Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Under different circumstances, we probably would not have been friends. He was a black former truck driver in his 60’s and I was a white hospice nurse in my 40’s_____but friends we were!

I first met him when there was no longer any curative treatment for his terminal lung cancer. He well understood what was happening to him, what hospice care meant and why his family had requested our help. There was also an understanding, however unspoken, that I was not to dwell on his illness and certainly not discuss his approaching death. Thus, my visits to his home took on more of a social aspect.

He had lost a great deal of weight during the time he had been waging his battle against cancer. His trousers (no pajamas for this one!) were always in danger of slipping down. One day I brought him a bright red pair of suspenders. They had been given to me, but with a short, pear shaped figure, suspenders were not exactly in my fashion plan. He seemed so pleased with his gift and on each visit there after, until he could no longer get out of his bed, the suspenders were proudly worn.

It is always safer and easier to talk about the past, and this is what he chose to do. He would amaze me with his unlimited knowledge of the highways and roads across this country. He had loved to drive his truck and it became clear from his tales that he had obviously been a driver when they were still considered “Gentlemen of the Road”. When my husband and I planned a drive to Washington, D.C., he offered the best route to take and many points of interests. Similarly, when we were driving to our Colorado vacation cabin, he quickly named all the little towns we drove through and the correct farm-to-market roads.

He forgave me for being a transplanted “Okie” and loved to share stories of his Army days in Oklahoma. There was never any malice when he recounted incidents of discrimination. They were told very matter of fact, yet I could feel the pain.

He endured my endless ‘Aggie’ jokes---always laughing at the appropriate times! He tolerated my ignorance of sports. We would exchange the latest (and usually dismal) results of the Oilers. We both questioned the intelligence of the firing of Bum a few years earlier. I would recount an outstanding play(by the opposing team!). I didn’t have to tell him that I had been coached by my husband in the difference between a wide-receiver and a tight-end.

So much can be conveyed without words, it wasn’t necessary to talk about old regrets or new fears. He would speak about his family with such love and pride, yet he could not verbalize his inner feelings. His wife knew that he loved her...but she still wanted to hear the words.

It was during these few precious months that we each grew to share, to respect our differences and to prepare for what could not be avoided. As his time was running out, a certain peace appeared to come over him. There were longer periods of silence, but there was also a warm smile always present.

I suppose ours was not such an unusual friendship after all, when you consider it was built on mutual respect, honesty, trust, tolerance, humor and compassion. Aren’t these the very same qualities we all seek in a friendship?

When I went to pay my last respects to my dear friend, there was that ever present smile on his face, as though he knew a special secret. He looked so peaceful and handsome in his new blue suit and red suspenders.

Dedicated to ‘Earl’ with gratitude for sharing your legacy with me.

1 comment:

Bz said...

Ohhh .... big sighs and teary eyes. I know you touched so many people. I know this. They were lucky to have you. And your help, I know, had to make the unavoidable a wee bit more so bearable.