It was 4:30.
I had just wrapped up with my last session for the day.
The text from Shoes said, "I know you're busy, but please call asap. I have a huge problem."
The conversation didn't make sense. "My step dad had a heart attack. They've air lifted him to Spokane. It doesn't look good. I'm going up now." Jim has been Shoes' step dad since Shoes was four years old. There is a legacy of family there and "step", as Shoes says, is a surface level label that largely just helps others keep things straight.
It was Thursday at 4:30. I got in the car and started driving from Portland to Spokane.
It may or may not have taken the recommended 6 hours. (But probably not).
Jim has been ill for years. Shoes and I have spoken many times about what to do in this situation. There was never any other option.
It was late when I got in. Shoes was there with his mom and we all went to bed.
Which is a misnomer. There was no sleeping. Instead, we listened to Gretchen toss listlessly and painfully for four hours in the early morning. We listed to the silence in the room. We listened to our circuiting, painful thoughts.
The doctors had cooled Jim's body temperature in order to minimize the swelling in the brain. The plan was to begin warming him slowly on Friday evening with the warm up concluding early Saturday morning. That's when the doctors thought they might know what type of brain damage, if any, Jim had sustained and what the prognosis was.
Family began trickling in, driving down / around / over / up, flying immediately out. Flying standby.
And then it was Saturday.
And it was 6:30 in the morning; the warm up complete.
And Jim was having grand mal seizures.
And that was when the doctor told Gretchen that it was time to take the tubes out and let Jim go (it was in his advanced directives). His brain would not be able to regulate his bodily functions.
I would tell you about that moment. I would tell you how even though Shoes, his brothers, Gretchen and myself knew that that was probably coming, it felt like somebody had punched us in the chest. How the air felt like it was sucked out of the room. How the tears came in waves and the pain rolled over us again and again. I would tell you all about that, but the truth is, no matter what I write here, it will look, feel and sound wrong.
Jim has fought his disease processes for the past 15 years and he continued to fight until the very end.
It was a Saturday morning.
It was 10:30.
And we watched Jim take his last breaths.
Jim knew more about me as an adult than my own father did. We had many conversations about the inherent and constructed differences between social work and clinical psychology (he was a successful clinical psychologist and educator at Washington State University). He always asked me about classes. He always worried about my safety.
He had a daughter, a son, and 3 step sons, all of whom he loved fiercely. He had 3 grandchildren (and one on the way) he adored. He took care of Gretchen (Shoes' mom) with tenderness few can match. He was mischievous and wickedly smart and, in his royal, dignified air, loved a good joke. His social conscious was a force to be reckoned with and he had a heart and a passion for the ignored in our society. As a "bleeding heart liberal" (a man after my own heart), he was diligent about watching the political news, which would inevitably make him furious. His penchant for pocket knives, batteries and flashlights was prolific (we've been finding them everywhere). The sum total of his life was gigantic.
He was a big man. And this big house feels very, very small without him.