Things I Learned from R. B. … September 13th, 2020

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 32

After the party, the hospice asked us to stay away for a couple of days, to give R. B. a chance to recuperate, rest and regain some normalcy.

This was fine with me. Matter of fact, I think it was a full four days before I returned.

I caught him on a bad day.

He was feeling just sick enough to be upset and just unaware enough to not be able to respond to anyone.

It was very easy to forgive him—after all, he was dying.

The nurses and staff were patient and gentle. I don’t know where they mustered the courage to do that, but it gives me great hope for the human race when I realize there are actually people who will perform that function for a little more than minimum wage.

R. B. was so rattled and uncertain of himself that I felt it would be better to come back the next day and hopefully have a more fruitful conversation.

So I left and after I did, I related to my two sons what had happened. They, being who they are, made a decision to go and see R. B. that afternoon when, it turned out, he was more spry and aware.

They were also the last two people to see him alive.

When I came the next morning, R. B. had slipped into a coma. His heart was racing, his face was white, and perspiration was pouring off his brow. It appeared he was moments from dying.

Even though I supposedly had a good education and understood this to be an unavoidable part of his journey, I still found myself in disbelief—that this fifty-five-year-old man was leaving us.

It wasn’t sentimental—it was an eerie qualm

I stayed about an hour, watching the twitchings and observing nurses coming in and out, telling me that I should feel free to leave because it could be many hours, if not days.

Yet I had led myself to believe that I wanted to be there at the exact moment he passed on. But he wouldn’t know. Nor would the nurses or the doctor.

I said my last little speech right into his ear. “Thank you, R. B., for giving us experiences with you. I will keep on keeping you alive.”

I turned on my heel and walked away.

Later on that afternoon, R. B.’s brother, Johnny, called me and told me that his brother had passed on.

We made plans for a funeral the next day.

I sought greater depth of feeling—both from myself and those around me.

Maybe it was the fact that it was inevitable–that we knew it was coming.

Maybe it was the fact that many of us didn’t know R. B. as well as we thought we did.

Maybe it was because R. B. never took the time to get to know us.

Whatever the justification, I was not satisfied.

I wanted it to be more meaningful.

I determined to make sure the funeral was special.

Things I Learned from R. B. (September 6th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 31

July 19th.

R. B.’s birthday.

It arrived with a horrific sense of timing. In the midst of his daily demise, how would it be possible to foster a celebration of his birth? Yet I was fully aware that R. B. knew it was his birthday. He didn’t need leave this planet feeling he was absent sentiment.

So I planned it.

I picked up pulled pork barbecue, which was his favorite, a chocolate cake with butter cream icing (which was my favorite) and got permission from the hospice to use the dining room for a private party of about twenty-five people. The facility also graciously offered kitchen facilities for our use.

I took the precaution of talking to each person attending about the nature of the situation. In our family, it is customary to give a verbal tribute to the person being honored at birthday celebrations, telling them how valuable and precious they had been during the year.

Trying to avoid awkwardness and also R. B.’s fatigue, I suggested that the guests share one sentence stating their favorite part of R. B.

Considering how bizarre the circumstances were, the party ended up being rather intimate, especially when one of the young children told R. B. that he was very sad that his friend was dying.

This was too much for R. B.

His eyes burst forth with tears, which had been held in reserve for some unpronounced occasion.

He wept.

He sobbed.

And through his tears he proclaimed, “I don’t want to die.”

The room was hushed—emotions thick with tenderness and pain. Nobody ate much of the barbecue. The cake was sampled. It seemed that the circle of souls who came to salute R. B. moved in closer and closer as the afternoon pressed on.

I guess if a man has to die and is granted a send-off, this could have been one of the better ones ever to be conceived.

After about an hour-and-a-half, one of the nurses arrived to take R. B. back to his room.

It was time for final thoughts. Something needed to be said.

I was trying to come up with a spirited closing for the event when Lily, my granddaughter, piped up with some wonderful four-year-old wisdom. “See you tomorrow,” she said with the cheeriest voice I’ve ever heard.

Everyone applauded, laughed and clapped some more as R. B. made his exit from the room.

As he was leaving, I thought to myself that I was probably the world’s greatest hypocrite.

For I certainly did not honor this fellow. He had been cruel to me—perhaps treacherous. What did I think I was achieving by hosting a party for my enemy?

As I was standing there, staring off in the distance, one of the guests came up and hugged my back. She leaned up and whispered in my ear, “Congratulations. You gave him what he needed.”

Exactly. She was right.

It wasn’t about me.

Of course.

It wasn’t about me.

 

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Things I Learned from R. B. (August 30th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 30

I seized on a space of silence to attempt to calm my troubled mind.

