Realizing the reality ...
“Why do I feel so numb, my head hurts and my body feels heavy”, I thought as I began to wake up on the morning of Dec 3, 2013. As my eyes opened, there was a scratchy, burning feeling – and then it hit me. “Oh God, Oh God!” I leaped from the bed and looked at my husband who was lying beside me only seconds before.
He looked as though he had not closed his eyes in days and he was just staring at me – “tell me that didn’t happen, tell me it didn’t happen …. Tell me Michael is NOT dead!!”. I pleaded with him, begged him, but the look on his face and the tears falling from his eyes confirmed the reality of what I had hoped was just a horrible nightmare.
It was too much, my mind, my body would not, could not allow me accept it in that moment. I began to panic, shaking my hands and jumping up and down, crying “No, No No!”.
Yves ran to hold me, as I was sobbing, “I am so sorry, so sorry … !”
I pushed him away, I didn’t want to be held, I was numb – my mind was racing as I was trying to fathom, to grasp the horrible truth. But, the reality was just too difficult, it was devastating and the circumstances were unbearable. I simply could not allow myself to contemplate or even begin to accept that my brother was dead.
I have to go to work I said, and quickly washed my face and brushed my teeth. Picked up the clothes I had worn the day before which were on the bathroom floor, dressed and headed out the door.
I was hollow, almost as if I was out of body as I drove the 30 minute drive to work. I thought back to the last time I has seen Michael, just the weekend before.
“What are you doing little Joe?”, Michael asked me as he entered the room.
“What does it look like, I am up on a ladder and have a ceiling fan in my hand? …. Putting up a ceiling fan!” I cheekily answered.
We have always bantered like this, wit and wisecracks are the way we regularly spoke with each other. Laughter and love were always prevalent in our home … even through the tough times – especially through the tough times.
“Would you like some help smart ass?” Michael asked with a smile.
“Of course” I replied, “this is very heavy can you hold it so I can connect the wires?”
“No problem, I don’t have much time though, it is starting to snow and I want to get home before it gets too bad”
We finished installing the ceiling fan in about 15 minutes, Michael then ate a couple of pieces of pizza as we caught up. He told me he was worried about Marianne (his wife), her father was not well and it was taking its toll on her.
We then went on to talk about what “everyone” in Ontario was talking about at that time … Rob Ford and his antics. Being typical Michael he believed that what Rob Ford was doing in his personal life was just that, HIS personal life and was nothing to do with how good of a mayor he was in Toronto.
Of course, we debated that issue for quite some time and decided that we would probably disagree for ever on the subject of Rob Ford. We hugged, told each other we loved each other and Michael left.
Love, protection and kindness for each other was commonplace in our home, despite our meager surrounding and sometimes abusive outbursts from our alcoholic father – I look back on my childhood and thank the stars above for my family. The safety and shelter we always offered each other, but mostly for the love and the gift of each other – we were our own small gang.
I could have never thought that only 9 days later we would be thrown into the nightmare that none of us will ever be able to wake up from.
The phone rang at 10:25 pm on Monday, Dec. 2nd, 2013, it was our eldest sister Loretta, who along with our mother, was away visiting our sister Gerarda for US Thanksgiving. She was upset and explained that our brothers wife, Marianne, had called crying and Michael had ran from their home confused and naked into the cold. As this was clearly out of character for Michael both panic and protection instantly kicked in.
While my niece spoke with Loretta, my other sister called Marianne, and I started calling the local police in their area.
Loretta explained that Marianne had told her Michael had had a very high fever and a seizure, so he had called in sick to work that morning. She was working from home and was exhausted as she had been up all night as Michael and her father were both ill.
Eileen was able to get better information direct from Marianne. Apparently, Michael had been sick since Saturday night, 2 days with a very high fever and it caused him to have many seizures. However at 6:30 am he woke up to their alarm and began to get ready for work. Marianne persuaded him to call work sick as he still had a very high fever and through the night had taken a seizure.
Marianne helped him back into bed and she went to work in her home office. At about 9:50 am Michael emerged from their bedroom, naked and mumbling incoherently.
