My Friend Jack

Imagine… you’re just living your life, walking down the street, shopping at the dollar store, or maybe you just finished a gig with your band and you sit down at the bar to order some food.

And your heart stops. Not a heart attack. Your heart just decides to take a break. And it stops beating.

SCA. Sudden cardiac arrest.

You lose consciousness. You fall to the floor. Quick-thinking bystanders call 911 and get your heart started again with CPR. You make it to the hospital, although you don’t know it yet. You’re still unconscious.

They fix your heart problem with an internal defibrillator.

But what they can’t fix is your brain. The lack of oxygen you experienced when your heart stopped beating caused an anoxic brain injury.  Basically, you now have dementia. You have to re-learn how to put your socks on. You can’t remember what city you live in. You sometimes think your wife is your mother.

You can’t drive anymore, or work in the yard, or fix your car, or ride your bike. Your love of music and your ability to play the harmonica leave you. You can’t be left alone, at all. As time goes on, you can’t walk and must rely on a wheelchair.

And because life is sometimes inexplicably cruel, you are later diagnosed with breast cancer—one of only about 2600 men who develop breast cancer in a given year.  Is this some sick joke?

For three years, you struggle with basic tasks. For three years your wife does everything for you, and, thankfully, you’re not aware of it. Because if you knew that she dedicated her life to your care—coordinating appointments with your many specialists, making sure you took all your medications, helping you shower and dress, among a million other things—you’d be embarrassed. You’d be mortified.

And while your oxygen-deprived brain may not be able to comprehend all the changes that have taken place, your loved ones struggle to find some sort of meaning in all this. They try to make it make sense. How could this happen to such a healthy man? A man who jogged, road his bike, ordered fries without salt (an abomination!), was a perfect weight? How could a perfectly healthy heart just stop?

“It’s an electrical problem,” the doctors said. As if that meant anything. As if you were a circuit breaker panel.

Your loved ones grapple with the loss of you while you are still there with them. Gone is your wit, your spark, the gift of your gravitational pull, making everyone feel included in your orbit, which is where everyone wanted to be. You are here but you aren’t here.

But what remains is the essence of you: your kindness, your devotion to your wife, your love of animals.

You are in there somewhere but you can’t get out.  And we can’t reach you.

After three years and five months, you’re done. You’re tired. You’re in pain. It’s time to go. We don’t want to accept it but we know you’ll never get better. 

In the beat of a heart, you leave us. 

And even though we’ve been missing you for three years, this time you’re really gone. All of you is gone.

Now we start missing you all over again.

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