by William H. Ogilvie
When all the light and life are sped
Of flowing tails and manes
And flashing stars, and forelocks spread,
and foam-flecks on the reins.
I like to think from every land
And far beyond the wave
A crowd of ghosts will come and stand
In grief around the grave.
A friend of mine died Friday morning. He had been in the hospice program through Methodist Hospital for the past 11 months. He died with his daughter holding his hand, telling him it was okay to let go. I was assigned to Jim as a hospice volunteer but I can honestly say we became friends in the past year. Jim had lived a big life. He had a family. He had been a successful venture capitalist, a entrepreneur, involved in starting up a number of new businesses, saving failing ones and generally having a good time putting deals together. He had worked and travled in Mexico and the Phillipines and was well traveled. He had all the trappings of what successful business men have, a big house on Lake Minnetonka, boats, a cabin up north, nice cars, plenty of money to spend. And he was an alcoholic.
Jim was very up front about his disease. He had been sober for seventeen years when I met him and it was besides his children and grand children the thing he was most proud that he had accomplished in his life, though he was not boastful about it. Jim taught me a lot about what it takes to make a commitment to sobriety. The most profound thing he shared was;
“the biggest mistake that people make who want to stop drinking is they think they will be happier if they quit. And so they come to A. A. for a while and they discover they are just as miserable as before. If you really want to stop drinking you have to address the underlying issues that drove the drinking in the first place. You have to find your serenity. If you can do that, you can quit drinking for good.”
What made Jim an amazing person was his positive attitude and his focus on connection to others. When I met Jim he was on oxygen 24/7. He couldn’t drive anymore and yet he found a way to get to his local A. A. meeting over the noon hour every day. He sponsored countless men and women over the years and was constantly patiently encouraging others. Jim had loyal friends because he was such a loyal friend.
Jim and I mostly talked when I visited and usually we laughed a lot. Jim shared the foibles that happen in life and the good stuff too. Jim had a interest in horse racing and would bet races all over the world from his living room connected through his lap top. Some weeks he was up, some weeks he was down, but he always had fun.
Jim is a success story of how our communities are supposed to work. The hospice program gave Jim dignity. It allowed him to remain in his apartment and receive outstanding care tailored to his needs that actually improved his health and quality of life for his remaining year. Jim got stronger while in hospice and up until the last month lived with minimal pain and with good support from his nurse and social services. Jim would tell me, “I can’t believe all the things I have access too, life is good.”
Jim served in the Marine corps, but he never spoke about his military service. We didn’t talk politics, I am not even sure how old hew was. We didn’t talk about his illness and we didn’t talk about death. Jim and I just talked about our lives, funny things that happened and played cribbage. And from those conversations I watched a man who truly was at peace with all that happened in his life and learned the secret to that happiness – find your serenity. And if you haven’t found it yet, figure out what you need to change, and change it.
I shall miss our conversations. I will miss your laugh and your smile. Thanks for the lessons on humility and serenity. God Bless you Jim.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.