I reflected back on the early morning phone call from Johnny, when he explained, in a fevered huff, that he had been arrested and was in jail, requiring bail.

From his disjointed explanation, I was able to comprehend that he had gone to a local mall to window shop and was “suddenly overtaken” with an obsession to steal a woman’s purse. Unsuccessful at obtaining it, he had been detained and now needed me to come and pay him out of his travail.

Mentally, I was halfway down the hall of my home, keys in one hand and wallet in the other, when my spirit tackled me and forced me to reconsider.

I heard a voice in my ear whisper, “This is not your business. Call Johnny’s family.”

So I did.

I telephoned one of his brothers in Rhode Island, who sheepishly took responsibility, not seeming to be surprised.

I went back to sleep and awoke the next morning, refreshed. I had a lovely day until just shortly after lunch.

Another call from Johnny, requesting that I meet him at the hospice. He was trying to talk to R. B. about some necessary business matters and had hit numerous snags.

I kept waiting for that sweet spirit-voice from the night before, to whisper in my ear, freeing me of responsibility.

But this time I was on my own.

I agreed to come. When I arrived, I was surprised to discover all sorts of paperwork laid out on R. B.’s bed and the two brothers embroiled in a nasty conflict.

Johnny explained that the government was asking R. B. to take some of the thousands of dollars he had in the bank, which had been given to him as disability, and spend it in a productive way, or they would stop issuing checks in his direction.

I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.

For a solid year, I had been paying R. B.’s rent, utilities and groceries. Now I was discovering that he had sought assistance from the government, received it, and had so much money in the bank that they were requesting that he disperse it or lose his supplemental income.

I stared at the two brothers. It had not occurred to either one of them that I had been suspended in a spider web of their lies—cheated out of money that R. B. did not need.

My instinct was to turn on my heel and leave. Or maybe I could join the screaming match they had begun, adding in my own lamentations.

But then I looked at the thief and the skeleton sitting in front of me. My responsibility in this matter was not going to last much longer.

Yet five years from this moment, the only thing I would have left was my dignity and the memory of how I conducted myself.

So I tried to be helpful.

It seemed the best way for R. B. to keep the government money flowing into his coffers was to buy a grave plot in Gallatin, Tennessee, which was permissible to do and would lessen his bank balance.

Also, there was a huge argument about R. B.’s car.

Johnny wanted it, and R. B. was digging in his heels, refusing to release it.

It was pathetic—this crippled, hurting and broken man quibbling over an old car.

At length I proclaimed, “Tell you what, R. B. Give Johnny your car. And then, when you get out of the hospital here, I promise you that as a celebration, I will buy you a brand-new car.”

He should have seen through the offer.

He should have realized his situation.

But instead, his eyes lit up with glee.

He stuck out a bony hand to shake mine, confirming the arrangement. It was just a goddamn ugly meeting.

The final piece of wacky meaninglessness was when Johnny took out a book he had purchased about heaven, written by Billy Graham, and began to read passages aloud to R. B., whose eyes welled with tears.

I suppose there was nothing wrong with it. Some people would suggest that it was therapeutic or great ministry.

But it left me cold.

I excused myself and made my way out the door.

As I shuffled down the hallway, looking at other human souls who were hanging in the balance, I realized that a hospice is no place to come if you’re searching for hope.

Things I Learned from R. B. … August 23rd, 2020

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 29

While I was waiting for a member of R. B.’s family to arrive, to assist in care and making decisions, I made a practice of visiting him once a day.

It was not easy.

He had convinced himself that I had placed him in this institution, and that it was I, and I alone, who had the power to release him.

The spread of the cancer had left him weak, sallow and embittered. It was difficult to ascertain what parts of his actions were real, what parts were brought on by drug interactions, and what portions that were conjured from the horrors of the disease itself.

“I thought you’d die first,” he said to me.

It became a recurring theme.

He looked at me and then at himself, and wondered why, with all of my obesity, I was still living and he, who was slender, was on the verge of demise.

He wanted to blame God.

But mostly he wanted to blame me.

Even though he felt that I had been generous to him, he insisted that I had withheld just enough to keep him from true success and happiness. He lamented following me all over the country and spoke disparagingly of our adventures.

I started to wonder why I was putting myself through this daily bombardment of accusations. But deep in my soul, however, I knew that at this present moment, I was all R. B. had.

However, it was a little too much for the other members of my family. To their credit, many of them were able to set aside some time to visit R. B. and listen to his ramblings, but no one was willing to take on the daily duty.

About a week after we put him into the lovely hospice, it was decided by the federal government that R. B. did not qualify for this particular home, so he was moved to a less expensive one down the road.

It had less of everything.

Even less hope.

