Posted by: John | January 17, 2012


Last week, I visited a dying friend at the VA hospice in Hampton.  I noticed a bright sign by the main entrance to the building:  “Smoking Area Only.” I shook my head and pondered about this being a government facility.  The porch held a couple of chairs and a small table with an ashtray full of butts. 

When I went inside and approached the counter, I was told to take a seat in the small lobby.  I spied a pack of Marlboros and a lighter perched on the edge of the counter.  As I sat down, a hard-eyed, gnarly old gentleman in a ball cap pushed a walker past me toward the lobby.  He grabbed the cigarettes and lighter and turned his walker toward the front porch.  I jumped up and opened the door for him.  I wanted to be helpful, yet I wasn’t eager to see him smoke himself to death.

I asked at the counter when I could see my friend, Ron.  A woman snapped, “We’re cleaning him up right now.” I returned to my seat and observed the old man out the window smoking and looking at the river. I waited a little longer, then finally I was told I could see my friend.

Ron was lying there in a coma, very thin, his breath a death rattle.  His girlfriend/ caregiver said he had been unconscious for the last twenty-four hours.  She and I chatted briefly, sharing memories of him.  I held his hand while she went to take a shower.  I thanked Ron for helping me through some difficult times and helping me learn to be a better listener.  We’d had so many conversations over the years; talking of things men talk about when talking to other men.  I don’t know if he knew I was there or not.

When his girlfriend returned, we talked some more about the life Ron had lived and his many friends.  When I left, the old man on the porch was gone.  The river was still there.


  1. Hi John,

    There are many records of people coming out of comas who remember who had come to see them and what they had talked about during the visit. Even if you friend could not hear you on the physical level, on the spiritual level, he knew you were there, and that you love him. They always know.

    Love & Peace

    • So true, Ama! This friend died on Saturday but John and I are sure he knew of John’s presence as well as the presence of other friends. His memorial service was a fantastic party with great food and live jazz musicians in an authentic jam session. I’d never been to such a joyous memorial service. Loved it!

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