Friday, April 12, 2024

Farewell, John


One of my best friends died today at about 10:00 PM. I take some comfort in knowing he lived his life the way he wanted to, and tremendous comfort in the knowledge that now John is happy and whole in Heaven. 

I am so grateful for these moments

On Wednesday, I went to say goodbye to my friend John.  I knew he had been moved back to the ICU on Tuesday when he vomited blood, but we were all still talking about what it would be like when he was discharged. Could he still live alone? Would the cognitive effects of his stroke be lasting? I had planned to go visit him today (Friday).

Then on Wednesday morning, John suffered another heart attack. John's baby brother flew up from Virginia right away, and his middle brother would come in Wednesday night from Boston.* John's and my friend Gregory, who has been our boots-on-the-ground since Good Friday, when John was admitted, gently advised me I shouldn't wait until today to see him. As bad as the information had been till now, Gregory admitted he had been "sugarcoating it somewhat" for me because he knew I was recovering from oral surgery and the laser treatments for plantar fasciitis. He encouraged me to the hospital right away if I could.

I showered, put on a Cubs shirt and jeans, and did my makeup. John would notice the makeup in good times and it felt fitting to do it for him now. I took an Uber downtown because I didn't feel like dealing with the train schedule just then. 

There's something surreal about riding along the expressway on a bright, sunny day to say goodbye to your friend of more than 40 years. I have said goodbye to both of my dying parents, and while that was painful there was also something very natural about it. We all know, deep inside, that at some point we're going to lose our parents. John is less than two years older than I am. I am not ready for this. Because of the cavalier way he treated his health and body, I expected his world to get smaller as he struggled more and more with mobility. But I truly never thought about him dying. Not anytime soon.

Yet here we are.

He was sitting up, frighteningly thin but conscious. He couldn't hold a cup so he had to ask for Sprite if he was thirsty, or water if he wanted someone to dab his lips with a sponge. His voice was barely a whisper and it was very hard to understand him. Was his trouble communicating the product of brain damage (his stroke) or pain killers? I don't know. His feet were bandaged. They were so damaged by diabetes that doctors had wanted to amputate -- toes? his feet? I didn't ask -- but then decided his heart was too weak to withstand it.

His eyes did lock on mine and he said, "Wow." I said, "Yeah, I know. Can you believe this shit?" I asked if I could touch him and was told yes, so I stroked his arm and told him I loved him. He asked me how the Cubs were doing. I told him they were fine, playing on the West Coast, and that Rizzo is fine, too, in New York.

John's brother and sister-in-law asked me how long I'd known John. I told them about how we met, and then regaled them with tales that made John smile and nod. The night he sang "Be My Baby" onstage with Ronnie Spector. The night he sang "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand") onstage with Miss Diana Ross. All the Cub games we watched together. 

They didn't know about any of this. It made me sad in a way. Decisions about the end of John's life are being made by blood relatives who love him but don't really know him. I spent the last ten Thanskgivings with John. His family never visited Chicago for Christmas, or his birthday, or anything. He never visited them, either, what with his aversion to flying. He went to the middle brother's wedding four years ago ... I think that was the last time he saw them.

At one point the nurses were moving him to another bed so they could manipulate his limbs and let him sit at another angle. At that point I caught sight of the catheter and I got up to leave. "I shouldn't see this, " I said as I made my way to the hall.

His sister-in-law followed me, afraid I was upset. I told her I didn't care what I saw in there, but I was sure he would. I told her the story of when he and I discussed JBKO's death. The paparazzi hounded her to her last and snapped on her last trip to Central Park. She had checked herself out of the hospital and gone home to die. But she just wanted to go outdoors one last time.

The photo that started an argument
"She should not have gone out in public in that cheap-ass Dynel wig," John said. I told him that was bullshit. Her life was ending and she wanted to do what she wanted to do, no matter what the rest of the world thought. I thought it was courageous.

"She was royalty. Royalty should not be seen in a cheap-ass Dynel wig," John said.

I still believe John was full of it. But, knowing how he felt about Jackie being seen in that cheap-ass Dynel wig, I was pretty sure he wouldn't want me to see his urine bag.

His sister-in-law said, "I love that." 

When the nurses left, we returned. I asked John if it was OK if I told his brother and sister-in-law about our first boss. He brightened and said, "yes." She was a character.

I was there about two hours in all. Then I left to catch a train. John drifted off to sleep, and he has not opened his eyes since.

Our friend Mindy went to see him Thursday, and Mark went today (Friday), and they were unable to converse with him.

I made him smile. I told him about the Cubs and Rizzo. We reminisced about Diana Ross and Ronnie Spector. He knew it was me. He heard me say I love him.

While this situation is cruel, I am grateful that God was kind enough to grant me those moments.

*The only bright spot in this sad saga is that it takes place here in Chicago. John has been able to easily access world-class care at Northwestern and his brothers had no trouble getting same-day flights to O'Hare.