During that time I was getting nowhere with my calls to Durham Police. The first call I made was at 10:31 am, I gave my name and explained that my brother Michael had taken a seizure and ran from his home naked in to the cold. We were terrified that he would get hit by a car or hurt. I was quickly put on hold, and about 5 minutes later the person asked my contact info and told me someone would get back to me. I had no idea, could never have envisioned that my brother had already been shot BY a Durham police officer and they chose not to notify me.
I called 3 more times, before being put through to a female who told me they would call me with any information – but she had nothing to tell me. I explained to her that we were going to leave as some of my family were with me and we were going to head to Ajax. I will never forget what she said to me, she told me that “there was no reason for us to head to Ajax” and yet again, that she would call me back. When I hung up the phone it was 12:06 pm …. just over 2 hours since Michael had ran from his home and almost 2 hours since he had had been shot and although the same police service whose officer had fired two shots into Michael’s body - had multiple opportunities to notify his family, they chose to not to.
I remember ending the call with Durham police and only seconds later my phone rang, I answered and heard my sister-in-law crying, “they shot him Joanne, they shot him!”.
I so clearly and painfully remember that moment; It felt as if I was out of body, instant panic fear dread instant frenzy surge of emotions hit me like a . I looked at my sisters grabbed my car keys and as I was running for the door and cried “they shot him”!!! I could not say anything else, I truly had to shake my head as I could not understand what I was told.
I started my car, and two of my sisters jumped in sobbing and praying. As we pulled out of the parking lot, my phone rang and my niece said, “Aunt Joe they shot him twice”, she told us she saw it on the computer news. Then another emotion hit me, the one that drives me today RAGE.
I called back to Durham Police and asked for the person I had just spoke with a few minutes before and I demanded that she answer a question, “do you have a family, do you have siblings, do you love anyone ….. How fucking dare you know my brother is hurt and keep his family away from him!!!” “Who are you and what the fuck gives you that right!! “
I don’t remember if she responded as I hung up to answer another call from Marianne, she told us that Michael was being airlifted from Ajax hospital to St. Mike’s trauma center in Toronto …. I vividly remember feeling a kind of breeze, something passed through me, I can’t explain it but I sensed Michael everywhere, I could even smell his cologne. I knew, I knew at that second that it was bad …. I felt it with every cell in my body.
I said to my sisters, “Oh My God he is not going to make it, I just felt him, he is not going to make it!!” They both cried and asked me not to say that –
At that second we took the next exit and tried to find our way to St. Mike’s while Eileen phoned our mother, sisters and family who were vacationing in Minnesota
We arrived at the hospital, and our parking tag red 1:02 pm. Just at that time we could hear the air ambulance landing on the roof. As we ran through the parking lot and across the street we began to notice news vans, photographers, journalist, and a podium with microphones. Along with many uniform police officers waiting near the area. I looked at my sisters and asked “Is this about Michael?”.
We ran into the ER, and although it seemed as if our world had abruptly stopped – our fear and anguish were not recognized by anyone in that waiting room. We stood in line with the common cold, fever, sprained ankles of the world – and after about 10 minutes I could take it no more. I cut in front and spoke to the person at the desk – I told him my brother had been shot and just arrived on their medivac, I asked where were to go. I was told to step back and that someone would be with us shortly. It seemed as if I was going to supplicate, I could not catch my breath …. I went outside. I again came face to face with the media activity, and was still confused. I spoke to a journalist and asked why she was there, she told me that a police officer who had been in a vehicle accident a few days prior had just passed away and there was going to be a press conference. I began to cry, and said to her her, “what about my brother, who was just shot by a police officer?”. She told me we should get a lawyer and gave me her card. I went back into the hospital to find my family had been moved to a small room on the main floor. A amazing Chaplin had been assigned to us and we were finally beginning to receive some answers.
She explained that Michael was in surgery on the 5th floor, she offered to get periodic updates on him and to find us a private family room outside the ICU on the 3rd floor as she knew that was where Michael would be going if he survived the surgery.
