Death by Shaving

According to his death certificate, Jamey died April 19, 2015 at 2:45 am, at Samaritan Hospice, Mt Holly, NJ.

Immediate cause of death: Death by Shaving.

Ok, I kind of made that cause of death up.

Technically, the recorded immediate cause of death was Astrocytoma–the specific type of brain tumor he had.

But according to his nurse Jorge, who had a very heavy accent that I will (possibly offensively and politically incorrectly) write for you phonetically…”Eeet wuz de shave dat deed heem een.” (See also, “It was the shave that did him in”).

Lest you start conjuring up images of his nurse(who was an unbelievably comforting, skilled and knowledgable hospice nurse) accidentally knicking him with a razor and Jamey bleeding out or some horrific scene like that, rest assured that wasn’t the case.

Let me explain the last day I spent with my husband alive.

It was Saturday, April 18th. I’d spent the morning shopping with Caeley at a local mall.

The goal of that trip was hardly your ordinary mother/daughter retail therapy jaunt.

The goal had a somber objective–pick out clothes for Jamey’s wake and funeral.

At that point, we knew he didn’t have much longer to live and Caeley had decided that she wanted to spend the day picking out outfits to wear and generally having fun.

So she picked 3 different dresses from Macy’s, a pair of hot-pink Doc Martens (that’s my girl) from Journey’s Kids and I picked up a Legends of Zelda dress(a nod to Jamey and his brother Steve’s late teen/early adulthood obsession with that video game) from Hot Topic(don’t judge me!!!).

I’m assuming we also stopped at Ginny’s cookies for an M&M cookie since that was our usual mall routine.

At some point, I dropped her home to be watched by my sister, Pam, and headed back to Jamey.  I’d brought some school work with me since I was still teaching classes in between juggling everything else so I’d planned on getting some work done.

When I arrived, I found out that several of Jamey’s friends had visited in the day which I was happy to hear, but I remember feeling guilty that I hadn’t been there to visit with them too.

I also felt guilty and wondered if they’d thought it was wrong that I’d left Jamey’s bedside to go shopping. I know they didn’t, but the thought gnawed at me.

I’d just gotten done setting up my work on my little table next to my pullout chair/bed when Jorge walked in and introduced himself.

I have an image of him that’s seared into my memory so I’ll describe him with all the likely inaccuracy of most eye-witness accounts to crimes: he was about 5’9″, slight build, dark hair and eyes with a well-manicured, thin beard and an earring(in his ear, not his beard).

He had a heavy accent(see above) and I learned that his family had come to the US from Puerto Rico when he was young.

We struck up a conversation and I learned that he’d wanted to become a hospice nurse(and he specifically said he only ever wanted to do hospice) after watching his grandfather pass away from cancer.

We chatted for a while and then he asked me something odd–he asked me how Jamey and I had met.

That completely took me off guard.

In all the years of hospitals stays and revolving nurses, doctors, nurses aids, etc…not once had anyone asked a question that wasn’t clinically or medically pertinent.

Not once had someone acknowledged that Jamey or I or Caeley were at one point normal people, with normal, boring lives.

I have no recollection of how detailed I did or didn’t get after he triggered me into a talking frenzy with his question. I just remember talking….and talking….and talking. I remember feeling like I couldn’t–and didn’t want to stop.  I know I told him about Caeley because at one point, he changed the flow of our conversation.

He asked me how Caeley was handling everything. He shared that he was about the same age as she was (11) when his grandfather died and how it had such a lasting impact on him.

He then, firmly, but tenderly gave me a direct instruction: “You need to be with your daughter now. She needs you. I promise you your husband would want that.”

I initially balked, knowing that Jamey’s death was imminent. I told him that Caeley was with family and that she was fine. I told him I’d already left Jamey for most of the day and the weighing guilt I felt about that. I told him about the vigil I’d kept when he was inpatient for all those months a few years past.

I didn’t want to leave Jamey alone. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.

He then shared with me something I’d heard in movies and tv shows but always thought was total bullshit. He told me that he didn’t know how or why, but that many of his hospice patients waited until a spouse or child was out of the room to pass away. He suggested that that may be what Jamey was doing–waiting for me to leave. He asked me if I felt I was ready to let him go and I told him no, but that I wanted Jamey to be at peace.

He again gave me his firm, but tender direct instruction: “Go home to your daughter”.

This time, I didn’t fight the suggestion.

Jorge promised me he would take care of Jamey.  He joked about Jamey’s scruffy facial hair and said, “I’m going to clean him up for you and shave him. He’ll feel so much better after a good shave”.

Although Jorge had planted a seed in my head about Jamey “waiting for me to leave” to die, I still kind of thought it was romanticized bullshit. I’d love to be able to tell you that in my heart I knew Jorge was right–that I knew when I said goodbye to Jamey this Saturday, April 18th, it would be the last time I would see him alive.

It would make for a more poignant story.

But that wasn’t the case.

Jamey had fought and held on for so long, I was convinced he’d be there in the morning.

And I could visit him refreshed after a night of sleeping in our own big comfy bed and not that pull-out chair/bed. I put in a call to his oldest brother Mark and our sister-in-law Kelly and they happily sped over to relieve me of my duties and ensure Jamey wasn’t alone.

I said my goodbyes to Jamey and told him I’d see him tomorrow.

And I did.

At approximately 3:30 am Sunday, April 19th after being awoken by his big brother Mark’s quivering voice telling me over the phone, “He’s gone” and speeding up the NJ turnpike to once ahead visit him, I “saw Jamey tomorrow.”

I passed Jorge at the nurse’s station on my way to Jamey’s room and he gave me a big hug.

I don’t think I was crying.

I don’t think I was feeling anything at that point.

I asked Jorge what had happened and he told me that he washed Jamey up, changed his clothes and shaved him like he’d promised me.

He said that in order to change his clothes, he needed the help of an aide to move him around in his bed.

Within a few minutes of being freshly shaved and dressed in clean clothes, Jamey died.

He likely threw a blood clot from being moved after being immobile for so long.

He died swiftly.

He died painlessly.

He died with a clean-shaven face.

“Eeet wuz da shave dat deed heem een.”

Happy 4th, #4!





3 thoughts on “Death by Shaving

  1. I never heard this story…. strangely beautiful really and beautifully told. I’m always aware I’m only this happy in my life with you because of this sad event and would always give it all up if I could turn back the clock for you and Cael. 😞
    Gorge sounds like a unique individual . I wonder where he is now…


  2. Thank you so much for that story. It is indeed a beautuful moment and a reminder that a dying person has more choices and more gifts of knowing when they want to leave this earth than we realize. I’ve heard more than one nurse comment “They know what they’re doing.”
    In relation to brain cancer…well, it drags them down a very unique path of cognitive decline along with the physical suffering of brain cancer treatment and eventual conking- out of their bodies. But in the end, based on the stories I read and hear about that are just like your account, they seem to have the presence of mind And clarity to do things like wait for the right time to go and it seems like it’s done with charity, as in the kind of charity that is their love for us and wanting to help us as they leave. What a gift he gave you!
    A blessed Easter to you and yours, Kim. You and all the other members of my ‘tribe’ of this unique kind of caregivers are in my prayers all the time.
    My hubby’s still chugging along, astrocytoma and all. He’s in a rather pitiful state to be left on his own so I’m here most of the time ( he had a few whopper strokes and lots of seizures last fall) but he does ok with some direction and help.

    The peace of Christ to you and yours,


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