Friday, April 11, 2008

Curtis Simmons Wayne, rest in peace Buddy

I know I didn't do a blog entry when Bill's good friend (and also my pal and the godfather of our daughter Emily) Jack Grabowski died suddenly of cancer last week. Jack's death was so unexpected, so out of the blue, and Jack was one of the good guys of the world. He deserves to be remembered in this little blog and wherever good people gather to hoist a glass to good comrades tried and true. He proved his friendship to my husband Bill 15 years ago when Bill spent 7 months hospitalized for acute pancreatitis and associated difficulties. Jack came to the hospital almost every day, sitting with Bill and sitting with me and acting as an oasis of sanity for me in a time of craziness. I said at the time, "Jack, you don't have to do this," and he said, "Bill is my good friend. This is what friends do."
Jack, I salute you -- a good friend, a most attentive godfather, and my movie trivia buddy extraordinaire.

But I didn't blog about Jack's death. I was not present at his passing, and Jack (although my friend) was first and foremost my husband Bill's good buddy. Curbie was my buddy, and his wife Teri also is my girlfriend good and true. So perhaps it was enough to grieve Jack's still unbelievable death privately, without expressing my grief in words.
But I was with Curtis this afternoon and early evening, and I feel the need to write about my buddy's passing.

Curt took a turn for the worse two days ago. On Wednesday at noon he was alert, talking, and he ate (amazingly to me) six bites of mashed potatoes AND hospital mystery meat -- it was meatloaf with gravy, I believe, and Curt likes brown gravy. I was not too surprised by the mashed potatoes but was amazed that he ate the meat, and with seeming relish. He did ask, "Why are you giving me all this food, Buddy?" "To build up your strength, Buddy, and because you seem to be enjoying it."
But after midnight on Wednesday he fell into a sleep from which he never really awoke. We hoped it was a temporary effect of medication, but no.
Today his breathing got shallow and his color turned gray, in a relatively short amount of time between morning and mid-afternoon. Teri spent the night in his room, traveled back and forth to the hospital, and was away attending to their daughter Elizabeth when the shallow breathing began . We -- the hospice volunteer Ann, his super-competent and compassionate nurse Karen, and me -- sang Methodist hymns to him, as Teri had suggested to the chaplain just hours before.
Curt died, literally, in his wife's arms. We told Curtis that she was on her way. I blessed him and sang the litany of the saints. We prayed the Our Father, the prayer to St. Michael the archangel, the "Angel of God" prayer to Curt's own guardian angel, and invoked St. Joseph, Our Lady, and Christ in his sacred heart.

As soon as the just-arriving Teri looked at him, she saw that a crisis had been reached. She embraced him, told him over and over again how much she loved him, that she didn't want him to go but if he had to he had to. He literally took his last breath in her embrace.

Although I am religious, I am not a credulous person. I believe that I witnessed a leave-taking. I believe that Curt waited for Teri to come, and then died (took his leave) in her arms.
"Love is stronger than death." So it says in the song of solomon, and so I believe.

Curtis likened his marriage to Teri to the love of Romeo and Juliet. That would not be a surprising comparison for a couple of teenagers in love. But Curt's and Teri's was a marriage of two adults who had seen quite enough of the realistic side of love to have lost any adolescent illusions of soulful perfection in one's mate,
He was a romantic to the end.

And my good buddy.

May the good God Who created you and kept you in His care bless you at the hour of your death, Curtis Wayne. May His light shine upon you, may He grant you entry into the paradise that you learned about in your Methodist Sunday school classes, (although you had your doubts.) Doubt not, Buddy. You drew what you thought it might look like. Now may you be, this night, with Christ in Paradise. And may your love live forever.
Your greatest work, a collaborative effort with Mrs. Wayne: daughter Elizabeth Rose Wayne of Maplewood, NJ -- remains a masterpiece (in progress) of creation.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Second-hand saints

I have been examining the product of my Amazon storefront, book by book -- in order to cut the deadwood -- as I move from a larger to a smaller home with less shelving. I am moving alphabetically by title, and have made it to the M's. I have also been in attendance as two good friends suffer the destructiveness of cancer. So this morning I am paging through one of my M books -- MORNING THOUGHTS TO CHEER THE DAY, a selection of daily inspirational thoughts published in 1904. Once upon a time the very thought of "inspirational thoughts" acted on me like a cross on a vampire. I was way too cool for such sentiment, unless it be the writings of the saints. Or the psalms. The tough stuff.

But now I am not ashamed to embrace also the consolations of second-hand saints and schmoes like myself. And this morning's offering really resonated with me, as much as anything has of late. Because it took me back to the time when I learned, firsthand, of the power of the ocean that I had only thought I understood up to that point in my life.

A few years ago I got caught in a riptide and almost drowned. My son David, who swam out to get me when I started yelling for help, got caught also and started being pulled out to sea. Both of us were pulled out of the water by the wonderful lifeguards at Ocean City, MD -- me first, yelling "where is my son, my son is in there too, is my son safe?" until I saw that the second guy had gotten to David and was pulling him to safety. David was blue and purple when they pulled him out, but he was safe. All I could think of in that half a minute before the guy got to David was that I had killed my child by my lack of respect for the strength of the ocean. Later still, I was mad that Ocean City had no gradation of warnings for rough water, nothing to alert us to the fact of riptides when we were not watching the news (hurricane coming up the coast) -- in Ocean City, they either close the beach completely or fly the green flag signaling safe waters. On Delaware beaches they have red, orange, yellow and green, signifying degrees of safeness.

But I digress. I came across this in the 1904 day book I was perusing this morning. It resonated with me, as I prepared to attend the funeral Mass of one of my two friends.

It is in some profound bereavement, in some awakening throe of conscience, in some shock of the intellect or the will, that the theorizer and second-hand saint finds himself overboard and called to swim for his life; no bladders under him, no fenced-in swimming bath around him, no life-boat near, nothing left but the distant shore and his muscles and his courage and effort to reach it. Then it is - when the soul cries out for the living God, when it longs and faints for his presence, and in the fierce struggle for life strikes out with its spiritual limbs to reach its shores, that faith is born - that God's spirit comes under the soul like the bounding, elastic sea beneath the trained swimmer, that prayer becomes its own interpreter and God his own witness, the soul its own teacher and way. The secret of God is out. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. -- Henry W. Bellows.