Shortly after two men in suits approached us. They were looking to speak with Michael’s wife about what happened that morning. They asked to go into a private room to speak with Marianne, but I insisted on being with her – odd, but something about them seemed suspicious and made me very anxious. Before they began to speak, they started to record on their cell phones – I did the same. They introduced themselves as investigators and gave their names. But, did not at any time inform us that they were from the same police department where the officer had shot Michael.
However, being in complete shock, shaky and even spaced out I did not even think to ask who they were representing, at that point I assumed that they were investigating the officer who had shot my brother.
It was not until about ½ hour into the discussion that there was a knock at the door. A man and a woman entered and introduced themselves as the SIU* (Special Investigations Unit), something we had never heard of. I was asked to turn off my recorder / phone and I picked it up as if I was pausing but I didn’t. Listening to the recording later you could hear a discussion between the two groups as to why the officers were there and who approved that. The SIU investigators then contacted their supervisor and were told that the Officers were permitted to stay and speak with our family.
Once the SIU left I looked at the two investigators and asked:
“Are you with Durham Police??”
“Yes we are”
“Isn’t there an independent party that will be investigating?”
“Yes, they are the independent party, we are just investigation the domestic that occurred before Michael left the house”
“I am going to ask you them, if this was your brother ….. do we need a lawyer?”
“well you can do what you like, but I don’t think you should waste your money on an attorney.”
It was not until they left and laid their business cards on the coffee table in the room we were in that I realized that they were Homicide investigators from Durham Regional Police Department !! We were enraged!! “Michael was NOT dead!! Why didn’t they tell us who they were and why would Homicide investigators be investigating a “so called” domestic??”
Although it seemed like an eternity it was about 3 hours later that the Dr. finally came to meet
with our family to give us an update on Michael and his condition.
The voice of Dr. James began to be drowned out as the room filled with sobs, and as he offered his sympathies for our family he also informed us that two of us could go into see Michael as soon as he was settled away in the ICU.
Immediately my younger sister, Eileen, and I said we wanted to see him and the Dr. explained that Michael’s body had not been closed. Meaning that because there was a risk and probability of multiple surgeries that they had left his surgical wound opened. Also, that there were many tubes and heating equipment trying to raise the body temperature.
I then asked if Michael would be able to speak or know were there. And it was explained that he would not be conscious.
As Eileen and I walked down the hallway toward the large double doors to the ICU we walked past 4 uniform officers – picked up a phone – and requested to be buzzed in to see our brother.
Walking through the double doors I was immediately drawn to the left corner of the room as there was a hospital bed with a scurry of activity surrounding it. I remember there must have been 7 nurses and doctors hooking up iv’s – monitoring equipment – etc.
Carefully we walked to the right side of the bed, and to Michael’s right side. Being very careful to not be too much in the way … I looked down at my brother and nothing seemed real, nothing related to my brother. I almost didn’t recognize him with the tubes down his throat, the smell of hospital, the sound of equipment & machines operating around him and the taste of fear coming from deep within my chest.
It took about a minute for me to gain the strength and courage to reach out and gently put my hand on Michael’s bare, cold chest and say “Michael, we are here” …. And with that his eyes shot open.
I can wholeheartedly say that this experience, this tragedy is one where it would be virtually impossible and absolutely agonizing to establish what might be the most heartbreaking moment. However, when Michael opened his eyes and I recognized the crushing fear, pain, and confusion in his eyes – this for me was a pivotal point.
I cowardly turned away from my brothers fearful gaze and screamed to the doctor, who was standing at the foot of the bed “he’s in pain, he’s in pain!! Do something !!! ”
I could hear two thing at the same time – the first was our youngest sister Eileen speaking to Michael. I could hear her saying in a calm, comforting voice “We are here Michael … “
The second was the surgeon, who said “I am so sorry, we can not give him any pain meds his blood pressure is too low and it will kill him”.
Immediately I did the math in my head …. Michael had been in surgery for 5 hour; his body was cut open and not yet closed …. OMG NO PAIN MEDS !!! With that I ran from the room.