His name was Jim.
I did not learn of his birth name until we became friends during battle on a chess board.
He gave life to three sons, one of whom (David Calvo) I only know via FaceBook. David is a very accomplished artist doing what he loves and is passionate about. Have a look at his work on his website Calvo Studio located in the great port of Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Jim was very proud of David, very proud. I hesitated to use past tense in the last sentence. Jim is very proud I thought and you will discover why in the following story that David wrote about his father.
In a time where deaths are mere statistics, occuring daily from the pandemic, David’s story speaks from the heart and tells the story of a man who by example and conviction, lived. Jim was my friend. He taught me many things, just being himself, loving life and doing what he loved and was passionate about. Our lives shared space for a short time. I am forever grateful for those moments.
The following story was writen by David Calvo.
“I HAVE BEEN THROUGH THIS MANY TIMES BEFORE…”
My father was a steadfast man. He was a youthful 94 years old but because of unexpected circumstances he met an untimely death through the cruel undertow in this world that masquerades itself behind public pleasantries. In a short period of time his life changed dramatically, he went from being fit and strong to so frail that he could no longer walk. That said, don’t be fooled, he was still very strong and that was yet to be seen.
At the Stillwater Rehab in Rhode Island where he was recuperating, my father had stopped eating and taking liquids. Unknown to me, he was making it clear to everyone that he was changing his course and setting his internal compass in a new direction. Given COVID-19 visitation restrictions, with the help of the staff his wife did a video call to him and he said to her, “Get me out of here”. The thought of rehab was no longer a possibility. She called and told me what he had said. The next day I had a phone meeting with the staff and asked them to please do a video call for me too. My father said nothing but when I saw his face I knew and immediately made arrangements with hospice to honor his request so he would be in a comfortable setting to do what he needed to do with my support. He was clear that he was writing the last chapter of his story with his co-writer called “life.”
It took a number of people to get him up to the second floor of my home in Gloucester and settled in my bedroom where the hospice bed was. It is a sanctuary for me and I hoped it would be for him. He had been through hell and back and finally he was here where I (we) could be with him. Once all the commotion had died down and it was just the two of us he looked at me and said, “Are you okay?” I couldn’t believe his words, which almost brought me to tears given all that he himself had been through. In all truthfulness, I have found that this is a world where one could literally starve if they existed on noble words alone. “Yes Dad, I am okay. “ I replied.
My father was a complicated man and a force to be reckoned with. Foremost, he spoke his mind. He was stubborn. He was driven if he had something he wanted to accomplish. He was willful and often it was his way or the highway. He was a creative thinker who found a solution for everything and no challenge was too big. He fulfilled his responsibilities without complaint. He honored his word and did the best he could. We are all born with imperfections. It is the beauty of who we are… so I am very sad that he is gone.
I will tell you a story I carry with me like a pebble in my pocket. When I was young I had to have my tonsils out. It was a small hospital and back then things were not so sophisticated with the room monitors they have today. I think they had a pull cord over my bed that lit a light over my doorway or a buzzer. I was in my recovery room after the operation and I remember waking up and looking around. Next to my bed, my father was sleeping on a cot. I was surprised to see him there because after he worked a long day… there he was. I kept staring at him and felt comfort that he was there. I eventually fell asleep on my back. During the night I vomited and had no one been there I could have choked to death. That’s the truth of it. I could have… but my father was there. So amidst any conflicts we had, that one small story defines his lifetime to me.
My father and I were settled in and early that evening his wife, Brenda showed up to my home to stay and help. He was so happy to see her and hear her voice… you could see it in his eyes. He asked her where they both were to which she replied, “at David’s house.” His voice was fragile but he would push words out. We laughed about things and my father was as engaging as he could be. I put salsa music on and danced as he watched with a smile. He pointed to Brenda to try to get her to dance with me and she joked back to him that she couldn’t do that. I told her he taught me how to dance but I looked at him and said “but I am a better dancer than you” to which my dad made a very surprised face. He even pointed to something that needed fixing in my bedroom, gave me that eye, and I knew what he was saying. Always a father, always telling me what to do. There was a normalcy to this for which I was not prepared for. After some time together, once again my father caught me off guard with his words. He told his wife that she should get some sleep. That was the last quiet night.
The following morning the hospice nurse came and instructed me on the comfort meds and things I needed to be mindful of. My journey with my father was to begin and I watched in amazement because in spite of the hourglass in front of us he was enjoying everyday banter. At one point my brother and his wife came to visit with him. My father had the same bright, playful eyes and it reminded me of an earlier conversation we had at the hospital weeks before. During that visit he had become very poetic in his tone. He started by telling me in a soft voice, “Life is luscious.” then he smiled and pointed at me and said, “You and me, we are the same. We love what we can love.” I was taken aback by his words. They silenced me… and caused me to reflect because I certainly have misplaced my affections, as I am sure many have, but life moves on. All said, on this sunny afternoon in Gloucester he was playful with everyone in the room as if he had not a care in the world. I never, ever sensed the slightest tinge of fear or recoil, nor even the smallest raindrop of sadness. That said, he remained steadfast and with any of my offerings he continued to refuse any liquids, even the smallest amount to only wet his mouth. Nevertheless, I watched in awe as his catheter bag fill up everyday as he acted in tandem with the forces within him to release the “waters of life” from his body.