R. B. was about ready to explode with anger—when family showed up from Rhode Island. It was just his younger brother, Johnny. Johnny was quite different from R. B. Johnny was glib, filled with stories, and fancied himself to be humorous. Johnny was curious.

R. B. was glad to see him, but Johnny did little to bolster the dying man’s will to live.

He joked about death.

He joked about how cheap R. B. was.

He even joked about the fact that he had pulled the short straw with their family—which was the only reason he had made the journey.

He did it all in a spirit of jest, and R. B. seemed to laugh along. Matter of fact, the arrival of Johnny was the best thing that had happened to R. B. for several months.

I stood back at a distance and remained supportive. Johnny jumped in, took over R. B.’s finances, living quarters and car. I was a trifle uncomfortable with some of it, but then rebuked myself since it really wasn’t my business.

Everything seemed to be going along pretty well until late one night, when I got a phone call from Johnny.

Things I Learned from R. B. … August 16th, 2020

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 28

It seems that driving on the wrong side of the road is illegal, even in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Sitting at home on a quiet Sunday afternoon, I received a phone call from the local police. I was informed that R. B. was in their custody and that he had given them my phone number—and headquarters was wondering if I would meet the officers down in front of the shopping center near the middle of town.

I wanted to ask questions, but my instinct was that this would be met with resistance—especially since the lady calling would probably not know the specifics anyway.

So I drove down to the parking lot. As I cruised along, I saw R. B. sitting on a bench in front of Jersey Mike’s Subs, with a constable on either side. When he saw me, he waved and cheered.  I parked, got out of my car, walked up and R. B. started blabbering out a story.  When it became obvious that he was not making sense, the kind officers interrupted.

The police had been notified that a red car was driving down the wrong side of the street at about fifteen miles per hour, scattering traffic.

When they arrived on the scene, R. B. had already traveled almost a mile-and-a-half down the main thoroughfare. Yet the officers were able to corral his car and he finally came to a stop, bumping into a fire hydrant.

When they saw him and did a preliminary interview, they found that he was not malicious—nor a drug lord.

He gave them my telephone number and address, so they decided to transfer him into my care. As I gazed at him sitting on the bench, he was so thin that he looked like a marionette between the two puppeteers.

I must tell you—my first instinct was to run. I don’t know what kept me there. Maybe it was propriety. Perhaps I was afraid to object in front of the lawmen.

I agreed.

Somehow, I was able to gather him together, get him into my car, and drove the two-and-a-half miles to my house. He was so exhausted from the experience that he lay down on my upstairs couch and fell fast asleep.

This was the day I had known was coming. Barring an all-out Holy Ghost miracle, R. B. was going to get sicker and sicker.

I knew I couldn’t take him back home. He would just try to drive again—but this time, somebody might get hurt. I made a couple of phone calls to agencies and was blessed by assistance from some angels of mercy, who quickly and efficiently located a hospice for R. B., so he could be under constant care. I was astounded at the mercy extended. How wonderful to live in a country that provides such fail-safes.

When R. B. woke up, I explained that I was going to take him someplace—that he wouldn’t have to worry about cooking, cleaning up, or complaints from the family living below him.

He seemed to be fine with it and settled in. Then it was time for me to leave. It dawned on him that I was departing without him. He was so angry. He swore at me, and with weak and feeble arms, he took a swing—trying to strike me. He was unable to complete his blows, but tears streamed down his face as he gritted his teeth, feeling betrayed.

Maybe he was.

They sedated him. After fifteen minutes, I was able to leave, telling them to let R. B. know that I would return tomorrow.

I went home, realizing it was time to involve his family from Rhode Island—whether they wished to be disturbed or not.

 

Things I Learned from R. B. … August 9th, 2020

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 27

I had never seen the house I rented for R. B. and the single mom with her kids, until one day she called and invited me over. I had refrained from interfering in their arrangement, allowing them to influence their own situation.

But she called me, upset because the house was stinking. She was positive it was coming from the upstairs and R. B.

She was caring—she did realize that he was sick, and that hygiene was not high on his concerns. But her children were complaining, and she felt it was her duty to let me know.

I told her I would be over in the early afternoon, and to let R. B. know of my visit.

Hanging up, I took a good fifteen minutes thinking about what I wanted to do—or maybe not do—upon arriving at the house.

I formulated a plan. I decided to pass on a tour of the downstairs, patted the children on their heads and headed up the narrow staircase to R. B.’s domain.

Rounding to the top, a bit winded because of the steepness of the climb, I looked over in the corner, and there he was, sleeping peacefully on a twin bed with no sheets.

