Sunday, May 4, 2008

Tribute to a Gentle Man


















This evening my friend with Alzheimer's disease passed away. Fortunately, I was not called upon to make any decisions, as nature seemed to take its course. He fell into a coma three days ago and I'm very happy that the staff were able to keep him comfortable as he slowly slipped away. As I spent part of each day with him I know this was so. When I left the hospital this evening his breathing rate was high but not distressed. I put my hand on his forehead and squeezed his shoulder but there was no response. I did not expect to see him again and indeed just two hours later the nurse called with the news. Thus my custodial job is done for this man.

So let me tell you a little about him. He was born in Toronto in 1923, son of a pharmacist who sadly lost his pharmacy during the years of the Great Depression. He went from high school into the Canadian Air Force and served several years as a mechanic, at first in England and then in Germany.

After discharge from the Air Force he studied Pharmacy in Ontario and eventually went to the University of Saskatchewan to earn a degree in the subject. There he met the woman who was to later become his wife although they did not marry until they were 35 years old. He continued his education in Pharmacy with a Master's degree at the University of Toronto and finally, at the University of Purdue, earned a PhD in Pharmacognosy, which is the study of medicines derived from natural sources.

Then he was able to marry his love who had been his instructor in Pharmacy in Saskatchewan and after a year in North Carolina they returned to Canada in 1960 to take up positions in the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of British Columbia . In 1961 I came to Vancouver and worked at the Faculty and thus they entered my life, with his wife becoming one of by best friends. In fact she always called herself my big sister for she was 12 years older.

When she died of a brain tumour in 1986, my friend took early retirement for he could not bear to go by her former office every day. Childless and with no relatives, he became part of my family and I was his "next of kin". He spent his time with his various interests until he was overtaken by Alzheimer's Disease, which I wrote about before.

He was a very formal man, such a contrast to his wife who was from the Prairies. He always wore a suit when he left the house, even to go to a doctor's appointment. He had a great sense of humour and was a very social man so the years after his wife died were not easy for him. He loved to cook until his disease prevented that and every year he made a Christmas cakes and gave them to his friends. Gardening was his joy but the disease took that from him too, however we hired a gardener to look after his garden and they became great friends until he left his house. He had many interests and he seemed to be a subscriber to many periodicals which I discovered when I started to help him sort out his affairs. He was also a very charitable man who gave money to many causes and to the various universities he had attended.

I am so grateful that he retained his good disposition throughout it all, for his caregivers all liked him and today as I was speaking with his aide she began to cry. She told me she had grown very fond of him. I am so grateful to the people at that facility for the wonderful care they gave this man. Even when I worked in the Acute Care Pavilion at the hospital I always said the people who worked in Extended Care were saints for the loving kindness and respect they showed towards these elderly residents. I thank them for making this man's dying process as comfortable as it could possibly be.

Peace be with you my friend, your journey is done.



Actually my job is not quite done as I do have tasks to finish this week. I know you will forgive my intermittent visits as I take care of these matters.


22 comments:

Nunyaa said...

My thoughts are with you JMB and am sure your friend knew and was thankful he had a friend like you in his life.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

That was a well written tribute to your friend. I am glad that you did not have the burden of making a decision in the end and that he slipped away peacefully. God bless him.

Tom Paine said...

He was lucky to have you. There's nothing worse than to be truly alone in such a situation and you ensured he never was. Life has no greater gift than a true friend.

My maternal grandmother also had Alzheimer's. She had been a piece-work presser in a textile factory for decades and was physically very strong. She was very special to me and it was hard to see her like that. Sometimes when I visited she would hug me in an uncharacteristic and very un-English way and at other times she wouldn't know me.

Sadly, she did become cantankerous. She would lash out at the carers and had such powerful arms from decades of physical jerks with a heavy steam press that it was a real problem. Then she would come to herself, remember what she had done and sit crying with embarrassment. It was awful.

I remember being with my paternal grandfather in his final weeks. His mind was sharp, but his body had collapsed. He was feeling sorry for himself and I remember telling him that it was much, much better than the opposite, especially as every member of his family except me lived close and he had a constant stream of visitors to talk to. Normally, there is nothing more irritating than being told that there are worse troubles than your own, but he thought about it and perked up. We talked a lot after that and he gave me sage advice which I try hard (and mostly fail) to live by. He died with immense dignity - comforting his grieving family, which was a bit ripe. I am glad I was lucky to have the chance properly to say goodbye, as I never could to my grandmother.

I feel for you in your grief.

Janice Thomson said...

What a poignant tribute to your friend JMB. How wonderful he passed peacefully - I'm sure this was largely due to the compassion and friendship you gave so freely. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Sarabeth said...

Such a lovely tribute, JMB.

Carver said...

Beautiful tribute to your friend JMB. I am so glad that they were able to keep him comfortable at the end. You will be in my thoughts. Take good care of yourself, Carver

Sean Jeating said...

Your friend may rest in peace, and you, jmb, please allow me not only to bow with deep felt respect, but hug you tenderly.

Dr.John said...

What a nice tribute to your friend.

leslie said...

My sincere condolences, jmb, on the loss of your good friend. He was very lucky to have you as someone he could rely upon to take care of his wishes. He sounds like he was an awesome individual and I'm glad he received great care to his last moments.

My own dear mother passed away from Alzheimers, and I know first-hand what a wicked disease it is. It's so painful to watch loved ones disappear before you but I feel confident that he knew you were there for him.

Come back when you can.

Tai said...

Take care JMB, I'm glad you both had the pleasure of each others company.

Liz said...

He sounds a wonderful man and I'm so glad his end was peaceful and did not involve you in decision-making. Thank God for his life. And for a friend such as you.

God bless you as you prepare for the fuenral and sorting-out.

jams o donnell said...

What a beautiful tribute jmb. My thoughts are with you.

CherryPie said...

What a lovely post, it brought tears to my eyes. It is good that you both shared a wonderful friendship.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

A wonderful tribute to your friend who suffered from the cruellest disease that there is, jmb. I don't know what words of comfort I can offer you, except to say that he is at peace now and you, dear friend, did all that anyone could. Take care of yourself during this difficult time, dear jmb.

Moggs said...

JMB, So sorry to hear about your friend, I think it is nice that you have made this small memorial to him.

Now anyone who reads this will know something of the man and see him how you did.

CalumCarr said...

What a wonderful tribute, jmb.

Thankfully he knew how much you cared.

Take care now and we'll see you as and when you are ready.

Lil Jimmy said...

I echo Nunyaa and Tom Paine here.

Smalltown RN said...

OH JMB I am so sorry for your loss, how wonderful for him that he had you as a friend and were there for him when he needed you.....my thoughts are with you and your friend.

Ian Lidster said...

Condolences to you in your loss. I think Alzheimers is one of the cruelest afflictions and I truly hope and pray I escape its wrath. When it strikes the intelligent and productive it's even worse.

jmb said...

Thanks to everyone who left comments on this post. I am very grateful to you all for visiting and commenting.

Alzheimer's is indeed a cruel disease and as more of the other diseases are cured or treated effectively this one looms larger in more lives every year. And not only in the life of the sufferer but all those about him/her are affected to an enormous extent. May there soon be a cure or an effective treatment.

regards to you all
jmb

byrningbunny said...

I know it is sad to lose a friend, even when you believe it is the best option for them. I'm sorry for your loss and appreciated the kind words you shared about your "kin".

Sienna said...

What a beautiful tribute to such a fine person, and a disease that ravages people's minds so much...affecting not only them but family and friends as well.

There cannot be enough research into Alzheimer's...may he rest in peace, and bless you for being there for him.

Pam