Working today in the beautiful sunshine, I was out and up very early. I love being out and about before 6 - it suits my internal clock very well indeed. My cellphone was set to vibrate and it started ringing around 7:45. I did not recognize the number so I delayed calling back until I realized I had messages waiting. Calling in, it was the voice of Vespa, the woman staying with Jimbo, calling from her cell.
All week I have been quietly trying to prepare her for his imminent death. All week she has listened but not heard. And now here she was on the telephone in a panic.
"He keeps trying to talk. He says sunshine over and over. I don't know what to do."
I could not help until the afternoon so I asked her to hang tight. give him ice to suck on and just stay mellow. And, if she was really scared she could always dial 9-1-1 although there is nothing much they could do except to transport him to where he does not want to be. I asked her to go for a little walk if she got too panicked. Jimbo is where he wants to be and how he wishes it to be and we have agreed to honour those wishes. Jimbo has astounded me this last month with his determinedness to stay home no matter what.
When I arrived in the mid afternoon it was to a very light smile and the same word - Sunshine.
"Did you want to go outside? Is that what it is?"
He smiled and tried to nod.
"You aren't getting him up are you?"
Of course I was. The bed cannot fit through the little door but a chair can. And Jimbo was still getting up just two days ago. I know if he wants to do it, he can. With help.
Poor Vespa was aghast. She has been at her wits end. She is all right with companioning and very much not all right with the other things that go along with death. We had a transfer chair and a transfer belt, a hospital bed that goes up and down and me. I looked into those bright eyes, too bright for a mortal. Vespa can't take this part of things so I didn't tell her. Just please hold the chair Vespa and hold it tight - and she did.
I learned this from someone else a few years back. When someone really really wants something right at the end of their life they will do what they can to help. I told Jimbo in a quiet sharp whisper that we had to do the transfer very quick and very crisp and we had to get it right the FIRST time. He smiled again.
So down with the bed, into semi-fowler position (head up, feet down),chair alongside the bed, shoes on Jimbo, belt on, sat him up fast, grabbed him tight tight tight and 1-2-3- up and into the chair. 1.5 seconds. Safety belt on, and out through the patio door to the little porch where I had a hassock with a pillow out there for his feet. Jimbo was quite floppsie - it was pretty risky but still I had enough control factors and I knew I would not drop him. Jimbo epitomizes one of my early mottoes in life: "Risk to Live!"
Not all risks are worth taking but this one was. I was not worried about that in the moment. I was too busy watching Jimbo turning his face to the sunshine and smiling. This is a man who loves the outdoors, loves the sea and the sun, loves life - every scrap of it.
We sat outside for 15 minutes. I had to pretend I was sitting behind Jimbo but actually I was supporting his head as I am not completely out of touch with reality - just a dreamer and wish-fulfillment agent. All the pillows in the world are no substitute for hands on. After our sunbath the three of is went back in. I got him back to bed with rather more difficulty. Not too bad but not something I would do on a daily basis for any period of time. That Hospice hospital bed made all the difference. (God bless Hospice and all who work with it, all over the world.)
Once back to bed, some necessary adjustments made Jimbo more comfie and it was then I realized that considerably more pre-death signs were evident. He opened his eyes really wide and did that amazing stare into eternity with a look of surprise and then pleasure. He sat like that for 25 minutes, holding both our hands and squeezing them every so often. He was conscious and satisfied. And he died, smiling.
Vespa asked me if I thought we killed him by taking him outside.
I looked at his body with all the op sites, the powerful frame holding a completely depleted form and the smile- that huge smile still fixed on his face, that old man 33 year old face. I looked her in the eye and said: "Death by happiness? Not the worst way to go, Vespa. "
So in that moment Vespa understood me and a few minutes later I understood her.
"I was not going to tell you but now, somehow I want to, before I chicken out. I always thought Jimbo gave me HIV but I think now I gave it to him and I am so so very scared."
Not much to say in those moments that stretch out. Two people making bad choices in a situation where the loaded gun has a bullet in every single chamber. I just gave her a hug. Poor Vespa, what a confession. I would never have known had she not told me. She is positive but a-symptomatic.
We had a list made out weeks ago about what to do in case of death and I noted with a smile that she had written in pencil above #1 to call me. Together we went through the list and then I had to go back to my own life. When I left she hugged me tight and in a very quiet voice asked nervously: "Can I call you when, uh, if, uh, well,..."
Of course she can call me.