Blessedly for me, Jan and Dollie had come along to assist. Immediately upon reaching the top and looking around, they launched into cleaning. Dollie took dirty clothes and Jan tackled the bathroom, which was speckled from the floor to the walls with what looked like dried human shit.

I decided to work on R. B.

I woke him from his nap, walked him over to a chair, sat him down, got myself a basin of warm water with shampoo, tilted his head back, moistened his hair and began to scrub.

I had never washed anyone’s hair before. His locks were so filthy that it took three pans of water to get them clean. I had no idea what I was washing out of his hair.

I just talked quietly into his ear—about old times, old songs and old promises.

He settled in, totally relaxed, as if it was merely an appointment with a caretaker, performed weekly.

After the washing was done, I grabbed a hair dryer and attempted to carefully brush out all the tangles. He had a huge head of graying strands, knotted, twisted, almost seeming to have no path to straightening.

I just took my time.

I felt silly. I felt pretentious.

But for the most part, I calmed those feelings and stayed focused on him.

It took about an hour and a half to gather the dirty clothes, clean the bathroom and wash R. B.’s hair. When it was done, the room smelled better, his hair was clean, and he was so at peace he had fallen asleep.

Knowing that I couldn’t leave him in the chair, I stirred him just enough to walk him over to his bed.

As I laid him down to sleep, Janet and Dollie brought a clean sheet and a blanket to tuck him in.

I stood over him and just looked at who he was.

I wanted to pray but I didn’t know what to pray. I didn’t know what to say.

The three of us stood quietly, side by side, as if at rigid attention.

Finally, I just proclaimed, “Amen”—to no prayer.

We turned and came down the stairs. The lady of the house continued to explain to us why she had called in the first place—how much she appreciated the assistance and how they all loved R. B.

I just nodded. It seemed ridiculous to me to criticize her for not doing what was painful for me to accomplish.

I didn’t want to wash dried food and shit out of his hair. I didn’t feel noble doing it.

I just felt like it was the only thing available for me to contribute.

Things I Learned from R. B.

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 26

I purchased an old-time gazebo for the front yard of my home on Bayshore Drive. I envisoned it as a place where time could slip away, as two or three friends perched in the gilded cage and talked about important matters of life.

After three treatments of chemotherapy, R. B. requested one of our private sessions—so I suggested we meet in that gazebo, to give us a different perspective, a surrounding of antiquity.

He sat before me with his yellow legal pad and pen in hand. His fingers seemed longer because they were free of flesh—suspended by bone.

He began the discussion by telling me that he had gone from 193 pounds before the cancer to his present weight of 118. I asked him about his chemo and he told me that the doctors were not certain how much shrinkage had occurred in the rectal tumor, but they would take X-rays next week, to gauge whether an operation could provide more Earthly time.

He was amazingly coherent and free of self-pity. Matter of fact, if I had met him the way he was that day in the gazebo, we probably would have been lifelong friends, bonded with mutual respect and devotion.

Everything went well until he brought up the subject of the meeting. He was worried about his bills.

Now, he had not expressed any such concern over the past two years, but all of a sudden, the spirit of a quite-dead father had tormented him from the grave, into fretting over credit rating and propriety.

I was incensed—not mad at R. B., but rather, angry at the human race, because for some reason, we launch out on our teen rebellion and then circle back as old people, defeated, to scrounge at the table of our parents.

Yet I saw a door.

For you see, I did not want to be there for R. B.’s last breath. I did not want to make the funeral arrangements for this man, who was so close, yet so far away.

I suggested that considering his condition, it might be time for him to go back to Rhode Island, to be closer to his family. As I heard myself explain the suggestion, I thought how rational it sounded—almost compassionate.

But R. B.’s reaction was quite different. He was astounded, hurt. He challenged me, asking why I didn’t understand that he had no relationship with his kin—the only family he had was right here and right now.

I was stunned but wanted to be careful. R. B. was a child of God. He deserved a dignified answer and an appropriate ending.

I paused, took a deep breath and replied, “I’m sorry. Of course, we want you to remain here. I just wanted to let you know that if you did feel the urge or the compulsion to return to your loved ones in Rhode Island, we would not be offended.”

His eyes, which had been filled with tears and rage, dried and softened.

We continued our talk. I soon realized that he had no intention of paying his bills. He just wanted me to know that he had a conscience for them. I suggested we take care of these responsibilities after he got on his feet, gained some weight and was on the way to healing.

We only talked about an hour-and-a-half, but he was exhausted. Matter of fact, I asked my son, Jasson, to walk with him to his car, to make sure he wouldn’t fall.

I sat alone in the gazebo as nightfall was creeping its way down our home-town street.

I didn’t know what I thought.

I didn’t know what I felt.

Fortunately for me, it was not an unusual sensation.

 

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