Recently, my good friend, Jerry, passed away. I have only known him and his wife (Ruth) for 18 months. Still, during that time, we became best friends, eating dinner together each day in the dining room of our retirement center. He wasn’t tall, perhaps 5’8″ or so, but he made up for the lack of height with brain power and personality.
At our dinner table, we often talked about the game show Jeopardy. One evening, after a good meal and great conversation, he invited us back to their apartment to watch our favorite 7:30 pm game show. Usually, I can answer five or six questions out of the sixty-one asked, but Jerry answered about 35-40 during our visit. As we prepared to leave, I kindly informed him never to invite us back again to watch that show. That brought a big smile to his handsome face.
Jerry was a wealth of knowledge, having traveled the world as a colonel in the US Air Force, and had countless stories to tell, which always made dinner time more enjoyable. A remarkable quality of his was to somehow not make us feel inferior. If there was something on the menu for the night and we did not know what it was, he was the person we asked and always knew the answer. If we couldn’t pronounce the name of a meal, he was our “go-to guy.” We still wish he was with us when we encounter those situations.
The kindness and attention he gave his wife also touched us. Ruth has health issues, which eventually got to the point of him having to feed her. Each day he wheeled her to the dining room in her wheelchair, her hair neatly combed, and her clothes and jewelry always matched. We complimented her on how pretty she looked, and Jerry would describe to us when and where he bought each piece of jewelry. Typically, it was overseas somewhere. That was our opportunity to interact with Ruth.
He and I attended a “New Car” show over in Norfolk (30 minutes away) back in January, and it was a great “guy bonding” experience. He loved cars, as do I, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time together. We made plans to attend a stock car race at our local track (Langley) this past summer but had to cancel because of Ruth’s health issues. I surely regret, looking back, that it didn’t happen. I would have enjoyed that time with my buddy.
Then, on September 15th, he and Ruth failed to show up at our 6 pm dinner. Usually, there are six of us, including our friends Nancy & Richard. We weren’t alarmed because we occasionally had a reason to be absent. We were later told that Jerry was in the hospital with gallstones. Although painful, we knew he would survive and probably weave his experience into an exciting story, which he could do easily when he returned.
After a few days in the hospital, they sent him to our Health Care unit on campus with medicine to get rid of an infection, after which he would return to the hospital. They would then perform an operation to remove the gallstones. Jerry called me and requested I bring him a pair of my “Fat Boy Pants.” I often kid that my wife calls me “Fat Boy” when I overeat (she doesn’t). He said he couldn’t stand anything tight on his stomach, so we took him a pair of my largest. We sat by his bedside, talked for about 15 minutes, and left, easily discerning that he wasn’t up for company. I had absolutely no idea that would be my final words with him.
Upon hearing of his request for larger pants, our friends Nancy & Richard went to the store, bought him a new pair, and sat them inside his door, not wanting to awaken him. A few days later, we went back to visit again, and there was a note on his door that said he only wanted the family to visit. That was our first sign that he was much sicker than we thought. Before long, he was back in the hospital in critical condition, insisting that only family could visit.
Eventually, to our surprise, we received word that he was under Hospice Care. Then, upon accidentally meeting his daughter during a walk around the retirement compound, we were told that Jerry was in palliative care. His doctor said the end was near. A few days later, he passed away. We were heartbroken. Grief sets on my shoulders like it is an old friend. Occasionally, I knock it off with a clenched fist, but it always clambers back in place.
I have a picture of my good friend sitting in a prominent place in my den, so I see him each time I walk by. It sits beside a picture of my son, who passed away in 2018. It will be there until I stop grieving, maybe even longer. I’m dismayed with him for not allowing us to visit during that painful part of his journey. His daughter said he didn’t want anyone to see him in his condition. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to my friend. I hope to do better with my friends when it’s my turn. But who knows, maybe I’ll do the same thing. I hope not.
Jerry, old buddy, if you’re listening, Amy still has a shot at being the Jeopardy champion for 2022 😊. The Gang misses you and Ruth. Oh, by the way, can you tell me how to say this item on the menu?… your friend, Tommy.