Death’s Inconvenient Timing.

But when it comes, if we’re lucky, can be finessed.

Photo by Vincent Guth on Unsplash

We can all most assuredly look toward that time and moment when we say goodbye to this place. We can do this with or without all our contrived philosophies on the matter.

One thing is for sure: the time comes.

To modify that just a little. If we are younger then it can be when death is at its most inconvenient, not counting suicide, of course. This is more about when we’re older, way older and frail and falling apart at an alarming rate. We must begin to prepare for the days.

Harry and Judy were just such a couple. They’d reached the long years, were blessed for doing so: Harry had survived prostate cancer and Judy overcame a complicated bout with melanoma. Judy joked for years after her face surgery she’d gotten the deluxe plastic surgery makeover. You’re nothing if you don’t have humor. Life will chew you up and spit you out like so much chewing tobacco. You have to laugh at life.

For if you don’t, it will laugh at you all the way into your grave.

After all, on more than one level, life is a jigsaw puzzle where every other piece tells us we know some of the answers. Other pieces remind us we know nothing. Thus, the ability to laugh at ourselves, to laugh at others, kindly, to laugh at what we think is ‘the correct society’. Laughter is, without a doubt, the sweet gift that gets us through.

It can be scary if we dwell on just how little we really do know. Don’t you ever get the notion that a flitting hummingbird working the flower bushes seems to have things in far clearer order than we do? Be honest, damn it.

Judy and Harry both had the same birthdate, bumping into ninety-two and still strong as lightning. Every day in corn and soy country they walked the narrow blacktops around their comfortable farm house in Mclean County, Illinois. Along the same black tops might have been flat growing soy or another year might have corn stalks towering way over their heads.

The sharp late spring winds, still a little cool, forced the couple into their bright blue, comfortable, feather filled parkas. They looked like a smartly dressed and still vital couple as they walked the gravelly shoulders hand in hand.

Farmers driving by in pickups waved to them.

When the wind blew too strong, they’d raise the hoods that came with the coats.

After a couple months, it was the gusts of the burning hot Illinois summer. Harry would call out to Judy “It’s a burner Hon.” She’d answer soon enough “Yep, it is old man.” When it got like that, Judy and Harry walked in t-shirts, khaki shorts and sturdy hiking shoes.

In the basement, Harry did his workout lifting his few dumbbells and did dips, pushups and abs. Twenty years ago he’d stopped hefting the thirty-five pound dumbbells army press style. He knew in an instant his body couldn’t lift that anymore. He and Judy made a big deal about buying brand new twenty five pounders at Walmart's. Judy said that her working around the house all day long picking up after him was more than enough workout.

Winter came around. Fire crackled in the chimney. Harry kept a full supply of dried fire wood outside his tool shed.

His shed had once been full of work tools he used around the farm. Some years back he’d sold off most of them, kept the most basic tools. Pliers, hammer, screwdrivers, Allen wrenches, crescent wrenches, small drill, extension cords, an electric saw, bailing wire, duct tape and DW40.

In the winter, his eight-year-old John Deere rider mower sat silent in the shed. He looked forward to when mid spring rolled around to that first day, when the vast lawn around the house needed the first cut.

The firing up of his mower brought him untold pleasure and reminded him that time was passing. Bitter sweet. Judy was almost always there in the shed with him for the first start up, her soft cheeks slightly blushed, her pale blue eyes watering, her smile stole Harry’s heart, even more so now than before.

He’d recall the first time he saw her at school, a teenage beauty. He knew. The white shine around her face, like an energy, he just knew. They married after high school.

Judy made the best rhubarb pie in the county. Used to compete in the state fair. She still went to the side of the house to cut the stalks to prepare pie for Harry and family. A full Illinois garden provided bags full of cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, caul flowers, and green peppers and more.

When they sold their farm land twenty years prior, sold off the combine and two tractors, they kept the house, which they put in their two sons’ names. The grain silo remained as a reminder of far busier times. The neighbor farmer filled the bin every year and Harry looked forward to talking with the much younger man.

&&&

In the Fall, over head the large V formations of Canada geese were working their way down south. Even from such a height, their plaintive honking came so clear.

“Hey Hon, morning Judy, hey you alright dear?” Outside, the snow flurries clearly visible as it flew over the planets richest growing black soil now tilled and resting. Winter was just around the corner. Tapping on the bedroom windows were snow crystals pecking at the glass.

