“Time announces itself not with bells, but with whispers.” -x
I’ll start this post with a funny anecdote. (It would be funnier if someone other than me were to write it down!) Jimmy and Alissa were to be married at her mother’s house on the east side of Springdale. The wedding had been assembled in a few short days and the house, though large, was full of people. Jimmy was pacing the house, nervous and trying to relax. At one point, he wanted to sneak away and smoke. Given how close it was to the start of the wedding, I told Jimmy he didn’t have time. Ignoring me, we went out the back in the garage. He very seriously and in a very quiet voice told me to keep watch by the door to make sure that Pastor Harry wouldn’t come out and surprise Jimmy, catching him smoking. Naturally, I obliged, but pointed out that Pastor Harry had probably seen worse things than people smoking, regardless of cancer or weddings taking place. Jimmy insisted that Pastor Harry not find out. The cigarette had a huge impact on Jimmy’s state of mind and calmed him down, but I was still amused that Jimmy thought Pastor Harry would have cared whether he smoked or not. As we went back inside, I stood in the middle of the living room and told everyone, Pastor Harry included, that I had just been outside with Jimmy so that he could smoke, and that Jimmy had me stand guard so that Pastor Harry wouldn’t find out Jimmy had been smoking. Everyone turned to look at me, as I had just ratted Jimmy out. And then we all laughed. Alissa’s dad Nick laughed the most over it. Jimmy just shook his head and smiled when he heard what I had done. At least I fixed his Pastor Harry problem!
While Jimmy and I were in the garage, he told me that he should have gotten married a long time before, not just for himself, but for Alissa, his son Noah, and Alissa’s girls. He reminisced a little over his first marriage years before in Eureka Springs. Jimmy had been deathly afraid that I was going to run around naked as a surprise for that ceremony. He got the idea because I kept telling him I was going to do it. (For reference, he was married the first time in a glass and steel church, one which would have been ideal for a bout of streaking…) I promised him that I wasn’t going to pull any stunts and he told me it might be a good surprise for Alissa’s family if I ran through the living room naked. He was certain that Nick would get a laugh, if not a snapshot to commemorate the event.
Just a few short weeks before Jimmy’s death, he had finally decided to get married. One of the reasons I moved up my plans to become an ordained minister was to remove one of Jimmy’s impediments to getting it done. It surprised me when he had went to Las Vegas without getting married and I was also fairly sure that he and Alissa would have wanted a small ceremony somewhere private. I had been a strong advocate for Jimmy to get those things done in his life which he thought to be valuable. When he and his then-fiancé went to Las Vegas, I talked to him more than once about getting married there to minimize the stress and to focus on the positives, rather than his fears. During a couple of his hospital visits, I thought he might opt to go ahead and take the plunge. Having my minister credentials made it possible if were to come up.
There’s no reason now to sugarcoat the fact that several people were against Jimmy getting married. Some were very angry about it. Their anger led to much of the frustrating interference in his life that I wrote about in a previous blog post. Another word for those naysayers: doofus. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but opinions should be grounded in facts. In Jimmy’s case, disconnected acquaintances and some family were alleging that Jimmy didn’t know what he was doing or that his fiancé was somehow forcing him to do something he didn’t want to do. How they could have known Jimmy’s mind well enough at that point is the reason for my derision of their opinion. Their were only a handful of people that were very close to Jimmy in his last weeks.
As outspoken as I am, as negative as I can be about things at times, I had been 100% supportive and encouraging toward Jimmy getting married and to live his life to the fullest he was able. For quite a long time, it included marrying Alissa. Jimmy had often expressed his regret of not marrying again, of not trying for a normal life. It surprised me that he was reluctant to take the plunge. When he would talk openly to me, he was honest and revealed that much of his reluctance was actually grounded in other people being negative about marriage, especially with Alissa. His mom was one of those reluctant ones, but even Jimmy could see that she wasn’t normally a person motivated by happiness.It seemed that a few people were spreading their own fear and distrust into Jimmy’s head.His mind would get cluttered with “what ifs” and fears of what could happen; to which, I would counter reply that all the positives could happen just as easily and it would better to decided things not from a vantage of fear, but choose based on hope and positives. Jimmy and Alissa had experienced troubles. To use the excuse of difficult times to not take a leap of faith is to lose before the attempt. When Jimmy first dated Alissa, I heard only his side of things. (Upon meeting her, I was surprised to discover that she couldn’t breath fire and that she wasn’t carrying a loaded gun to shoot those who argued with her.)
