Saturday, 15 February 2014

Jim ♥

"It all ended too soon".

Alzheimer's disease took hold of my mother very quickly.  I saw the warning signs early on, as I did with my grandmother before her - strange behaviours that were so out of character and could not be explained - but by the time we finally secured a diagnosis, the disease was aggressively consuming my mother.

One day Mom's case worker Cheri came to the condo to meet with us, and she asked Mom what she was feeling.  With little expression (yet another thing that Alzheimer's robbed her of) she said: "It all ended too soon".  I can still see Mom sitting in the living room with the winter sun streaming in through the floor to ceiling windows as she stared straight ahead...and my heart broke.  I didn't want this all to end...I wasn't ready for this all to end...I didn't know how to stop it and I was so scared to see her so scared.

Funny how life works...as Mom's condition worsened her brother Jim started making a point of coming in to Toronto to visit her every few months.  He would stay at the condo, they would spend their days together and come visit the rest of us.  He was always loving and patient.  They would do little things...like go to A&W for a bite of lunch...something that they had enjoyed when they were younger.

And then Dad got sick.  Davie and I started making calls to let people know that Dad was going in for an emergency bypass and Mom was being crisis-placed into long-term care (her Alzheimer's was galloping and Dad could not return home if she was there - it was a health risk), all on the same weekend.

Within hours of calling Jim, he called me back.  His flight was arranged, he would come in from Vancouver on the Friday and he would help us through Mom's placement and then through Dad's surgery.  No-one asked him to come.  He just did it.  He knew we were alone, and he stepped in to care for his sister's kids.

He stayed with us during the endless hours of surgery, sitting, waiting, worrying...all the while comforting us.  Things changed that trip.

We were always close with Jim.  He was a wonderful uncle.  So loving and nice and without airs.  I remember always feeling safe with him.  And what a sense of humour.  As a little girl I would call him Uncle Jim.  He would respond by calling me Niece Naomi.  He was just plain Jim.  No pretense, no attitude.  Hanging out with him was always fun, we could just be ourselves...it didn't matter if David ran wild or if I was a little sucky, he loved us unconditionally.

My mother always adored him.  He was her "Jimmy Da Guy".  They were born 4 years apart, and grew up together in Regina, going to the same high school - Central Collegiate.  As far back as I can remember, her face would light up when his name was mentioned, and in the later years she would get so excited at the mere mention of his name,  her whole face brightening when he walked into her room.

Things changed in that summer of 2009.  After Jimmy returned home, he started calling more frequently, and the calls lasted longer.  What had always been a good and loving relationship grew into something more.

Jim became my mentor.  He became my dear friend.  He helped me through the devastating ongoing loss of my mother to Alzheimer's, and saved me from drowning in the abyss of grief that was consuming me.  We could relate to each other.  We had so much in common...too much to start listing here.

I loved our conversations...he would always include a story from the past - he knew I was writing this blog, and that I was desperately trying to reconnect the dots from yesteryear...so part-way through the conversation - out of the blue - he would tell me a story about my mom, or their Zaida Sam, or Bubbie Gertie.  It was like waiting for the prize in a cereal box...the cereal was delicious and thoroughly enjoyable, but you knew at some point the prize would suddenly come pouring out.

He taught me to stand up for myself, and not to get mired in duty and obligation.  He taught me to listen to my inner voice and to believe in myself.  He loved me unconditionally.  And so I loved him...unconditionally.

As time went on and Mom's condition worsened he continued to come to Toronto.  He stayed with us.  Becca happily vacated her room for Jimmy's visits.  They were an event we looked forward to.  It was hard for him to get away.  My aunt had been sick and he did not want to leave her, and they were growing their newly acquired business.  But he made the trips in to see his sister and her family when he could.  They were wonderful times spent together.  And when the trips had to stop, the calls increased in frequency. With me and with our daughters.  The cards came for every occasion - birthdays and holidays were never forgotten.  He had adopted Carol's family as his own.

