Monday mornings epitomize new beginnings. And so it was on October 7th, 2013. A new beginning.
But this particular Monday morning — so wonderfully warm and beautifully bright as the early hours are so often this time of year — was even more splendid. We were blessed with a special guest staying in our home. This was a rare intersection in all of our lives — to be together.
Ion Petre, my beloved brother-in-law, had come to visit us in Las Vegas from his home in Eindhoven, Holland. He was to stay with us for a months time. Oh, they joy of that. We tend to be a happy family, but the house was a more cheerful place with Ion around. He always had that amazing effect on the people around him.
We had so many exciting plans. So many shows to see. So many restaurants to visit. So many new places to go. So many new people to meet. Indeed, one of the great things about living in Las Vegas is experiencing things both old and new through those you love the most. It’s a far greater joy than seeing them alone by yourself.
The day was all planned out. This Monday morning was to include a short run in the 72-degree weather, followed by a lunch together at a favorite local Italian restaurant. We also considered making a hike up Lone Mountain that afternoon, which has a magnificent view of the entire Las Vegas Valley. That same evening, I was so excited to take Ion to meet many of my friends as a Monday Night Football watching party. It would have been Ion’s first time to watch American football. What a joy that would have been.
Such a full day. We had so many plans.
Marieta wakes up first. Then, her mom. Then, Ion. I’m the lazy one, so I always get out of bed last.
By the time I woke up that morning, Ion had already been relaxing outside for nearly an hour and was enjoying the morning sunshine. The sun doesn’t shine as bright in The Netherlands where he lives, normally a rainy place this time of year. Ion always loved the sunshine. He thought Las Vegas was such a special place. He would take off his shirt and bask in the rays, his skin turning a golden bronze.
Ion drank a cup of coffee, just as he always does. Some time later he went upstairs, just as he did on the other days he had been with us. He mentioned that he was going to take a shower, the same words we had heard each and every morning. This morning was so special, yet it also seemed so typical.
The door closed behind him.
No one could have possibly known that the closing door behind Ion would silence his voice forever. It would erase all the plans that lay ahead. It would come to wall off a lifetime of memories. It would become a barrier and a breaking point.
This would be the last time we would see Ion’s face so full of life, so full of joy, so full of hope for the future.
That’s all it took.
Forty-five incomprehensible minutes.
From the final time we saw the door close on Ion’s life, 45 minutes passed. It was a daze, really. Then, we were told news no person should hear.
Just 45 minutes after we saw him take his final breath, Marieta and I stood in stunned silence in what’s called the “Consultation Room” at Spring Valley Hospital.
A doctor walked in slowly wearing a white lab coat. He was accompanied by a nurse with a sad face.
Before they said anything, we knew what was coming next and it was the worst news imaginable.
Forty-five minutes. That’s all it took to go from joy to sadness, and from life to death.
How does one go from making daily plans to exercise, eat, climb a mountain, and go to a football party to standing in a hospital room being told your loved on has died?
The puzzle started coming together. Ion had apparently stepped into the shower. At some point, he collapsed. Minutes later, Marieta found his lifeless body. It was a sight no sister should ever see, no one should ever have to witness. It just wasn’t fair that Marieta had to be the one to make the discovery.
Hearing of the horror, I ran into the bathroom. CPR was tried. 911 was called. The next few minutes were a blur of screams and pain.
Medics arrived within minutes. There were six men, maybe seven. They tried desperately to bring back what appeared to be a lifeless body. Tried in vein. A house that had been filled with joy was now filled with unspeakable tragedy.
Ion was placed upon a stretcher and was carried downstairs. He was moved outside and place into an ambulance. Neighbors stood outside and watched holding hands over their faces.
We raced behind the ambulance to the emergency room. Ion had been brought in moments earlier before us. Could he be saved? Was the a special magical device they could use to bring him back? Don’t miracles happen?
Ion Petre was pronounced dead at 12:35 pm at the hospital. The report said that he died instantly from a heart attack.
In the hours and days that have since passed, we have tried to find answers, to no avail. We sought an explanation as to why this had to happen now, in this place, at this time, in this manner. Why Ion? Why?
Sudden death doesn’t answer our questions about life. It just complicates them. But death also has a way of sharpening our determination to know more and learn about those we now miss.
The lessons, and they are many, are as profound as they are transparent.
We all take for granted the things we have and those we love. We assume they will be there tomorrow, and the day after. And the next, and the next.
But they can all be gone in an instant.
In 45 minutes.
Note to Readers: Over the next few days, I would like to remember Ion Petre in this space. I hope you will honor his memory by coming back and reading more. Most of you did not know him. But he has many things to teach us, in life and death.