“Huh, oh good morning honey, oh it’s just so cold, isn’t it? Don’t tell me you’re not cold?” She shivered.

“Well, yes it is, but, you know, you, or we just always, time to…”

“Time to what, old man? Someone visiting today? I’m going to start sleeping a little longer and that’s that. My bones and stomach hurt, damn it.”

Harry started to say something but closed his mouth. He straightened and unwrinkled her thick blankets over the round of her hip. Patted her. So this is how it starts, he thought. He worked at keeping his eyes from tearing up, had to wipe his face with his sleeve.

“There’s a nice fire downstairs, Judy. Got warm tea too, the one we like, chamomile with spice. Want to come down?”

She turned to him, smiling. “What’s the matter with you, Harry? You think I’m dying?” She burst out in a rich cackle, filling the small room. “I sure hope you have tea for me when I’m taking my last breath, mister.” She reached beside her and patted his thinning back. Again he quickly sat up right.

Changes.

Harry began to see more and more that life was nothing if it wasn’t just a bunch of changes. There were too many instances to list, but Judy sleeping in was one. Harry having to drop his dumbbell weight and instead of doing his three hundred pushups he was down to a hundred. Hell, he thought, most eighteen-year-old punks can’t do twenty.

Some fifteen years back, their oldest son Ash bought them a cabin in Alaska. Just an hour north of Anchorage. Ash had winterized the cabin. Filling it with insulation and installing winter grade windows. The state was offering large tracts for long-term leases and Ash picked one up. On a hill side property covered in tall pines birches and aspens sat an idyllic log cabin. He fixed it up with solar panels and a well for water. The garage and storage shed not ten feet away was stocked full of fire wood.

“Hey Mom, Dad, here’s the cabin in the woods you always wanted but never got around to getting.” He hired a maintenance guy who lived not ten miles from the cabin who took care of the place. Those first few years, Ash took it upon himself to take his parents up to Alaska and stayed a week at the cabin.

Lots of hikes, lots of trout fishing in the Komack River just a half mile away. Harry tried fly-fishing but in a huff went back to his old spinning reel. Judy worked at her chalks, rendering beautiful sheets of the forests, tall pines, detailed works of acorns and cones, chipmunks, the hills and far mountain ranges.

Soon the thick log walls were covered with her art work.

The cabin fell silent in the evening, and after the fire place stopped crackling, all present were treated to a night time concert. The sound of crickets and other night time bugs pervaded, but it was the coyotes that won out in volume. The yipping and childlike howling of the small dog like creatures could go nonstop through the night.

On more than one night, bears were heard just outside moving stuff around in search of food. Occasionally a short cough or growl, then silence. Harry and Judy loved it. But the most amazing was when from deeper up the mountain, the Timber wolves howled.

When the big wolves howled the crickets and coyotes all went silent.

“The hair on the back of my neck stood up just now. That’s incredible Ash, you hear that Judy? Isn’t that one of the most amazing things you’ve ever heard?” They all sat up in their cots, eyes wide open as Mother Nature reminded them who really was in charge. Who really needed to be heard? And that if man one day took the wrong turn, which was probable, it was the big wolves and other forest dwellers who would care for the planet again.

&&&

Harry suffered a small heart attack while pushing his mower out of the shed. The doctor at Brokaws told him that he was lucky this time.

“Yeah, right doc, real lucky, I sure as hell don’t feel god damn lucky. Why the hell would you say such a thing. Just give me the damn pills. Hey give me pain pills too, I’ve earned it. My back is getting worse. Ever since that combine just about tore me in half. Give me some of the real stuff son.” The doctor started filling out a prescription form. Harry watched to make sure he was giving him some pain pills.

As Harry and Judy left the hospital, Harry hatched a plan. He thought back to Judy’s recent week long hospital stay because of a mystery stomach issue. She lost too much weight. An insistent pain was worsening. Harry would catch her late at night in tears from the discomfort. Weight wasn’t coming back on. She’d started sleeping until ten. Harry took over most of the kitchen duties. Their walks lessened and were a fraction the distance of what they’d been just a year before.

