He’s Gone Now

Posted by on Mar 5, 2011 in Clinical Examples

‘Yup, old Joe’s gone. Look at his poor little house. Used to be bright and cheery. It’s run down and the roof is caving in. But the Cherry Tree remembers’.
“I come by every spring just to remind myself of old Joe and the good and bad times we had. I wanted to keep his place looking half decent but it isn’t my business. His kids keep fighting over the property and so nothing gets fixed and now it’s beyond repair”.
” But the Cherry Tree remembers. Every spring it blossoms like this and every summer it’s covered with cherries that the neighbours pick. He planted it when he built the place. He loved cherries and used to fire off his 1 barrel 12 gauge shot gun to scare the kids off when they came to help themselves. But after awhile he decided he loved kids more than cherries, so he’d open the window and yell. ‘Aha. Caught you stealing my cherries again. They’d be heading for the road then he’d yell. It’s okay. You can steal my cherries if you pick a few for me’. They would bring him ½ a small bucket then he’d make a cherry pie and tell them stories of his life while they gobbled it up. Sometimes they left him a piece.”
Turning to the man in rain jacket and floppy hat standing beside him in the rain’s slow drip under the pine. “I don’t know who you are or why I’m telling you this. I guess I wish someone would tell his story and I can’t write because my spelling is so bad.”
“I’m Stan. I’ve often driven past this place painted bright blue with white trim and guessed there must be a story. Please tell me”.
“I’m Mac. That’s why we called the boat, “Mac & Joe”. Joe became my best friend and it wasn’t just because he hired me when no one else would. You see my left hand is a hook. Had it since I was a teenager. Stupid doc was drunk and put the cast on too tight.. They had to amputate when it became gangrenous. There’s no describing the pain. Even now 68 years later I get excruciating phantom pain in the hand that isn’t there.”
“I bet it’s nothing like the pain in your heart when you think about all you could have achieved with two good hands”.
“Damn it. How did you know? I hate doctors and I hate alcohol and all it does to ruin good people”.
” Take it easy Mac. I know because I’m a recently retired doc. I have seen lots of bitterness and despair as people try to adjust to missing parts of themselves.
“Sorry Doc. I didn’t mean you. I guess you’re decent”.
“Well I come here because I really miss Joe. But every time I come I feel so sad and mad I wish I had stayed home by the fire even if it meant listening to my wife nag. Why can’t she be like this cherry tree. It’s pretty, fruitful and faithful. My wife is none of these. She never was. I wish you could talk to me, tree. What was he like toward the end?
“I was so hurt and bitter, I dropped out of school at 16 and drifted out to the west coast from Moose Jaw during the dirty thirties. If I had 2 good hands I could have stayed to help dad and might have inherited 1 ½ sections of good loam. I feel bad because my younger brother left to become a sneaky layer. When dad got hurt they had to sell everything for a song.
It isn’t hard to imagine my struggle, trying to get any kind of work with one hand when good men with 2 good hands couldn’t find anything, even at 1 buck an hour. I’m standing in a line at the soup kitchen chatting to a guy a little older than myself but looking like he really had been trough the wringer. Said he was a fisherman but because the prices of fish were so low and the price of gas so high, nobody could make a go of it. Gas was real cheap compared to prices now but they got only 5 cents a pound for white spring salmon. So his boss just tied up the troller and like everyone else, came here to get pretty thin soup while he lived on the boat. We quickly became friends. He promised to hire me if he ever got a boat of his own. I said, ‘Yeah, yeah. No offense I hope but I’ve heard that line many times’ Joe said his word was his honor and he always kept it”.
” A few years later, although times are better because of the war, we’re both in the soup kitchen line up again. ‘How’s fishing, Joe'”
“I’m on the beach. Mac. My boss went off to war and the packing company repossessed his boat. Otherwise I would have taken over for him. The army had rejected me because of poor eyesight.”
“I guess he didn’t understand why I was smiling. ‘Well I guess you’d be interested in the Government add I just read. It said they had confiscated hundreds of fishing boats from the Japanese and they are now for sail, dirt cheap”
“Joe jumped for it. Sold everything he had and bought a lovely 36 ft troller with all its gear for a song”.
“Mac, I want to hire you as deckhand”.
“Thanks Joe but you got it right, deckhand. Remember I’ve only got one.”
“Sorry Joe, I had forgotten. But I gave you my word and my word is my honor. Meet you at fisherman’s wharf at 4 am. At least you can cook with one hand”.
“Poor Joe, I was so eager to give it a try, I didn’t tell him I couldn’t cook worth a hoot.”.
On board, we hit it off right away. We had good times and bad, but we made money. I was his eyes when steering and he was my 2 hands when running the gurdies hauling in beautiful big fish. I did learn to clean fish with one hand almost as fast as he did, and that was pretty fast”.