Last summer we came to look at this house.  When we walked upstairs and saw the 4th bedroom we all agreed unanimously that it was "Jimmy's Room".  Finally Jimmy Da Guy would have a room of his own when he came to stay!  We told him about it excitedly, and then informed him that he would have to share it with Jack, who we were torn up about moving away from.  No problem said Jimmy.

On the day we closed this house, November 8th, I got a call at the old house as I was rushing to change from work and take the girls over to the new place.  It was Jimmy.  I told him he had 2 minutes to talk while I changed because we had just closed the new house...and in that moment life changed forever.

I could hear it in his voice.  He offered to call back later when it was a good time.  I declined - talk to me Jimmy.  My heart sunk.  I thought something happened with my aunt.  Time slowed as he told me that he hadn't been feeling well...they'd just found out...he had cancer.  We talked, Jimmy, Barb and I.  They gave me details and facts and promised to keep me posted.

The next month was a whirlwind.  I am not one to go online and self-diagnose.  I know you can get a lot of misinformation that way.  So I waited to hear the information, diagnoses, etc. directly from Jim.

At first the calls remained frequent.  But I listened differently.  I absorbed every word, and lived fully in the moment, keenly aware of how finite time is.  He still told me stories, but there was an urgency to get them out now.  We talked about his family...oh how he loved his family.  His wife, my aunt Barb, his kids Jessica and Adam, and their families.  He would tell me stories about them all with such pride in his voice.

Then, in one specific call some of the filters came off and he was even more honest than before.  He couldn't sleep and would call me - 4 a.m. in British Columbia is 7:00 a.m. in Toronto - and we'd chat.  I said I wanted to talk as long and as often as he was able, but that he needed to tell me if it was too much and I would understand if we needed to cut a call short.  He said that he "loved talking to me, not just because he loved me, which he did, but because I sound just like his sister".  It was in that moment that I realized that Jimmy and I helped to heal each other from the resounding, ongoing loss of Carol.

I stopped calling first.  He was so tired and we agreed it was best if he called me when it was a good time for him.  Then those calls slowed...he was tired and slept often.

The last story he shared was during a call in mid December.  I was standing in the kitchen at the "Golden Girls phone" (the wall phone) and he told me how he got the nickname "Jimmy Da Guy".  In Regina, there was a sports stadium then-called Taylor Field, now known as Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field.   My Regina family love football and are huge Saskatchewan Roughriders fans.  Zaida Sam used to attend the games, and the ticket taker (this is back in the 1940s and early 1950s) was a man they all called Jimmy Da Guy.  My uncle Jim was a little boy and Zaida Sam started calling him by that moniker.  It stuck and I still call him that to this day.

In January we got a call that Jimmy's condition was worsening...it was time to come out and see him while he was still well enough to have a meaningful visit.  Dad, David and Naomi went out to Victoria on January 17th.

We spent a week with Jimmy and Barb, my cousin Jessica and her partner Alex, Barb's parents Rose and Stan, and on the last night, my uncle Van (Mom and Jim's brother).

I brought Bubbie Lou's recipes...the Rabbi talked about being born into the world and being born out of it. I wanted Jim to experience the food flavours and smells from the beginning of his life at the end of his life.  Jessica made him his favourite cookie - mun bagel.  He ate them and I saw the pride in his smile when he realized that his precious daughter, who does not bake, baked them for him.  Rose and I made him hamentashen - Bubbie Gertie's recipe, and he ate those too.  He had been asking for that recipe since he first got sick...repeatedly telling me how he and Barb were craving them.  It was a little thing, but I'd like to think that it made him happy.

We said what we had to, we said our goodbyes...we got that chance - something that none of us could do with Mom because she was so afraid.  Jimmy generously gave us that chance.  To the very end he put others first, worrying about the people he loved, wanting to make sure that we would all be okay, and take care of each other.  He was the purest, kindest soul I've ever known.

We lost our beloved Jim on February 3rd, 2014.  I know he is up there, at peace, watching down on us, now as our guardian angel in heaven instead of on earth.  I also know that one day we will be together again in the world to come.  But until that day, I will remember him, every day, with a smile for his goodness and tear for what is no more.

I love you Jimmy Da Guy...it ended all too soon