My friend, the piano player, is not long for the world. As I sat with him, giving his wife a needed break to run errands, I felt guilty. A good portion of my being is praying he goes soon and I’m remorseful for the thought. I am sorrowful because I doubt his end will come soon…I doubt it will be an easy passing.
His body, a body used to eighty plus years of hard work, refuses to give up despite a mind ready to move on to the great unknown. Charlie has lung cancer and despite the oxygen he receives is struggling to breathe …and yet he continues to breathe, gasping to hold on, gasping to make me laugh.
In an earlier blog, I wrote he reminded me of Hoagie Carmichael, sitting in front of an upright piano, banging out a tune in Bogart’s and Bacall’s “To Have or Have Not.” Smiling, cracking wise with an unfiltered coffin nail stuck to his lower lip, his mouth twisted into a sly grin. This morning I’m reminded of another piano player, Dooley Wilson as Sam in “Casablanca.” I’m reminded of the love song he sang, “As Time Goes By”, but only because Charlie’s time is passing slowly as he awaits the kiss of death. “A kiss is but a kiss….”
A master carpenter when not banging away at the piano, Charlie told me he kept looking at the ceiling above his bed, seeing the imperfections and thinking how bad the builders were…laughing he admitted to being one of those builders. “We really could have done a better job.” I could see no imperfections.
“Why don’t we go sit on the porch. We can roll you out there. A little sunlight might do you good.”
He agreed, and I helped him into the wheelchair before realizing the portable oxygen bottle was in his wife’s car. Sometimes it is not the blind leading the blind, it’s the blind leading the stupid.
We talked about death and what it means. My thoughts on death have always been personal and I’ve kept them private. Speaking to someone so close to death about death is uncomfortable and disconcerting. Still…I opened my own soul. I’ve always believed “energy can be neither created nor destroyed, only changed” which is the basis for my spiritual beliefs, but you shouldn’t say that to someone whose energy is dwindling…should you?
He made me laugh when he asked if I feared death. I answered, “No, just dying hard.”
Smiling and nodding his head, he responded, “Yeah, me too”, followed by a laugh that turned into a coughing spell.
Charlie tired out quickly and I tried to let him sleep. He was like a young child, fighting sleep tooth and nail. He would be silent, eyes closed, and then, as if rallying, struggled to begin a new conversation.
In between naps and gasps, he spoke of times gone by, people he knew, many now gone. Hopes of glorious reunion. I wonder…I wonder if his faith is stronger than mine.
I wrote the following death scene for a yet unpublished book entitled Paradise. It was written with an attitude of hope. I hope Charlie walks into the light. I hope we all walk into the light “As (our) Time Goes By.”
The old man could hear voices in his sleep. They seemed familiar. He opened his eyes to a bright light…. There was no glare and he didn’t have to squint. It was soft and warm, welcoming. Figures were silhouetted against it. Three he could discern but there seemed to be others just beyond his sight.
“Allen Kell…wake up! It’s time.” The old man smiled because he recognized Lucretia’s voice.
“Lucretia…time for what?”
“It’s your time…your time to move to the light. There are people here who want to see you. I want to see you. It’s been a long time and I’ve missed you terribly.”
“Who’s there with you Lucretia? I can’t quite make them out.”
“Cassandra and Josey…but there are others. Don’t be scared. It is glorious, and we can all be together.”
“Together,” The old man found himself on his feet, in a body he didn’t quite remember. He wore the old Garibaldi shirt from the war, an old slouch hat was in his left hand. With his right he reached for Lucretia’s hand…except it was all their hands it seemed. Lucretia’s along with Cassandra’s and Josey’s. There were more people from his past. Sean, with his leprechaun grin, waving at him. Alexandre’ decked out in his fresh mourning suit and smiling broadly. Shailene in a mauve gown whose bodice defied gravity. James, Momma and Papa Edwards…and more.
“Come, Allen Kell. We are here to help you reach the light. Your time on earth is done. You should not be afraid.”
“Afraid? No Lucretia, I’m not scared. I’ve missed you. I love you, just lead and I will follow.”
“Come, Paradise beckons.” and he was gone.
Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM
Don Miller writing under the nom de plume of Lena Christenson can be found at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07B6BDD19