“We even had a double wedding. My wife couldn’t produce kids but Joe and Jane had 5. They were happy until his oldest son drowned while fishing with his dad when I couldn’t go out because I got Tb. Joe had really put pressure on Jake to help out until I got better. Jane strongly opposed it. She would sadly shake her head, ‘He’ll drown. I know it’
Jake was a good lad and studying hard at university. But he was so mad at having to leave his studies that he began to drink. Joe deeply loved his oldest but was no good at discipline. He often pleaded. ‘Jake please don’t drink like this'”
“Why not? You drink everyday”
“Only after we drop anchor or put out the parachute and then only a bit of rum to warm up”
“One miserable stormy late afternoon, when they should have had a harbour day, Jake was loaded. He lost his balance reaching for the leader and quietly went over the side. His father in the wheelhouse didn’t hear him yelling over the engine and wind sound roaring. By the time Joe realized something was wrong and swung the boat around there was no sign of Jake. Joe knew it was futile but he pulled up the gear and kept searching into the late night even thought the wind was picking up and gusting to 45 knots. Friends told me Joe was so dog-tired and upset he hit the rocks and nearly sank getting into port.”
“Jane would not let up. By the time I was in shape to work with Joe he was truly into the bottle. I almost quit many times because he was making serious errors in judgment. Maybe he was trying to kill himself. So the combination of her screaming at him and his misery meant that when we had sold the fish and tied up, Joe stayed aboard and drank till we were scheduled to go out again. The result was he seldom saw his other kids. No one was surprised when Jane took off with the 4 kids, most of his valuable tools and persuaded the judge she was abuse so she got most of the assets. When the dirty dust settled, Joe had barely enough to build this tiny house on ½ acre in what was then trees and bush”.
“Joe got dry but it was too late. His kids seldom came to see him. His boat needed a new engine and some of the planking behind the freezer in the hold was rotten. Joe had no funds so he sold the boat for a very little. He tried making a little market garden here. To get by he scrimped on good food and gradually his health and his mind packet it in”.
” They put him in a government run “Home for the Aged”. Now he was without, his good old boat, the ocean he loved so well, his family and his friends. I visited and we played cards but I couldn’t get him to talk about his grief. The institution’s doc referred him to a shrink who after a short talk, put him on fairly heavy doses of 2 antidepressants. He became a little more cheerful but couldn’t remember my name or any one else. He had made friends in the place but they couldn’t make sense of what he was trying to say. After a discussion with the son and daughter who lived nearby, they put him into a more intensive care facility. Losing the last friends he had and being easily confused by the move, he went steadily down”.
“The one son and his only daughter were approached by the attending doc. “Your dad has had a pretty good life. I know you both find it a burden to keep visiting him although you have both been here quite regularly. I can see how you hate to see him suffer like this and there isn’t anything more we can do. Maybe it’s time to let him go. Just think about it and let me know tomorrow. We could really use his bed for someone who would truly benefit’.
“Jimmy and his sister Kathy had a brief discussion in the hall. ‘Jimmy, my husband is getting agitated by all the time I spend with dad'”
“I know Kate. I could use the time to go fishing with young Joseph. And frankly, although I know his place isn’t worth much, if we sold it there might be enough to make it possible to buy a boat big enough I could take all the kids and we could camp on the island. So I agree with the Doc. I only wonder what do they intend to do. I don’t agree with this euthanasia stuff”
“The physician answered him later. ‘We’ll just let nature take it’s course’.”
“Jimmy was my godson and had my skepticism about modern medicine. ‘Yes doctor, but what does that mean?'”.
“We’ll just withhold fluids and nutrition. He’ll quietly pass away. I can refer you to a good mortician who won’t let him look too thin at the funeral”.
“‘Okay doctor, go ahead”. Jimmy told me later that he could tell his sister didn’t really agree but she didn’t say anything.”
“So Joe didn’t get any food or even water. The staff wouldn’t wet his lips when they were cracked and bleeding. Jimmy, Kathy and I kept visiting, watching Joe starve to death and go through the agonies of fluid loss. It was worse watching die like this because we all remembered how when times were really tough, Joe would eat almost nothing so his family had enough on their plates.”
“At the end, I couldn’t go to that institution any more. I could not stand idly by and watch my best friend dying because no one would give him even a sip of water. Whenever I was alone with him, he would call out in a most pitiable way, ‘Mac are you there? Please Mac, I’m so God awful dry’. They caught me trying to give him a drink and booted me out with ‘You are just prolonging his suffering. Don’t you have any compassion?'”
“I was so mad I had to go far away or I would have burned the place down and ended all their suffering”
“He eventually died. I buried him at sea like I know he would have wanted. I’ve always admired sea gulls. This time a big flock came around as we committed the body to the ocean and his soul to his Maker. They cried like I’ve never heard seagull cries before”.
” I saw Jimmy weeping. ‘And to think we starved him to death. My loyal old dad who would have given us his last crust’.”
“Very shortly after Kathy became so depressed she needed medicating and now is in no fit state to care for her children.”
As for me I had to do something for this really wonderful guy who probably saved my life by giving me a job. Just before he became unconscious, I told him how grateful I was and that I wouldn’t abandon him. Yet I wasn’t there at the end. So that is partly why I keep coming here to remember and to pay my respects. Each spring, the cherry tree and I remember”.
“And now so will I remember” said Dr. Stan. “Your story Mac, gives me added incentive to stop this nonsense they call euthanasia. When grief is complicated by guilt, it seldom ends, Mac.”