Jul 17th 2008

Warren. Friendship, pain and loss, for him, for me

Posted in Helen & Warren, Izzy

Warren and Izzy. Deep affection. Warren and I are working this weekend on another poem about Helen, this one he wants to call “Ghosts.” I hope to post it Sunday.

 July 17, 2008 – Warren had some tests this week and has some decisions to make. He says at 81 years of age, he is not about to waste valuable resources on any major medical procedures for him. And that was that. I didn’t even pursue it, nor was it my business too.
  Hospice volunteers come and go, and pop up in different places, and even though it isn’t forbidden, friendships are discouraged for obvious reasons. You are there to listen and help, and friendship ought to be a mutual relationship. Hospice work is not a mutual relationship. Somebody is dying, and you are there to help them and their families. There is nothing mutual about that, and they should never be burdened, as friends are, with your troubles and sorrows. You leave them at the door, or don’t come in.
  Yet Warren and I have been through a lot of powerful experiences, including the loss of his wife Helen, and his profound grief. He is 81 years old, and has  mounting health issues, and talks all the time about getting his affairs in order and rejoining Helen. He could be around for a very long time. Or not.
  I was his hospice volunteer, and am now his bereavement volunteer. We have been through a lot together, been in some circumstances too emotional or intimate to relate. We have written poems together, shared seasons, talked about life and family and spent some time of each week for months. We have seen some things together than no one else has seen, and have many memories and shared many secrets.
  Sitting in his living room, I realized a number of things today. We are friends, and it is a strong friendship. He always asks about me, and I have been more candid with him about my life, sharing more of it.  We know one another well, and can read each other’s moods.
   Warren is a stubborn, prideful and sometimes willful man, but he is also generous, loving and fiercely loyal and stoic. We always have fun together, even in dreadful times.
   I realized today that I miss Helen. She and I became quite close, as I read her poems and prayers, wrote stories and poems about her life and had the very personal relationship between a photographer and subject. What is more intimate than death? and she and I joked and talked about this to the very end. I told her she wasn’t the Queen of England, and she complained that I was pushing her around, making her work.
  Hours before she died, she blew me a kiss and waved goodbye. 
  I miss some of the other good people I have known in hospice, and their loving and devoted families. Hospice work is not depressing, but it is, I suppose sad, in that you get to know people well, watch them die, and then quickly move on. That has not happened with Warren. I am still there, and will remain there, as he was with his wife Helen.
  He and I could hardly be more different, or more comfortable with each other. Life is, in fact, strange.
  It is important, I thought, to stop and remember these people I have met, many of whom I have loved, remember laughing with Helen, hearing stories from Glen about his dog Pal. They deserve to be remembered, and I owe it to myself  to remember them, and mourn their loss.
  I wanted to prepare Warren for my upcoming book tour, and I told him about it and said I would be gone, on and off, for some time but would stay in touch. 
  “Jon,” he said, “I am very glad you are going. I feel you and the other people in hospice have sacrificed a lot for us and for others, and I am very happy to hear that you are going to get away for awhile.”
  I said I had sacrificed nothing, and that hospice was  a gift to me, including the friendship that had grown between us.
   But I told Warren that today,  I felt a wave of sorrow for the good people I have met in hospice, most of whom are gone, and especially for Helen. And then I caught myself and remembered the training, and remembered that line of conversation was not appropriate, that this is about Warren’s grief and not mine, and it was time to move on.
  And so we did.