Tuesday, April 09, 2013
The palliative care ward at Burnaby General is quiet, painted mostly in violets, pinks and blues, with light brown curtains over the windows to block the brightest sun.  Today, a light overcast grey spring is visible behind them.  White star magnolias in a little hidden courtyard. Beyond those, evergreens.

My friend J. lies drawn up in a narrow hospital bed, much thinner than when I last saw him. Without his thick glasses his eyes are a bright, bright blue.  The brown-grey stubble lining his cheeks looks good on him.  Dying, J. seems a younger, much happier man.  The worry lines that, for as long as I have known him, have deeply creased his forehead and the sides of his face have faded.  Now his skin is thin as paper, and smooth as a child's. Seated on the bed beside him, I want to reach out and stroke his forehead, as I might a baby's, or my cat's.  I don't, of course.  Instead I shake his hand, and am surprised, as always, by its warm strong grip.

It's a cliche to say that someone dying is "at peace" -- J. is vehemently not "at peace" -- "Fucking cocksuckers!" -- but he seems peaceful, and largely lucid, as Richard and I bullshit with him for forty-five minutes, trying and mostly succeeding in demonstrating our love by not discussing his cancer, preferring to focus on past book scouting trips, sketchy so-called "dealers" unloved by all of us -- "Cocksuckers!" -- and the mechanics of fitting several hundred boxes of booze, or surplus bookshelves, into the back of a rental van.

"When I'm gone..." says J., wistfully, contemplating the prospect of his widow moving out of the Lower Mainland and back to the community where she can be among friends, men and women she's known her whole life.  "She can go back to [SMALL BC TOWN].  Why would she stay? She'll be happy there.  When I'm gone...."  But he's here today and his eyes are bright and his hand is warm in mine.

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