Dale died yesterday morning.
My friend did his final surrender at 10:00 a.m on April 1, 2010.
About 5 years ago, he consented to let me walk with him through colon cancer and, after incredible ravages on his body, he licked it.
Two years ago, leukemia showed up. He couldn’t beat this round of ravaging.
Back when he was dealing with the colon cancer, we had a schedule to transport Dale over to Victoria (a two hour trip each way) for radiation five days a week for weeks. I watched this man, who was so in tune with nature, turn himself over to a demanding, debilitating and completely unnatural procedure in the name of being ‘cured’. The car/ferry trip was enough to sap any energy he would muster; upon arrival at the cancer clinic, he quietly faced the zapping process that technicians diligently protected themselves from.
He was not able to reclaim his usual level of energy, but he began to get rid of his life’s accumulation of goods and chattels. He worked on a huge Greyhound bus, turning it into a home. He planned to sell his house and spend the rest of his life living comfortably in his bus, free to stay or leave any place at will. He kept working his plan even after his diagnosis of leukemia.
During the time that he was healing from colon cancer, I made every attempt to be a supportive friend without overstepping boundaries. He made every decision about his care, especially about the quantity of care. The quality was ever present thanks to our medical system, but Dale was very clear when he’d had enough poking, prodding and prompting.
We had been friends for a number of years. Although our friendship was deep and intimate, we always respected the fact that neither of us wanted to take the friendship to a romantic level. When we met, we had both just come out of relationships that required each of us to heal hurt hearts in our own manner and time. Consequently, we both appreciated the value of solid, reliable and sensible companionship without the complications of romantic snags and sexual reformation.
One day, after Dale’s third return to the hospital due to his incision refusing to heal, I saw that he desperately needed to bathe. I had never given anyone a sponge bath, but I knew I was the only one available to do it. I said to Dale, “Do you trust me to give you a sponge bath?”
“Well, I haven’t got anything that would shock you”, he said with a grin.
“I know that there’s a way to do it so you keep your dignity. Nothing need be exposed. Between the two of us, we can figure this out. You game?”
“I’m game for anything to feel clean,” he said. “Let’s do it.”
As I bathed my friend, I realized that even though I had been married and even though I had spent quality time with a few men in my 50 years, I knew more about Dale’s body than any other.
As I finished the task, he said, “Why have you done all this for me? What possesses you to do all this?”
I paused. Good question. Although I was a trained Hospice Companion, this was about living, not dying. Only one answer came to me, “Must be out of love, Dale. I do love you.”
He let out a great “Ughhhh!”
“Don’t go all weird on me, Dale. It’s really okay to love friends, you know!”
“What does that mean…love? Is there a hidden agenda here?”
“It means it’s a time for me to GIVE – no conditions, no agenda. Just ‘being there’ for another human with no motive. I don’t expect you to believe me, but if I have a motive, I haven’t figured it out yet.”
“Humph! Sure is hard to accept, but I don’t have much choice these days.” The bath had worked its magic and he was ready to sleep.
“I’m going to leave so you can rest. I’ll think about your question and see if I’m hiding anything from myself. See you tomorrow.”
As I drove home, I considered all the reasons I felt love for Dale:
Intelligent Sensible Wise
Teaches me about farm stuff & nature
Can fix anything Shows me another side to problems
Reads voraciously and talks about the books
Loves animals Honest Adventurous
Quiet, but knock-em-dead sense of humour
Kind Generous Communicative
Curious Inventive Creative
Did I every rhyme these off to Dale? Perhaps I did in bits and pieces, but when he would ask, I’d give him the short answer as we ventured into some other care-giving challenge: “I just love you, Dale.” I don’t think he ever accepted my answer.
It was and IS the truth. I love that cantankerous, contrary, and defiant farmer from Manitoba who could confound me with his ability to put his hand to anything and make it beautiful.
I loved the fact that he grew marvelous produce that he sold at our local market. I adored helping him in his stall. When he sold flowers along with his tomatoes, I’d help him pick flowers the night before and put together a few bouquets that were works of art – the right mix, the perfect colours. Dale would throw together bouquets that proved his color blindness and inattention to textures. He simply ignored my protests. The next day when I’d show up at the market to see if I could relieve him, he’d point out that the only bouquets still for sale were the ones I had prepared. It took me weeks to finally see that he sold his floral concoctions to men – who obviously shared his color blindness!
Dale’s family phoned me today to make sure I was aware of Dale’s death. At the time of the call, I was still numb. I could hardly bear to talk with his brother. My heart was on hold.
It broke open tonight.
Yes, Dale, I love you. And I will be calling on you so get yourself settled on the other side. Figure things out so you can explain it to me.
And Dale…now, maybe you will believe that it was simply love that gave me the impetus to walk with you in your journey of healing. I would not have missed it for the world. But I sure miss you already.