Facing mortality

I don’t know why my neighbor’s death has affected me so deeply. Maybe it’s because I just turned 60 and I’ve realized that it’s all downhill from here. Or maybe it’s because his death was so sudden and unexpected. Or maybe it’s because I never got a chance to thank him for the lovely and tasty bouquet of lettuce that he left on our doorstep last Wednesday. Or maybe it’s because he was the best neighbor anyone could ask for. George helped us countless times over the past twenty years and never asked for or accepted anything in return.

Whatever the reason, I’m stunned by it and my heart is heavy.

George was not in the best of health, but he never gave up. He had survived a heart attack back in the seventies when treatment was practically nil. The result of that was a badly damaged heart and CHF. Because he was a long term smoker he also had developed COPD. But he coped and he found good doctors at the VA who fine-tuned his medicine. He looked great, and he stayed busy, always working in his garden, his shop or his greenhouse. And he never missed a good fishing day. He may have been retired, but he was always coming up with some new project. He had a very creative and fertile mind.

I last saw George when Connie and I were walking last Wednesday afternoon. He was driving his little pickup down our street, when he saw us he waved and flashed a big smile. I am so grateful that is the last image we have of him. I had wanted to tell him how great his lettuce bouquet idea was and that I thought it would be a big hit at the City Market.

George was an artist, he painted and created intricate wood crafts. His cactus planters were amazing. He had perfected a system of growing cactus in his greenhouse, he had it down to a science. And he created these fantastic wooden planters that he artfully arranged the cactus in. They were his best seller at the City Market, he could hardly make enough of them.

He painted the logo for our Tharpalooza burning man, and furnished enough wood for an inferno:

He loved going to the Farmer’s market at the KC City Market. He sold flowers, vegetables, and his wood crafts. He was amazed by how much city people would pay for his stuff and he thought they would buy anything. To test his hypothesis, he potted a thistle weed that was growing in his garden and sold it as an exotic flower for $25. That’s one of my favorite stories of his.

I loved visiting with George and listening to his stories. He was a great storyteller, a talent that I wish I had. George was active duty Air Force back in the fifties crewing a tanker. That was during the infancy of air refueling, when they were trying to perfect the technique. On one flight his plane went down in the North Atlantic, and he was the only survivor. I can’t imagine being alone in a life preserver in the middle of the frigid ocean and living to tell about it.

Needless to say, he was a tough old bird who had cheated death more than once. I worry that they put him into hospice too soon. I mean, the day after he checked into the VA, after driving himself down there? Did they just give up on him? I don’t know the particulars and the family didn’t know any, but I worry that hospice is sometimes code for euthanasia, just my opinion.

Regardless, I am thankful for twenty years of friendship with George, but my world is going to be a much colder place without him.

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