“Why yes Ash. That’s what I’m trying to tell ya, son. Me and your Mom want to sort of permanently move to the cabin. It should be alright. I promise we won’t be a burden. John, the maintenance guy, can help us with all the needed stuff. There’s good communications now to the city in case we get into any real trouble. It’ll be alright.” Ash knew that trying to talk his old man out of something, he’d have better success buying the big Lotto winner.

&&&

Mid spring. It was cold and dark in Alaska. John met them with his deep purple Ford Ranger at the airport in Anchorage and helped them get food supplies while in the city. After an hour’s drive, they were climbing up the thick wooded planks to the front door. Even before entering Judy was already contentedly rearranging the chairs on the porch.

The place had a musty quality to it, windows opened and soon fresh breezes blew through the place. John gave Harry and Judy instructions, all written on a chart on the door, how to start the heater, to start the oven, test the well, electrical master switches, he explained how the septic drain field worked, how to check fuel levels in the outside tank. He put a list of emergency phone numbers on the fridge.

Those first weeks were tougher on Judy than Harry had expected.

“I’m starting to think this wasn’t such a bright idea, hon. The last thing I want for you to do is suffer.” Harry held Judy in a steady gaze.

“I’m fine Harry. My god if you really want to know, I’d started to wonder when you were going to come up with a plan like this. Hey you, I’m okay, never you mind me. Now what’s it going to be tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches or mac and cheese?” She smiled knowingly. Her constantly blushed cheeks clear evidence of a vast inner sweetness.

Dinner on the porch was rewarding in the warm season, the land came alive with fireflies. Off in the distance the coyotes sang a mournful cry. Harry began to worry, his couldn’t hide it.

“Oh, I know Harry, just let it be, let it be, it’ll be alright, you’ll see. We’re pushing ninety five now.”

Almost immediately Judy went about installing herself, her easels. Two of them took over one corner of the small, two room, log cabin. A smaller one she set up on the porch “to catch the sun” she’d said. Before long, her beautiful chalks began to take form. Harry drank his tar like coffee, slowly, sleepily and watched her work from his rocking chair. She had a quickness and a sureness of the way she’d take to the paper.

There was plenty for him to do around the place. If you didn’t work at maintenance, you would soon fall behind. Harry repaired screened windows where squirrels or chipmunks had tried to nibble through to get in. Fire wood had to be brought in every day and stacked next to the flagstone fire place. Harry cut kindling wood so the thicker logs would catch. He became an expert in resuscitating the aging and dying dryer.

He soon discovered he could no longer do his workout. Even though he’d not brought his weights his push ups, and abs, a convenient pull up bar seemed ludicrous. It was all he could do just to get his new chores done.

Fall cloaked the mountains in rich color. The aspen turned brilliant yellows lighting up the country side.

An ambitious project of building a perimeter log fence around the cabin came to stand still. Harry found he just couldn’t muster the energy to haul the felled narrow pine trunks for cutting down to size.

“Hey Harry, I’m real impressed how you two are handling things out here. I’ll be honest, I expected to do lots more. Hey you want to finish that fence? Won’t keep anything out, but if you want. You hardly ever need me.” John said.

“What, so you saying we’re old and useless. No, once it warms up next year, Ill finish it off.” Harry chuckled as he lifted some chicken wire to patch a hole in the fence around what was a garden in the summer.

“Oh no sir, not at all, I’m just…”

“Oh hell, I know what you’re saying son. Hey, you see that mountain up back there?” Harry pointed.

“Sure, that’s Tukoetna Mount, about a thousand feet elevation from here. Climb takes a couple hours, pretty easy going. There’s a creek that flows from above with some great rainbow fishing. Got to watch for bears, you know.”

“Yeah, I guess, that’s why I have a Winchester. I’m wondering about the timber wolves John, where are they?”

“Oh hell, they’re all over the land here. Wait around long enough in the forest. One or two will come around to check you out. Take your rifle.” John smiled. “But yeah, there mostly up on the Mount.”

&&&

Winter came on full in mid-January, and the news said they hadn’t had a winter like this in twenty years. John assured them that’s just what they said every year.

It was halfway through winter that the aging couple realized something was approaching. They could feel it. Lately Harry was having heart pains that were beyond the usual. He’d long since run out of any pain meds. No doctor in Anchorage would prescribe him ‘the good stuff’.

In front of the fire, Harry and Judy took turns reading about dying in the cold. They shared the information as though they were going over talking about how to properly stack fresh cut wood. They shared The Call of the Wild.

