In my time of dying
Don’t want nobody to moan
All I want for you to do
Is take my body home
I was in the VA hospital for 18 hours ending around 6:30 AM this morning, keeping a dying friend company. I wrote this on my palm pilot sitting next to his bed at around 11 PM, while he lay unconscious…
I’ve been here for ten hours or so, watching my unconscious friend, so that he wouldn’t die alone. Even though he’s on 100% oxygen, every breath he takes lasts no more than a half second, and sounds like a straw sucking at the bottom of an empty milkshake. His breathing is short, and regular, but if he is a half second late, my head involuntarily swings around as fast as it can to make sure that he is ok. He wasn’t expected to live for more than a few hours, and the morphine and strain have kept him in a peaceful sleep for the last four or five. Before that, he was in and out of lucidity, his eyes following unseen phantoms, infrequently stopping to rest on the faces of those who love him. And there was a glimmer of recognition. Say it was wishful thinking, but it was there.
That’s Alzheimer’s. Little by little, it robs you of your mind. Some patients grow fearful. Some grow understandably angry and frustrated at the enveloping cloud of confusion that settles in. My friend here took a different path: He laughed.
When I helped him shave, and he rubbed the shaving cream all through his hair and all over his neck, rather than on his face, he looked at me, chuckled and asked, “What’d you make me do that for?” When the fashion police caught him wearing four shirts, two sweaters, three pairs of pants, and a winter hat at the same time, he laughed. When he jumped up for the second Patriots touchdown in two minutes, he laughed when reminded of instant replay.
He wasn’t always like this, though. He’s taken care of me since I was born. He babysat me every day while my parents worked. He let me chew whole packs of Hubba Bubba at once, and let me stay up through Disney, through Lawrence Welk, through Love Boat, and sometimes right through Fantasy Island, even though that little midget scared the crap out of me. My sister and I were given dinner, usually followed by our respective favorite ice creams, and some time around when the Love Boat was on, like clockwork, Richard Clark and I would eat a bowl of cereal together. This was my childhood.
As an even younger child, I did not comprehend that Richard would probably have liked to sleep rather than listen to me calling “Claaaaaarkie” over and over again down the back stairs to his apartment. But he would answer. And he would get me back with his little white lies.
In my young mind, Clarkie’s word was gospel. If Clarkie said that I was Jewish, then I must’ve been. Just because my parents were Catholics didn’t mean that I was. I went to a Jewish nursery school. Hell, it was enough proof for me…for years. Good one, Clarkie. He would also go on to convince me that I had single-handedly ended my Mom’s illustrious singing career as “Crystal, the lounge singer” simply for being born. Another good one, Clarkie. I eventually got over the guilt once I figured out that there is no way that my Mom was a lounge singer. I was also convinced that Clarkie attended every movie and/or circus that I went to because no matter where I told him that I had gone, he would always remark offhandedly that he had seen me there. I swore that the man was magic.
And he was. He always was.
The man took care of me when I needed it, and was overly generous to me, even when I didn’t. Hell, he used to slip me $50 for shoveling out his tiny little driveway, when there was no way that it was worth it, and no way I deserved it. He was a very generous man.
He has been there through my whole life, and being some of the closest family that he has, I’ll be damned if he’ll die alone…
Richard Clark, my friend of a scant 82 years, passed away this morning at 9:45 AM, just two hours after I left his side. It’s now 7 PM, and I’ve been up for well over a day. I’m exhausted, and my eyes are damp with tears for the loss of someone so great.
Dick requested no service, no newspapers, no wake, no funeral, and no exceptions. He will be buried in the military cemetery in Bourne.
I think I’m going to have a salutary bowl of cereal.