My friend Jim was a swell guy. I know he thought of himself as grumpy or prickly but I didn’t see that. He was funny and loving and very wise. And patient. It’s funny how we view ourselves compared to how the rest of society views us. Sometimes the negative things others tell us we are sticks and we go about life believing we really are those negative things even if we don’t present those traits to the world.
I’ll never forget the first time I met Jim. My dad pulled up as I was coming out of the house. There in the passenger seat was Jim, looking like I was going to slap him. Dad introduced us and I shook his hand, smiling. He tentatively smiled back as if he couldn’t believe I was being pleasant and nice to him. I was a bit baffled by his reaction to meeting me, but Dad looked really happy and that was all that mattered.
Jim became a part of my dad’s life and as I got to know him, I began to understand why he assumed that I wouldn’t like him or accept him. That had been his life experience up to that point. His family wasn’t supportive of his lifestyle and he had come to expect intolerance and hate and anger. When I brought the kids over it was as if they had always been a part of his life. They loved him immediately. Again, they didn’t see of feel any grumpiness from him….I wonder who convinced him he was a grumpy guy…
Not too long after Jim became a part of my father’s life, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. That put their relationship into fast forward. Jim moved in with dad to help care for him and to spend as much time together as possible. Dad’s diagnoses was pretty bad. Almost 50 years of smoking had finally caught up with him.
As sad as the circumstances were that landed Jim at dad’s it was actually heaven-sent. Jim was the perfect complement to my dad and like I said the kids and I loved him. We became family. Looking back, I can’t imagine not loving anyone who my father loved. But Jim and I had an extra special bond. I could feel it but I didn’t really get what it was.
Come to find out Jim was well versed in the 12 step program. Finally!!! My dad found himself a program person!!! I knew I loved Jim!! We had a language we could share and that language became invaluable in the coming year as we took care of my father as he died. We laughed and we cried and we totally understood each other. It gave dad great comfort that Jim and I were as tight as any family of choice is.
We held each other up when the man we loved died. He died with us there, knowing that we would be there for each other in this time of grief. In the years that followed, Jim was my rock. He was one of my closest friends. He was the one I called when the crisis crashed and when the insanity became too intense. Not only did he fix things around my house, like lights and lawn mowers and windows, but he also did a fabulous job decorating my livingroom.
Jim was my family. He came trick or treating with us. He was here on Christmas morning to watch the kids open presents from Santa, he got along better with my mother than my father did…
And then, one spring day, he dropped by just to say hello and talk about what we needed to do to my house to get it ready for summer. He had lunch with the youngest kid and myself. He winterized the snow blower and played a round of Uno with us and as he was leaving he hugged me tight and told me he loved me.
Later that night I got a call from the state police that he was no longer with us. He had left me a note.
I was sad, very mad and I went through the ‘why me’. But all of that passed. I respected Jim, I respected his choice. I respected that he felt that he could no longer continue in this life. The anger didn’t dissipate right away though. It took a very long time. Whenever I had to take down a storm window, or winterize the lawn mower or choose a paint color for the family room, I cursed Jim. And he knows it. I loved him unconditionally but man, I was pissed that he checked out and left me all alone to fight my battles.
Today, I am no longer angry. I know he is in a better place (although I know he didn’t believe he’d go anywhere special or that there was anywhere special to go) and I talk to him regularly. Both him and dad. I hear his very rational advice, I hear him calling me out on being a nutjob, I hear his laugh…I feel his honesty and I feel his love. He is gone but I am so grateful to have had him in my life in such an important way.
We squeezed so much life into such a short period of time. There will never be another man like him in my life. I am very lucky that we were able to share the world. He was my ally and advocate and I was his biggest fan.
And whenever I dust, I remember his very sage advice : NEVER clean hardwood floors with Pledge.