**I found this in a draft folder from 3 years ago after visiting Jim in the hospital following his stroke. It never got finished due to my schedule when I returned. I felt it should be posted as a celebration of how spectacularly Jim has fought back from his affliction. So with only the ado of love and admiration…**
I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend with Jim in his therapy facility. I was on the ground in Washington for only 24 hours, but I felt like I experienced a month of life and I managed to do so much more than just visit my dear friend and running mate in the hospital.
I babysat the kids for a few hours, and got to see how much his two year old had grown since I last saw her at a month old. I got to see Jim’s mother, who has held the job of keeping the kids happy and normal while mommy and daddy are away at the hospital; and with an 11 year old, a 5 year old and a 2 year old that is no simple task. I can assure you she has done it beautifully, and done it at the sacrifice of being by her son’s side as much as she would like. None of us who wish Jim well should ever overlook the contributions of those people who are so tirelessly supporting the family.
Two other such people are Casey’s sister and father. They flew in, from Minnesota and California respectively, to help Casey get prepared for Christmas, and just to check in on the family. They took Casey out to do some basic shopping for the family and managed to get 10 large boxes of Christmas decorations put up in just over two hours. They also made a cracking pulled pork, I can’t stress that enough.
I was fortunate enough to stay the night in Jim’s room with he and his wife. She sleeps on an inflatable mattress next to his hospital bed, the place she’s been since he was first hospitalized, and does so with plucky aplomb. She’s adopted the new normal their lives have found with the same forward-looking tenacity of the 13 year old girl I met so many years ago while working together at Camp Frasier in Irvine nearly two decades ago. She’s always had an enviable ability to slog forward through any situation, with the finish line always in sight. I’d call her a strong woman, but she’d beat me senseless for doing so, so I’ll simply call her what I feel she is: a pretty cool chick.
It was about 2 pm when I arrived underneath a thick cover of ash grey clouds that threatened at every moment to open up into a light autumn drizzle, and kept the early afternoon lit with the diffuse light of early evening. The artist in me loved the lighting scheme, just a little melancholy and possibly forbidding, but the prospect of the sun’s resolve to punch through the darkness. As Washington residents, I’m sure it was simply another day for Jim and Casey, but for this Southern Californian it was far more poetic.
Jim’s room is spacious for a single, like a dorm room with one bed and desk set removed. The room is populated with get well cards and Muppets naturally, with the occasional Star Wars action figure donated by his 5 year old son to keep an eye on daddy. There’s a small fridge and a private bathroom, a recliner and a picture window with a nice view that looks over the facility’s courtyard.
Jim’s eyes were alive and smiling, even though he has some temporary facial paralysis on his left side from the stroke. He was sitting in a wheel chair, his left arm resting on an attached tray, across the midline of his body. His children had painted his nails on his affected hand a wonderful shade of Kermit green when he first went in to the hospital, a visual cue to help him remember to engage that side of his body. It had been a couple of weeks and that nail varnish was chipped from wear while Jim idly stroked, poked and prodded his affected hand with his right hand. It had become habit it seemed, partly to keep the nerves in his affected side stimulated, and partly I feel due to the same impulse we all have to casually poke at a limb that’s fallen asleep.
I watched Casey do a bed transfer with Jim while I sipped my coffee feeling a bit useless and noted to myself that for a wee speck of a thing she’s staggeringly powerful. We talked about how he’s been, what his therapists are doing with him, and lamented the food. It was mostly just jibber jabber, three old friends catching up while one of them reclined in bed, unconsciously poking at an uncooperative hand. Then a quick couple of hours later, I was called out to watch the kids back at the house so Casey and her family could have some time together and do some shopping for Christmas, and of course give Jim’s mother some very rare uninterrupted face time with her son.
The Guy Time
When I returned from my quick jaunt babysitting and shooed Jim’s mother away to the house for some pulled pork and beets, I got my first alone time with my best friend. We talked about the future a lot. The financial uncertainty, and the options they have, and decisions there are to make. We talked about how amazing the family has been. We talked about Casey getting laid off in the middle of this exercise through the American medical system. And then I asked a question I had been dreading to ask, because I didn’t know how he would answer; “What is the hardest thing about… this?”
It’s a loaded question with so many rightfully selfish answers that would be reasonable, understandable, but hard to spin. Walking, sitting up, picking up something with two hands are just a few examples of possible answers. I was ready for one of them. I wasn’t ready for the answer I got, but in retrospect it was the only one I should have expected from someone like Jim.
“My kids. I miss my kids.”
Jim, as most of you must know, has been the primary caregiver – stay at home dad if you will – for his three children since Chloe was born 11 years ago. He’s spent the last decade wiping noses and bottoms and catching frogs and coloring; while getting a culinary degree, working in wine shops, and learning the intricacies of wine making. He suddenly found himself only seeing his three children in short visits here and there. Without his children, Jim was finding himself without three of his best friends.
A group of well-wishers had donated a new iPod to Jim while he was still in intensive care to replace his old and broken iPod, and not only did it give him his music library for the boring times, it gave him a window to his children through Skype. He lights up around his kids, even on a screen, but it was palpable how much he wanted to be around them in person. I don’t know why I didn’t expect that answer from him; possibly because I don’t have children of my own
It doesn’t easily sleep three who aren’t – special friends – but it is possible.
To be continued later tonight when I get home.
***Nothing further was written***