I went to California a few weeks ago. Prior to my leaving I called my dear friend Jack Turnipseed and told him I would be going. Jack was upbeat and ornery as always and we traded a few giggles about his lack of sex and his wanton desire for it. I verbally hugged him over the phone and told him I would call when I got back from California. He responded that I had better call him when I got home. I laughed.
The California trip was arduous at best. I became ill during the trip due to the massive amount of smoke from the LaCanada-Flintridge Fires that were only a few miles away from my two daughters digs in downtown Los Angeles. The week was spent with me on a couch, with a covering over my face and massive quantities of Inhalers being used. I loved seeing the daughters and the bathroom renovation, which was the purpose for us being there, was beautifully completed.
I was ready to go home by the time came for the return trip. Worn out from the troubled breathing and the frustration of not being able to go out like I do ordinarily, a 6 hour plane ride seemed like paradise to me.
I got home and then a bronchial infection took over and I was down sick for the rest of the week again. On the Sunday after I returned home I received a note from someone named Sandi. The name didn’t ring a bell immediately for me and I almost tossed the email into the trash, but as I actually started to do it, something overcame me that I can’t explain and I knew I had to open it. Sure enough, it was a note telling me that my dear friend Jack Turnipseed had passed away. I sat back in my chair and I cried. I realized that in all the worrying about myself, I had forgotten my promise to my friend to call him immediately when I got home. I felt I had let him down.
If you haven’t read my other article, “On Behalf Of The Dying” it’s the story of how Jack I became friends and how, after he’d told me that he was to select which day to die (by the removal of a pacemaker) that I had continuously told him, don’t pick today Jack, I want to talk to you tomorrow.
My tomorrows ran out. I’d never met Jack. I had only spoken to him via the internet and phone calls. In fact, he was the only person my husband allowed outside the family on my Friends & Family plan for my phone. I can’t begin to tell you the depth of my sorrow…and truly I don’t even fully yet understand my link to this man I hardly knew.
I sent a note to Sandi telling her I would Love to come to the Funeral, to which she wrote back and said, it was taking place that very day in Missouri. Again, I felt my betrayal of my friend. The next day, however, Sandi wrote to tell me that it had been decided that a memorial for Jack would take place near St. Louis and I was definitely invited to come. I had promised Jack I would come to his funeral, I had let him down. I was determined to make the Visitation for him.
Begrudgingly my husband agreed to let me drive down to St. Louis alone for the visitation. I had been sick for two solid weeks with the upper respiratory thing that had gripped me in LA, but I was determined to go to see my Jack for the first time, and the last time.
It rained that day as I drove down, off and on, matching my own tears. I talked to Jack in the car all the way down. The town I was headed for was new to me, Trenton, Illinois. I’d never been there, didn’t have a clue how to get there, so I had printed off a map from the internet. It was a two and half almost 3 hour trip to Trenton from my home. Jack and I laughed together in my mind. We talked about the ornery things we’d talked about on the phone and I reminded him of the night that he called, high on pain medication and swearing that women were raping him. I laughed and told him I hoped it had been true for his sake.
I got near Trenton and actually became lost. I stopped the car and said, look Jack, if you want me to be there on time you better start telling me how to get to you. I swear, suddenly, it was as if I’d traveled the road before. I drove to the town, turned on the right streets and drove to the Funeral home and arrived just as people were arriving for the memorial. I laughed and said, it was a good thing he had a good sense of direction in the afterlife.
I went inside the quaint funeral home and drifted toward the direction of the murmur of voices and a few sounds of laughter. Entering the room I saw the chairs to the right of me, and three boards full of photographs at the front of the room. No Jack, however, he’d been cremated in Missouri, but his ashes were going to be interred with his son’s body at the local cemetery.
I stepped up to the photos of a man whom I had known through videos on http://www.singsnap.com. When we first met Jack was a VIBRANT handsome bald man who adored singing and flirting and performing. The photos of his life showed that as well, and there were photos of him with a head full of hair and a wife and children. Not the man I knew at all. But a man who I wished I’d known. Suddenly someone said, “Sweetnote?” and I drew around suddenly to see the face of a woman I’d never met. “Yes, I am,” I replied. “Oh I KNEW it was you from watching your videos on Singsnap! I was so hoping you’d be able to come. Singing was SO important to Jack.”
“I am so very sorry for your loss,” the words we utter. The hollow, hollow words from the well meaning people. I am determined to come up with a better thing to say at the next funeral of a friend.
I was taken from person to person and introduced as though I was the dearest friend Jack had. I grew more embarrassed as I realized that I should know some of the people from Jack’s descriptions, but my sorrow had caught up with me in the reality of the moment, and faces floated by, and handshakes were made. I took a seat and a minister got up to give a prayer. After the prayer he announced how he and Jack were and had been the dearest of friends for many year and what a religious man Jack was. I giggled to myself, because in all the talks I’d had with Jack he’d never once mentioned he was religious. On the contrary, he was quite the rogue and we joked to each other that if either of us went first, we should try to get a place in hell near the water cooler and make sure the apartment had air conditioning. That was the Jack Turnipseed I knew.
Then the minister went on to tell about how Jack had been a School Teacher, A Printer, ran a Karaoke business, was a wonderful Father, a kind husband, and what a positive influence he had been on so many lives. I smiled again, THIS WAS the Jack I knew. He’d been a positive influence on my life and he will continue to be until the day I die. Singlehandedly Jack had given me back a piece of me that I had lost for awhile. True love and compassion for a stranger. It may have been his greatest gift in his lifetime.
The day before Jack died, he sang a song on Singsnap…when I saw it I cried to see how he had deteriorated, but then I laughed with joy listening to the song. The song? “Going Up To The Spirit In The Sky.” I never did find out if Jack picked his day to die or if God did. I like to think it was the both of them. I’m going to miss you Jack Turnipseed, aka Oil_Can_Harry. My Friend