We had a musical household and my father taught me how to sing and harmonize which I do often to melodies that catch my attention. One afternoon, I played the Spanish love songs that he loved to sing and play on his guitar in the house we grew up in. I harmonized to them, interweaving melodies inside the songs to give some sweetness for his ears as he closed his eyes and listened.
During the day and all night we moved from exhausting moments of pain to sleep and back again. Sometimes he’d yell through his pain like a warrior going into battle as his body continued to break down. I tried to give him the comfort medication but he never welcomed any of it. If he was quick enough, he’d move his head or brush my attempts off with his hand. That said, I found creative ways to give them to him.
My dad wanted to meet the pain of life and it’s intensity head on with no meds, no comfort or filters to soften the scorching heat. It was courageous to watch and I was witnessing a new part of him I had never known. I would offer him a little water with a syringe just to wet his mouth and he would push it away. He wanted no liquids, nothing to ease or take him from his steadfastness. I ‘d say “Dad, I am just trying to help you, I am not getting in your way. “ but his focus was singular towards the unkind, raw whirlpool of life. You could seem him push himself into it. He’d grab his knees and pull them to his chest and to be present to the pain or he would tighten up his hands and upper body. Like a high diver after taking their initial jump, he was committed as gravity lead him forward.
Let me tell you how simple things became. When my father lost his ability to speak from his dehydration and condition we started making playful faces at each other. I would make a face at him and he would return one, then I would make another back and he would return one and that became our new banter. That’s how simple and ordinary things got.
Things changed one afternoon, because in the midst of his pain my father gave us a window into his world… in the heat of the moment and out of the blue he made the statement “I have been through this before”. I heard him and his wife, Brenda heard him too. Then later that afternoon again in the midst of pain he again clearly restated, “I have been through this many times before”. He was very deliberate with his words, and it took me a moment to digest what he had just said. I was silenced because in that simple statement he “reframed” what I was witnessing. I now recognized he knew what he was doing and things started to make sense. He never backed off from any of it. Never looked to me with eyes of pain. He was going through a familiar door. That’s what he was doing.
He had some complications with his catheter so he needed to be brought to the Hospice House in case the matter needed to be addressed. The ambulance came, we got him down the stairs and they took him away. Shorty thereafter, I followed and went to his room at the Hospice House and sat next to his bed. He was sleeping now. He had covered his head and body with the blanket as if he was cocooning himself –interiorizing – which he had done often at my home during the last few days. The nurse put some ports on his leg and had given him some comfort meds. The chaplain came by and spoke to us briefly. I too was exhausted, and after sleepless nights of trying to comfort medicate amid his resistance, I had only one question to ask…
WHY DO WE GO THROUGH ALL THIS PAIN WHEN WE DIE?
After a few moments in my silence something occurred to me “from nowhere” as to what was going on and what my father was doing.
Let me tell you what I saw.
The doorway into this world is through pain. That’s the only doorway. In the big picture of life it means nothing… but for us, when we meet intense change/contrast like touching heat, we feel it as pain. Hence, a mother-to-be experiences labor and contractions. She bears the pain of birth to bring us through that door and into this world. But at the other end of life we must leave by ourselves through the same door. My father was meeting that same pain. He was at the door and he was going through the same labor and contractions his mother went through when he came to be through her. In front of me, he was in labor unto himself. He would sleep in between the contracting pains just like his mother likely might have done in tandem with life. I kept comfort medicating him when I could sneak it in but I was not meeting the pain threshold he was moving towards with deliberateness. It didn’t really matter. He knew exactly what he was doing. He was birthing himself out of this world.
There is no death…. He showed me there is only birth.
So that was the last piece of the puzzle to my father’s life and if you can find some comfort in his words, you should. It was the midst of all the pain he said, “I have been through this many times before”. I am not saying your experience will be as my father’s was. He found himself in circumstances where he no longer had any ability to function so it was a deliberate act to go, for someone else it may be the gravitational pull of an illness. However, like music there are many variations on a theme, but the heartbeat; the heartbeat will be the same.
Let your illusions disappear… and celebrate your births… all of them.
Our last chapter has been written. In this miracle we call “life” I learned from you till the very end under a sun we know little about.
I dedicate this post to my Father.
Elisardo Moreno Calvo Jr. (Jim)
December 7, 1925 – September 25, 2020
Born in Tampa, Florida
Son of Evangelina Parra Birthplace: Tampa, Florida
& Elisardo Calvo Birthplace: Cuba
Ink Drawing by Peter W. Clarke (My father modeled for it)
After many sleepless nights I was exhausted, so after visiting with my father I went home to care for my son and make dinner. Afterwards, I sat at the kitchen table, put my head down and fell asleep while sitting in the chair. The following morning as soon as I woke up I went down to the Hospice House and walked into his room.
His body was completely relaxed. The pain was gone and so was he. His mouth and throat were wide open. There was only the gurgle of the vocal rattle as the umbilical chord of breath was getting ready to be cut by life itself before the cry of another newborn… somewhere, someplace takes its first breath of air. It’s always been about Birth. Always.
Don’t let your eyes fool you…
Featured Image – Ink Drawing by Peter W. Clarke