well."
He looked at both of us and said, "I'm Ok."
From the look on his face we could tell that he really wasn't alright. Neither one of us said anything as we could see that he was still thinking about it.
There was a long pause and finally he said, "Maybe I could go see him tomorrow after school.... if he's free."
I gave him a big smile as I said I'd call tomorrow for an appointment. Dana and I said goodnight and then went into Jake's room.
Jake was already on his side and almost asleep when we came into his room. We sat down on the side of the bed and he rolled over and perked up.
"I hope you're feeling better, Jake. Both Dana and I can't wait to see that happy boy again."
"We know he's in there. Don't make us wait too much longer," she said as she leaned down and kissed his forehead.
"I won't," he said as he smiled and rolled onto his side.
Dana and I went downstairs to the living room to watch TV. Both of us were tired and we knew we wouldn't last too long before we turned in. I updated her on the situation with the will, Jake's finances and the visit to Pietro's house.
"You've been a tremendous help to me and the boys since Pietro's death. I hope you know we all appreciate it a great deal," I said as I gazed into her eyes.
"Thank you, Al. I'm just glad I could help," she said as she took my hand in hers.
"We really haven't had much time for us lately, have we?" I said.
She leaned over and we had a passionate kiss.
"We've had other priorities. We'll have to make time soon.... but not now," she said as she smiled.
We both knew she was right. We said goodnight and went upstairs to our separate bedrooms once again.