A buddy of mine is going to die. To be blunt, by the time you read this he may already be dead. Anyway, I went to go see him yesterday. Before I got there I asked if there was anything he wanted and there was. So I stopped on the way and got a six pack of beer, a pizza (supreme, extra crispy) and some ice. They have plenty of buckets in the hospital. A nurse saw me and started to say something until I mentioned who I was visiting. She knew as well as any of us that this stuff stood no chance of doing my buddy any harm. And it might do him some psychological good. She shrugged and found us some plates. The three of us sat watching the Sox game for a bit and then she had work to do. He and I talked between innings, etiquette before eternity, and had some good laughs. We joked about how I’d once lost control of a motorcycle I was having sex on and ended up in a laundromat. That required both bail and stitches. We laughed about the time he entered a talent contest and got booed by the MC.
We missed talking about how his wife left him, and took the kids, when he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer. We also forgot to mention how his mother blames him for getting sick in the first place and hasn’t talked to him in over a year. It’s funny how some things can skip your mind when you’re watching baseball. Neither he nor I blame his family for their reactions. There is no “how to” book for times like this. At least not one that isn’t full of treacle. He doesn’t need poems or cuddly kitties, he just needs a friend. And while my skill set may not be wide, I can handle this.
He fell asleep in the fifth inning, after his second beer, and so was spared the Sox melting down in the 6th. The nurse helped me wrap the remaining pizza and put it in a mini-fridge along side the two beers. I sat with him a while more making sure he was just sleeping and then headed off into the night.
Aside from the reaction of his family my buddy has been treated extremely well by the hospital staff. Above and beyond the physical care they make sure to talk to him every day. Even if it’s only for a minute or two it helps him feel like a human being.
I contrasted that with a time, about 25 years ago when another buddy of mine was dying. He had AIDS. His family shunned him, his lover abandoned him and the doctors avoided him except to provide the mandatory, minimum, care. This was years before the Magic Johnson “HIV Positive = buy a baseball team” therapy was introduced. That friend too wanted pizza and beer but there was no way I could get that into the hospital. Hell, I was lucky they let me see him at all.
But, with the clever use of a lab coat and some rubber gloves, we were able to sneak him out to a prearranged bar. There was pizza and beer waiting for us in the back corner. This was out of respect for him, he was covered in last stage lesions, and out of respect for the customers. I believe I mentioned that he was covered in last stage lesions. We laughed, we joked, we played the jukebox. And then we took him back to the hospital. He died about an hour later.
I was there holding his hand.
After that his mother decided his death was all my fault. Because, after all, the one straight friend he had was the obvious choice.
But I was there when he died and she wasn’t. That was by choice for both of us.
Nevertheless, death is an odd subject. Everyone of us will face it. There is absolutely no way around it. And, yet, people do everything in their power to avoid dealing with it. I don’t get that mentality. I’d rather admit the obvious and then enjoy the time I have with those I love. You’d be surprised how funny the terminally ill can be if you give them a chance.
Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG (FOX! Sports) every Friday around 9:10 AM.