We saw our friend Jim twice over the New Year’s holiday weekend. On Friday, he was upright, sitting in a wheelchair at the table, sorting through papers. He chatted about this and that, snacked on pieces of candy and organized his Christmas cards.
Jim had a special smile for our wiggly 7-month-old, whose birthday he knew by heart and who he called “our favorite.” The wiggly 7-month-old returned a special smile right back at Jim and played on the floor at his feet.
My husband and I were amazed and delighted at how well our friend, even at 91, seemed to be doing after several weeks of being in and out of the hospital and a nursing facility. We debated among ourselves whether or not hospice, which had been providing care for the last couple of weeks, even would remain necessary as we moved forward into the new year.
That night, though, we got a call. Jim had fallen, and an ambulance was on the way to pick him up. A CT scan revealed a broken sacrum, and his lower back was in incredible pain. He was given strong pain medications.
When we went back to see him on Sunday, the change in him was almost stunning. He was bedridden and, though he shook our hands, he didn’t say much and didn’t express much. I’m not even sure he knew exactly who we were. He drifted in and out of consciousness as we spoke with his caretaker and another long-time friend who was keeping him company.
But when we held our (strangely very calm) 7-month-old close to Jim to say hello, the reaction was marvelous. Jim’s eyes lit up. A huge smile wreathed his face. He reached out his hand, cradling a smooth baby foot in a wrinkly elderly palm. He didn’t speak, but he didn’t have to. We knew the happiness he felt, and we felt it, too: advanced age rejoicing in new life, in the world of possibilities and adventure that still awaited the baby in the years to come. How beautiful it is for the old to dream for the young, to rejoice in the newness and innocence of a life yet to be lived.
Jim passed away on Tuesday morning, Jan. 2. The swiftness of the change in him from Friday to Sunday made his death, though long thought to be coming, almost surreal, and even shocking, in its suddenness. And in its sadness.
We will miss our friend, but we pray that he no longer is in pain, but rather that he has been welcomed into paradise by the Lord he loved so dearly.
It was a great gift to have been able to see our friend twice just before his death, and to see the happiness that filled him while interacting with our son. I can’t help but reflect on the fitting words of Job 1:21:
“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!”
Rest in peace, Jim. We will tell Joseph all about you.
Thoughts? Email Gretchen at firstname.lastname@example.org.