His life was eighty-three years of a series of moments. The person I knew for nearly half my life, E. Pope Goodson, my friend and neighbor, is no more. A month ago, I saw him for the last time, as I stood by his hospital bedside and held his hand. For me, it was a sweet moment. He looked at me and moved his left hand to meet my right hand, and that was all. I laughed and said to his daughter sitting on the other side of the bed, watching us, “We never hold hands!” I had been there almost three hours.I did not lean over his frail body to kiss him goodbye. I let go his hand after a few moments and said I would see him later. At the door, I blew him a kiss and he raised his left hand in a weak gesture of farewell. That was the last time I saw him, light in his eyes, still breathing, barely.
Back in December, as winter finally came to us, I spent a little time on the phone with Pope, checking in on him. He was grateful when I offered to do the feeding of his animals. I knew he was having a difficult time breathing. I would have spent more time with him in person, rather than on the phone, but he did not ask me to come over, and it was difficult for me to sit in his presence and hear his labored breathing. I had already voiced my concerns about how he was not using his oxygen, as he should. “I don’t want to get addicted to it,” he would say, which I found absurd.
By February, when he asked me to come daily to deal with his animals and handle the prep of his daily fare, I understood this was probably his last winter here.
On March 25, I found him completely helpless, unable to stand. He could not articulate any words other than, “I don’t know.” This was not Pope. He knew all there was to know. I made the necessary calls and soon the Emergency Medical Services were taking him to the hospital. I was close behind. For the next eleven days, he went through more moments of people trying to rescue him from the inevitable. His immediate family members came, stayed several days, and then had to go home. The last few days he was here, he had his eldest daughter present, as well as his granddaughter and great grandson. Whether or not he was glad for all the attention, I will never know. If I know Pope, he was merely enduring it, perhaps feeling a little grateful. He met his last moments here with a stoicism I recognized, respected, and did my best to accommodate.
The morning of April 6, I answered the phone call that awakened me. “Pope is gone,” the voice said. “Who is this?” I asked. “This is Michele. He passed five minutes before I got here. If you wish to see him, they will put off taking his body until you get here.” It took a few moments to fathom what I heard, then knew I must get up. “I am coming.”
Three days later, everyone who could come, came out to Pope’s cabin to have a few moments together, honoring him. Michele and Bill brought a pink rose, which they planted in the center of the garden. Others milled about, some sitting out on the porch of his cabin, some hiking out in the woods, and some simply standing outside, talking. Eventually, we spread his ashes about the garden; afterwards, gathered on his porch and told “Pope Stories.”
It began to sink in, over the next week, how the moment I had been dreading for months had arrived. It was not as bad as I had expected. On so many levels, I felt such relief that it was over. No longer would Pope sit in his cabin suffering, immobilized by his inability to breathe. After all that he had been through, his departure must have been such a welcome moment for him. I was happy, glad that he was free of the body he had lived in for 80+ years. I knew him well enough to know that he had lived thoroughly, doing as he wished. If he might be reviewing this lifetime, only he would know what he might have done differently. In my heart, I knew I was glad to have known him, and that he was and would always be with me, as well as many others.
A week or more after our gathering, I decided to take a break from the work I had been doing out in the garden. I went in to Pope’s cabin, took his tobacco-rolling bag, and went on his porch to sit on the swing and have a smoke. As I sat there, I realized the chimes were sounding. I looked up from the rolling of my cigarette and noticed there was no breeze rustling the leaves of the trees, yet the same notes of the pipes on the large wind chimes were sounding, over and over. My thought, as I had seated myself onto the porch swing was, “I miss you, Pope.” It came to me that he was present, letting me know he heard my thought. After a few moments, the notes of the chime sounds changed to include a third sound, then it stopped altogether.
The spring of 2016 is happening, Life’s promise of renewal after the stasis of winter. I am caring for a small garden, two more dogs, and about twenty feral cats, of which several are mommas with litters of two-three kittens born in the last several weeks. I have found a veterinarian who will neuter and spay two cats per week, without charging me. He will accept a donation, but only if I can afford it. Thus far, he has neutered three of the male population and found a foster home for one of the ready-to-pop mommas. The gratitude I feel for his giving nature is beyond words. Meanwhile, I am nursing a three-week-old kitten whose back legs are deformed. She pulls herself along with her tiny front legs, sometimes rolling over as she loses her balance. She keeps going. She keeps me present, very aware of the moments I have free between her feedings.
Such is life here in peace and solitude, with the peonies blooming and the daisies making their debut along the roadside and out in the fields. It is a sunny day, with very few clouds. The moments recalled of my friend’s passing, needing sharing, are past. The birdcalls I hear from out in the woods bring me back to this present time, new moments to embrace and live.