A very personal post today – but in any event, I hope you find it engaging with some food for thought.
‘An Open Book’ is the title of an autobiography a friend I’ll call Jimmy was thinking about writing, for the three years during which I knew him. I was going to give him a hand with the structure of it whenever he was ready to start. Well he never did get around to it, like so many other older people who have whole life stories to tell, but he loved the idea of doing it. He told me the title would be ‘An Open Book’, which is the first line of the song ‘That’s what life is all about’, by that smooth crooner, Bing Crosby. We’d been talking about the Rat Pack group of singers and actors from the late 50s and 60s comprised of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, with Bing Crosby replacing Lawford later on. Just before one of our regular meet-ups at a local café, browsing in a vintage and collectable shop, I saw a huge black and white framed photograph of some of the key players of this group, grinning and smoking their fags around a snooker table. Since Jimmy and I had talked about them before, when I got to the café I asked him whether he was interested in the picture. ‘I’ve already got a large one of them at home,’ he replied. I nodded and smiled. That was just as it should be. This led on to Jimmy telling me about the open book song by Crosby being a true favourite of his and his inspiration for the title of his book. Later on at home, I had a listen to it on YouTube and yes, it fitted him perfectly.
Now the reason for this post is because Jimmy is at the forefront of my heart and mind at the moment, because when I was checking out his Facebook page to see what he’d been planting in his garden recently, I was stunned to see messages of condolences, one after the other after the other. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Jimmy? Dead? When I’d only seen him just over a week ago? So I phoned his house number, I phoned his mobile, checking – but nothing. It was then I realised it was true and examined the messages more closely. He’d died quite suddenly, but passed away at his home in the company of his family. That at least was something. He hadn’t died alone. I also then realised I had become very fond of this true gentleman, in all the traditional senses of the word, that he’d become a significant friend of mine, in fact, the only male friend I’ve ever had (apart from my hubby of course). I’d asked his advice on several occasions when I wanted the opinion of a older man of his generation, a kind of father substitute in a way, my own father having died many years ago now. But it never felt awkward, it always felt comfortable and always natural.
The circumstances of our meeting was through my volunteering. Jimmy had lost the true love of his life, his wife, and was struggling with the devastation of this. Because as most of us realise, the greater the love, the greater the loss, and his had been a one and only great love. His daughter and family were doing everything they could for him, but he decided he wanted some help from elsewhere and was told about the befriending organisation I volunteer with. He felt he needed someone outside of the family to talk to, and in these matters he preferred to talk to a woman rather than a man – I think this can be quite common actually. Anyway, he ended up with me. He was a former lightweight wrestler in the 70s, had worked all his life, and had participated in many social welfare projects and organisations, but was now retired, aged around 76. We were matched to meet up for 6 months, every couple of weeks, and then it was extended for another 6 months, by which time he was coping well, moving house, and reconnecting with his past in a wonderful way, with lots of travelling and driving which he loved. Now, one to one chatting over coffee for around two hours at a time is quite intense, so I got to know him pretty quickly. And once our time was ‘up’ I decided that, if he was happy with the idea, and since it is allowed by my organisation, that I would continue to see him for coffee as a friend – in that capacity, just now and again. He was happy with this and it worked really well, and I was able to catch up with his activities to do with his wrestling past, where he was travelling all over the country to conventions meeting up with so many old friends.
But sadly, without going into any specifics, he lost his only brother after a time, and then just recently his only daughter who’d been ill for a considerable time, and it was obviously just all too much to bear. How can any of us know what this degree of loss is like? He hated it when people said they understood, or put time limits on how long it takes to get over the death of a loved one, or when they said ‘time heals’. ‘I don’t believe it does,’ he told me. But still, I thought he was doing fine. I wanted to believe he was doing fine. He was keeping busy with his gardening, finding it therapeutic. But he’d had two heart attacks and had to be careful. So I think he stopped being careful…
But now, hopefully he’s at peace and reunited with his lost loved ones…and I can ask myself what he exemplified that was so compelling to not only me, but to so many other people he crossed paths with. He once asked me why people were so kind to him. How come? he asked. I told him it was because he was an open caring person who brought out the best in the people he met. He reacted in a self effacing manner, as always. But I do believe he was loved by all who knew him.
And maybe being ‘an open book’ had something to do with it that we can all learn from:
He was totally genuine and authentic – nothing to hide, so he could be natural and true to himself the way we all potentially can be. People loved this about him.
He was principled, he knew what he believed in and what he didn’t. And yet he would listen to both sides of an argument, with his social care training he’d learned to do this.
Despite his generation, there wasn’t a sexist bone in his body (which I have to admit astonished me) This was a wonderful illustration of why he had so many women friends.
He couldn’t boil a proverbial egg when his wife died, and many other things she’d always taken care of. Yet admitting to his lack of knowledge, hiding nothing, and asking for help, meant people were more than happy to help him, and then he learned for himself and he kept learning, never defeated for long. So he was honest and had a tenacity for life.
He accepted you for who you were, not what you were – so your job didn’t define you. Again, I found this startling for a man of his age.
He expressed his thanks to people for any help they gave him – they always felt appreciated.
He never took anything for granted
He accepted that he was an emotional person, wasn’t ashamed of it, and learned how to manage it for himself, his family and his friends, when he felt he needed to, to avoid them getting upset too.
When he was really well, he had a mischievous sense of humour and was interested in life and its silly twists and turns. Lots of funny little details about characters he’d got to know. Like a true writer and observer of human nature he relished these details and had many funny stories to tell and by which to entertain.
Loyal, honourable, and as his many friends from by gone days are saying right now, he was a ‘real gent’.
And for all these qualities he will never be forgotten.
Begging your indulgence, here is the song and the lyrics, which I’m so happy to have found again – for Jimmy…it’s all I can do to offer my wee tribute:
My life is like an open book
And as I glance back through the pages
I see the chances, I often took
Though I was never too courageous
Life’s never easy all the time
The hills you climb
Often lead no where
Of ups and downs
I’ve had my share
That’s what life is all about
I’ve known success
Some mild acclaim
And thinking of it gives me pleasure
And I’ve had some stress
The scars remain
When Lady Luck gave me short measure
When things went wrong
I’d fake a smile
But that’s my style
‘Cause I’ve been around
And having been being around, I’ve found
That’s what life is all about
It’s been a joy, I can’t deny
Though some may think
I took things lightly
But man and boy, I look on High
And never fail to thank Him nightly
When I look back, I can’t forget
The friends I’ve met
And the things they’ve done
I thank ’em all
It’s been great fun
As for me, I have no doubt
That’s what life is all about
That’s what life is all about
(pic from pixabay)
PS. I’m going to my mothers 80th birthday afternoon tea next weekend, so I’ll miss a posting, but will be back after that. Wishing you all the very best and for you to keep your creative vibes well and truly flowing.