It was a week ago when I learned the my old housemate Ray's father was severely ill. I would have known it two weeks earlier had Facebook just kept its news feed as it was when I'd joined the site. I honestly didn't expect Ray to sit and write individual letters under the circumstances, so I was taken a bit unawares that things had become so dire.
Ray's dad, Bill, had been hospitalized because he was having difficulty doing much of anything. Putting on his pants knocked the wind out of him. Exams and tests revealed that there was a build up of plaque INSIDE the left chambers of his heart, which made pumping the blood to where it was needed a chore. He was given a 70% chance to be dead by or before Thanksgiving.
It happened Thursday. I don't have a specific time, and the time stamp of these posts has always been a little wonky. Bill was staying with Ray and Ray's sister, the two "kids" thrown from the role of offspring to caregivers. While hospice care was available, it was deemed better emotionally for Bill that he be with family during his last days. It wasn't easy on them, but love has a habit of overriding that which is "convenient."
Prior to his heart issues, Bill had gone through plenty of illness. Cancer and diabetes had mad his life complicated enough. He struggled financially. Heck, it would seem that the path of his life was never easy. But toward his last days, Bill made it clear what he wanted when he passed. Quoting him via Ray, "Throw a big party for me, and make sure everyone has a good time; that's all I want."
I will be unable to attend such a gathering. Becky has offered to help get me there for whatever will happen, but we really can't afford it. She floated the idea of me staying with Ray and company, but they'll have enough on their collective plates, and having a guest staying with them isn't my idea of being helpful in a time of need. What's more, I'm simply in no shape to travel. Being on a Greyhound bus while experimenting with new medications is simply not a good idea.
With the idea of celebrating a life, rather than simply mourning him, I will now tell the tale of how Bill almost caused me and Becky to have a heart attack. My memory is mush, so if I get any part of this tale wrong, my apologies.
It was during one of Becky's visits to me in KS. I had a doctor's visit. Since Becky had taken the bus to KS with me, we didn't have access to her car. No one else was available to drive us, as Ray's car had been pronounced dead some time ago, so we got Bill to drive us over to Manhattan for my appointment. This put me, Ray, and Becky in Bill's truck, with Bill at the wheel.
Manhattan, KS is a college town, and you could tell that on this particular day, as their college football team was preparing for some grand confrontation, and the town was gearing up for it. The streets were filled with cars, with some streets actually being closed off, just to make traffic more...adventurous.
Actually, I think this whole adventure was about medication refills, as I don't recall anyone having to wait for extended periods. So I got my prescriptions at the doctor's office; we went to the pharmacy to get my meds; then we were on our way home.
That's when we encountered...THE YELLOW LIGHT! When approaching a yellow light, one usually has several options. It all depends on how much road you have before you reach the light, right? Not in Bill's mind. A yellow light means you prepare to stop, and that's that. And so we were driving along at a pretty good pace, in the opposite direction of the college madness on the other side of the road, when, with only about 50 feet left to the light, it went yellow.
Bill slammed on the brakes. The rest of us were locked into terrified silence and the truck's wheels locked up, and we skid to a halt. As we all recovered...everyone but Bill, that is...I went into one of my comedic rants about how I was never getting into his vehicle again, unless I was either medicated in advance, or had Xanax on hand to take immediately after such driving...techniques.
It then became a thing for the next few days, being able to say that, "Yes, I got in the car with Bill at the wheel and was able to live to tell the tale." It seemed to be a known fact that being a passenger in Bill's truck was an adventure unto itself. The thing is, I'd had Bill drive me to one place or another before, and those trips were fine. This one...? No, this one was a true test of my cardiovascular system.
It's probably a much better tale to tell in person, in which I can then make facial expressions to go with our brief moment of terror, as Bill did what he considers normal, and the rest of us thought was suicidal. I believe I can pull off that "deer in the headlights" look rather well when I need to.
For all the other times I'd encountered Bill...Well, he was just a nice guy. Nice guys shouldn't have to suffer as he did in life. And yet I never heard him perpetually griping about his issues. Perhaps, like me, he had a place where he deposited all of his woes. He and his wife seemed to have done a great job rearing to very good people. And Bill had the added bonus of being able to spend time with his grandson, a joy to almost every senior out there.
"Rest in peace" seems to be the usual thing people add to such moments as this, without giving the phrase much thought. But after a life of struggling. especially in his later years, I certainly hope there is now a great deal of rest for Bill, as well as a great deal of peace.
Thus, I propose a toast: to William Max Hays...a man who never forgot to be awesome.