Getting to the point: if you were one of those people being negative or hateful about Jimmy remarrying, you were wrong. It was a good thing, perhaps even a great thing.Alissa stepped forward and took care of Jimmy for long months. She was his lifeline and his only source of constancy in life. When everything else was waning, she was there, during chemo, radiation and above all, when Jimmy’s impatience and anger would get the best of him. Most people didn’t get to see Jimmy when he would be in those long, dissatisfied bouts of depressive funk. Just as Jimmy’s misunderstanding about the severity of his disease hindered him, Alissa’s presence allowed Jimmy to live longer. (Jesus himself would have pistol-whipped Jimmy a couple of times, or at least hollered at him. Alissa managed to avoid setting his bedclothes on fire.) Those who were judgmental about Jimmy’s choices and his marriage were not witnesses to the daily struggle as Jimmy came to terms with his slide into oblivion.
(Now that time has elapsed sufficient enough to think more clearly, I would remind everyone that I’ve been quite clear about my thoughts and wishes if something as harsh as cancer should get the best of me. My wife gets to decide when, if, and everything else. If I choose to act strangely, it is because I choose to. Please stay to the right, so to speak, and allow me disintegrate in the manner I see fit. I would wish fire upon your head if you were to speak ill or interfere with my wife as she strives to entertain my wishes. It seems obvious to say so, but those closest to us in our boring daily lives get the ultimate say in just about everything when our lives are ending. I would want whoever I leave behind me to get out the taser or shotgun and deal with those interfering appropriately.)
It’s easy to look at the wedding pictures and focus solely on how gaunt and frail Jimmy looked. You can choose to either see him as an ill person getting married, or as someone getting married who is ill. I think the perspective you look with indicates much about your own outlook.
This picture is of Jimmy and Alissa during the after-party. It reveals so much about the weeks leading up the wedding and of Jimmy’s priorities before his death. Again, you can look at this picture and be overcome with sadness; to me, it is a metaphor for our lives. If we are looking closely at our lives, we should be able to see that none of us know for certain whether we are closer to the end or to the beginning of our time. We often fail to honor the staggering implication of our lives being either quickly or slowly snatched from us.For good or ill, Jimmy had the unavoidable and unenviable long approach toward his own death.
Jimmy, Alissa, and Pastor Harry. Pastor Harry evidently needed a kiss, too.
Just to be sure everyone understands the context of some of the wedding pictures: Jimmy had no bottom teeth, something that bothered him relentlessly. Not just because of his lessened eating ability, but because his mouth was pulled up and tight due to the growing tumors. I’ve had people incorrectly assume that Jimmy wasn’t smiling because he didn’t have cause to. His physical limitations were always there to bother him. Even when he smoked, he had to curl his mouth a certain way.
Here’s a picture of Jimmy making his favorite person in the world comfortable and more handsome.
For this picture, you might not think so, but Jimmy had just laughed at me. He was fidgeting and I joked to him that I would run and fling open the back garage door if he wanted to run away. He laughed and asked if his face looked funny. “No more than usual,” I told him and hugged him, then quietly asked if he and Pastor Harry wanted to go outside for a quick cigarette – and then promptly made my own face for the next picture.
Some might wonder at the efficacy of a wedding so close to one’s death. I would ask you to note that the only difference is that Jimmy clearly saw his approaching reaper and made a positive decision. Each of us, right now, might be breathing our last breath or might have just started our last day on the face of the earth. We just don’t know. That Jimmy did know can’t be used to lessen the meaningfulness of his decision to get married. His was a position that we all secretly and fervently wish to avoid and we should grant him the measure of respect he earned – not just through his cancer, but because he was a human being whose time and effort in this place is worthy of consideration.
Words Jimmy texted to his new wife on his wedding night: “I love u so much Alissa. And can’t say enough how beautiful you are. I love you.”