Chuck Kovacs: Guest Column: A FRIEND - JIM SHRIMP
Last Saturday, I heard the lawn mower buzzing and noticed the familiar figure doing his periodic tasks. I had asked him to widen a spot and I was sure that it was going to be done. You seldom had to remind Jim twice to do any task.
I took some photos with my cell phone of the terrific job, got two cups of coffee and went out to meet him. We chatted about the weather and I told him how much Karen and I appreciated his diligence, his work and dedication that was somewhere nearing a decade.
We chatted about his foot, his back and lack of sleep, jointly commiserating each other's miseries. As always, he was anxious to get back to tending the grass cutting as if I was going to give him 10 lashes for taking a break. As he got up from the bench, impulsively, I reach out to give him a bear hug and a tender kiss on his forehead â¦ and whispered "Thank You" as he got back on the mower.
Such is the scene that continues to play in my mind. Actually, I felt like a dog coughing and feeling crappy. I noticed his truck and was thankful that he was up. My little voice kept nagging me to go out and have a chat that we usually do, but I kept coughing, had a headache, and felt my battery needed serious charging while I had to borrow gas to get out of bed. I stayed inside, to my deepest regret.
Twelve hours later, Jim couldn't sleep, went to the kitchen and collapsed. It was fortunate that Jody, his daughter is a light sleeper, woke up and found him on the floor. She called the ambulance, and Jim was rushed to intensive care at Packard. Jody called me first thing in the morning and Karen and I visited him in the intensive care after work where he rested peacefully breathing soundly and the monitors showing steady heart beats, and acceptable systolic and diastolic pressures.
We chatted with family in the waiting room, pretty much as we did with Jim's wife Geraldine's admittance some years ago. He looked good, his vital signs looked good, it was the Jim I had grown to love over the years. There was little that Jim could not do. Over the years he help me set up stores, haul in shelving, inventory and consolidate stores that didn't work out, removing and burning stuff no longer need. I had taken for granted just how much I relied on him. I told Jody, he'll be miserable recuperating for a little while, as Jim never did anything half-assed. It was full throttle ahead, even when I yelled at him to take it easy. Actually, I think he saw himself as Superman, with the old school adage of "can do" ... self reliance, suck it up mentality that appears to be on the verge of extinction. We had a similar background having served in Vietnam.
A private man, it took him some time to warm up to you. He hated snakes. I mean HATED, pathologically, in the extreme. I pleaded with him, "they eat bugs" ... when he came across even a little one. One day, he placed a dead snake on a work bench as a joke, where he was sure I'd find it. I got even some time later, when I found one he killed and wrapped it tightly on his truck's steering wheel. I think he broke the sound barrier getting out the truck, screaming, you SOB!
What a difference 24 hours make ... that evening, I lost a bet on his return - as he expelled his last breath. Each day returning home, I am reminded of my good friend Jim when I see the neat grass he cut just days ago. He will never be back again, is a hard realization that we should all reflect to thank, to hug, to tell those around you - family, friends and co-workers, just how much they mean to you.
To Jim, death was welcomed. A release from his physical pains, a reunion with his loving wife, and no longer having to carry the burdens that he placed upon himself. I firmly belief that the door we encounter upon taking our last breath is labeled WELCOME HOME. And rather than mourn the loss, I plan to celebrate that I was fortunate to have a person in my life not for a day, but a decade, who was exceptionally innovative, caring and always supportive, even when we didn't agree eye to eye. There is no better definition of human LOVE.