Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Man Who Lost Everything and Nothing At All

R.I.P. Bill 1920-2016 (I took the liberty of inserting some songs I listened to this week as I wrote this)

  My friend Bill died last Monday at the age of 96. I lived down the block from Bill for the 22 years I’ve lived in Iowa. For the first dozen or so years we only met on weekend mornings. I’d walk Queenie the beagle and her son Tuffy the half beagle to the Jiffy for beef stick treats and see Bill walking his Cairn Terrier Mindy on North Center Street. We would pet each other’s dogs and talk about the Hawkeyes in football or basketball season.

  I didn’t know how old Bill was but I knew he was quite a bit older than I was and a lot taller as well. Sometimes Kathy and I would see Bill drive his wife Marilyn and daughter Becky down the street or see them at the K-Mart but for many years we never talked except on our walks. I never saw Bill walking too much in the winter but when I’d see him in the spring he’d give Queenie a big pet and say “Good to see you made it through the winter, Queenie old girl!”

  In the summer when Kathy and I would walk Queenie and Tuffy on the weekend we’d see Bill, Marilyn, Becky, and Mindy on their front porch and visit with them for a few minutes. I’d see Bill on his riding lawn mower doing his lawn and the lawns on the two houses next to his. I asked him about it one time and he told me that he owned all three houses, with Becky living in half of one and renting out the rest.

  When Queenie and Tuffy passed away within weeks of each other in the fall of 2010, we didn’t see too much of Bill since we had no dogs to walk. The week after we got Daisy and Baxter in December of 2010 Kathy and I put them in our coats and walked down to visit Bill and Marilyn. They were as enamored by the little beagle pups as we were and we visited a lot more after that. When we saw them on the porch during the summer on our afternoon walks we would stop and visit sometimes for an hour or more.

  Less than a year after Queenie and Tuffy died, Mindy had a sudden illness and passed away. Bill, Marilyn, and Becky were devastated. It reminded me a lot of how I felt after losing Queenie and Tuffy but after a few weeks they got a new Cairn terrier named Abby and life continued. Seeing their joy with Abby and our joy with Daisy and Baxter helps me to realize that while the last few days, weeks, or months of a pet’s life is truly awful it’s the price to be paid for the happiness they bring.

  Soon after getting Abby, Bill started having blackouts. It was taken care of by medicine but his doctors thought it wasn’t a good idea for him to drive any more. I was worried for Bill because I remember when my grandpa hurt his back at the age of 96 and couldn’t drive his health deteriorated quickly and he was gone within weeks. That wasn’t Bill though. He wasn’t happy about not driving but still looked forward to having Becky take him and Marilyn to his favorite diner for lunch or out shopping.

  Later on Bill’s hips started hurting so much that he had a lot of trouble walking. He said one of his few regrets was not getting hip replacements in his 70’s because he was too old to have them done now. It was not only hard for him to walk – he also had trouble just getting comfortable in a chair. Bill rarely discussed his hips and when he did it was in a matter of fact tone without a hint of complaint.

  A couple of years ago Bill and Marilyn’s son Terry got sick and died. He was 71 so he wasn’t a young man by any means, just in comparison to his 90+ year old parents. When I was 11 my 18 year old sister died in an accident. My parents were never the same after that so I marveled at how Bill and Marilyn put aside their sadness and continued on even though I knew they had to be even more devastated then when Mindy died.

  Earlier this year Marilyn passed away at the age of 93. Kathy and I visited Bill that night. I remember him telling us that both he and Marilyn wanted to pass away first because neither wanted to live without each other. I figured Bill would have a lot of people visiting after Marilyn passed away but a couple of weeks later we were talking to Becky and she said that no one was visiting very much. I offered to hang out with Bill on Saturday afternoons if he wanted. Becky thought it would be OK so I started coming over on Saturdays when I wasn’t doing chess stuff.

  I’d walk down the block on Saturday afternoons and watch a few hours of TV with Bill. Bill loved golf so we would watch whatever golf tournament was on and after it ended watch the great old Superman TV shows from the 1950s and then the news. When the news was over Kathy would walk Daisy and Baxter down the block to get me. The beagles would say hi to Bill and we’d meet again the next week. Bill and I getting together on Saturday afternoons wasn’t some sort of ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ deal. It was just two guys passing time together which is sometimes all you need in this world.

  While I was playing chess in Jackson in August, Kathy wrote me to tell me Bill had suffered a stroke. We went to see him in the hospital. He was doing fine but the stoke robbed him of his ability to speak except for the occasional word here and there. Bill recovered quickly and was soon sent to a rehab hospital in Ames. The hospital in Ames was just a few miles from where I am currently assigned so I went to visit Bill over my lunchtime. I was struck by how quickly Bill was getting his speech back, He went from words to phrases to occasional sentences and was back home in three weeks. Bill was a guy who just wouldn’t quit!

  Kathy and the beagles and I visited Bill on our evening walk the week before last. He was talking a little and in generally good spirits. Later that week Bill had a heart attack. It wasn’t fatal but he was so old that any procedure would kill him so Bill was sent home where he passed away after a week.

  I can’t say I knew Bill very well but I can say I liked him an awful lot and will miss him a lot also. Even though as I said Bill and I did not have this ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ relationship where the older dying man imparts his lifetime of collected wisdom I did learn a lot from Bill because like Yogi Berra said "You can observe a lot by just watching." I watched Bill lose just about everything in this world. He lost his ability to drive, he lost the ability to walk, he lost his dog, he lost his only son, he lost his wife, he lost his ability to speak, and finally he lost the ability to get better. But Bill never lost himself. He was the same optimistic guy from the day I first met him until the day I last saw him and never changed – only his circumstances did. When my circumstances change for the worse I hope I can handle it half as well as Bill.

I'm not planning my funeral or anything but I could think of worse songs than this to be played at mine... See you later, Bill!