Early winter Harry said he was going rabbit hunting and tied on his snow shoes and headed out. He’d gone up the Mount looking for a spot. He’d gotten an hour or so into the forest when a fatigue settled in. He had no choice but to sit down in the snow against the trunk of an old birch. Closed his eyes and fell into a deep sleep.

He dreamed of when he’d taken young Ash on one of their earlier duck hunts on an Illinois water reservoir. They’d set out their small collection of decoys out around the brush covered blind in the middle of the partially iced over lake. Once done they’d drunk a mug of hot chocolate from their Thermos then sat side by side in the zero degree weather. Outside a brisk breeze blew through them.

Suddenly Harry jerked awake with a start, still in the dream, immediately looked over at his eight year son. But Harry was back in Alaska but remembered seeing his son sound asleep, deeply asleep, dangerously asleep. He slept so deeply that Ash had slept with a cheek against a hand held heater which burned his skin. Harry reprimanded himself and swore he’d never let something like that happen again.

The sleep was the most peaceful Harry had ever had. Ever.

Judy was fading faster than Harry expected, he wondered if they would be able to do what they’d planned. Harry and Judy had crafted a letter professing their love for their boys, thanked them for giving them all that any parent could ever hope for. They set in on top of the mantel above the fire place. He sacrificed his Winchester to better help Judy.

All bundled up they headed out the cabin. They turned once and watched as a curl of smoke rose silently, peacefully from the chimney. A soft snow had just begun.

Harry felt the heart pain and Judy complained that she needed to rest, her stomach brought terrible pain.

“We’re almost there Judy, almost there hon.” They were well past the doubts they had first shared, talked them out. They trudged slowly, almost a crawl, but kept going in their snow shoes.

“Oh god I’m getting cold Harry. I’m sorry I dragged you out here. I just…”

“What? What are you talking about Judy, this was our plan. We decided we would go in a way that took us away from the usual agonizing bed scene. This will be fine Judy, you’ll see.” Suddenly a sense of bravado. Harry added, “hon, we’re going in style.”

After a long four hours of slow progress Harry recognized they were partially up the side of the Mount and looked for the place. A gentle gurgling sound called his attention. Just off to the left was the small, mostly iced over creek John said was there.

“There Judy, a beautiful place under a thick snow covered pine bough, right on the edge of the creek, see the snow sitting just overhead. Beautiful, see?”

Judy had closed her eyes already, her head began to nod more, “okay hon, okay, I’m so tired, my tummy hurts so bad Harry, just want to sit now, on the blanket okay?” Harry held her close and smelled her perfume of the last countless years and tears stung his eyes, he was invaded by doubt.

They were dying, leaving this life. This was their decision as to how.

“It’s, it’s so beautiful here Harry.” Her words barely audible and slow. ”Thankyou Harry, I love you.” Harry held her fast to his side fighting tears.

The snow cushion was soft. Snow started to fall in crystals as big as silver dollars, pif, pif, pif they touched down on Earth. The sound of the falling snow mixed wonderfully with the softly gurgling creek. A misty cloud seemed to cloak them, condensation from their breathing. The cold began to creep in. At first it was just cool. Then as though a creeping alive thing the freeze reached through their blankets and clothing. And yet a core of warmth held them, enough so that a peace settled in.

“Judy? Judy? You hear that Judy? Harry looked into her closed eyes, she was not moving. His watch told him they’d been asleep two hours, Judy’s color wasn’t right. He checked her for a pulse and found none. His tears poured uncontrollably. The pain was reaching a higher crescendo in his chest as though a vice had hold of him. “Judy? Judy?” He coughed with pain as he bent over clutching his chest. He hoped she’d suddenly break into conversation.

Silent.

A breeze blew softly when he heard it. First a yip, then unmistakably the deft sounds of heavy pads behind them. In no time there were five timber wolves, more, he couldn’t tell. Huge, beyond what he’d imagined. Teeth bared in a killing grin, hair standing on their backs.

Such wonder, such wonder thought Harry.

The deep growls was what he’d hear last as they lunged.

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No Matter What People Tell You, Words And Ideas Can Change The World.

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Tom Jacobson

Tom Jacobson

Just discovered the world of Medium. utterly amazing! Published first book, romantic adventure in Guatemala and Nicaragua, on Amazon. Title Lenka: A love story.

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