My friend is dying. A friend I’ve never met in life except through phone calls and a few videos we send back and forth. Oil_Can_Harry is his name on SingSnap…a site devoted to people who love to sing…but his real name is Jack. I just realized I don’t even know his last name. Sad really. But my dear friend called me yesterday when I was away. The message on the answering machine was, “Well Hon, I got some bad news from the Dr. today, I wanted to talk to you about it.” I called him back immediately. A few weeks ago I had called him and we had discussed his serious heart problem. So serious, in fact, that his Dr. began providing Hospice services for him. Jack has one daughter who lives several hundred miles north of him. There is no wife, no close friends that he’s ever told me about, just the friends that he’s made at http://www.singsnap.com.
Jack is the only guy I’ve ever allowed to be a bit ornery when talking to me. His old piss and vinegar attitude and gravely voice are all I knew about him. You can immediately tell the heart of gold this guy has, so when I called him back, I was irreverent, he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Hey darlin, what in the hell are you doing?” (we call each other darlin alot) Jack:Well, I was just about to lie down.. “So what’s going on, you sounded pretty serious on the message?” Jack:”Well darlin, I’m trying to decide which day I die.”
I sat back in the chair not really fully understanding what he meant at that time, thinking he was being maudlin and just poking a bit at me to get a reaction. “Why’s that Jack? What’d the Dr. say that makes you say that.” Jack:”Well, they’re gonna pull the plug on me and I have to decide which day I wanna do it.”
Suddenly I was thrust in my mind to a scene at a hospital with my father-in-law who was on the verge of death. My husband and his brother had to make a decision on when to pull the plug to allow their father to die. Then I was immediately pulled forward to two years ago when, by a decision of my side of the family, we allowed my father to die. My father’s death haunts me to this day. It wasn’t the quiet peaceful death I’d seen on television:I was expecting that, instead I saw a man reduced to a gray pulp, mouth gaping, struggling for his last breaths of air. A scene I relive over and over again in my mind to this day.
My thoughts came back immediately to Jack. “Jack, has something changed, are you worse? Why are you even contemplating this?” Jack:”Well, I’m tired darlin, my hearts completely give out, my kidneys are shutting down, and I don’t want to go through dialysis. I’ve decided to let them pull the plug. It’s not like it’s going to be today and probably not even tomorrow. The doctor says I should just pick a day and he’ll make all the arrangements and come on over to the house and we’ll do it.”
There was sadness in his voice, God why wouldn’t there be, but there was something else. A quiet peace. It was as if he had really thought about the decision, found an answer that he could comply with and was ready to carry on.
There’s more to the story, but it consists mostly of me crying, him saying one of his favorite days was meeting me, but that’s the personal stuff.
My husband called on another line while I was speaking to Jack, so I let him go with a promise to call him again. My husband ascertained quickly that I was upset and asked what was wrong, so I told him. Hubster:”Haven’t I told you not to get too close to people. You just get too upset. You don’t even really know him.”
I’ve always been blessed with making friends. I think perhaps I may use the word “FRIEND”
too easily sometimes. I hold people in my heart over the smallest of things. People have been my greatest joy and sometimes my greatest sorrow. I would rather have a very good friend for one day than never have had the encounter with them at all.
I thought many hours about how someone, when given the news that their life is truly nearing an end, internalizes that information. I know there are several processes in grieving. Are these the same emotions one would go through if given the time-line of their own demise? First there would be the shock of the news, then the fear, the anger, the bargaining for more life, the resolution of the truth and finally the death itself. The reflection goes on from day one of the process. Have I lived my life in a manner that I wanted? Why didn’t I go after that opportunity?
Then I came to a realization, one I’ve known all along really. We are all finite, we do not know our last hour in most cases, however we all live with the knowledge that we are going to die. I’m sitting at a kitchen table writing this, but anything could happen. It could be an embolism, a freak accident, who knows? The point is while sitting here, I realize that this moment could be my last, and if it is have I lived the last few hours in a way that people will say, “That Londie, she was Fun, she was imaginative, she was a go getter, she always encouraged others, and she had a good heart.”
About Jack…when I started this article back in February, I thought Jack wouldn’t be here much longer. I made it a point to call him weekly and say, “Hey Jack, not today. Don’t choose to go today please. I want to talk to you one more time.” I’m very proud and happy to say Jack is still here. He’s no worse, and he’s much happier, but in our last conversation the other day he said this to me. “Londie, I know you want me to keep going, but darlin, one of these days it’ll happen and I want you to be prepared for it.” I couldn’t believe what he said…he wanted ME to be prepared for it. What an honor to be thought of so highly by someone I don’t really even know well. Thanks for the Life Lesson, you’ve made me such a better person because of knowing you…Oh and Jack…Not today…I wanna talk to you One More Time!