"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Today's post is brought to you by the letter G for Grief, Good-bye, Gah.

Remember my sassy little book trailer for Freezer Burn? There is a picture of the book on a boat:

That's Jim Barnes. My book is wearing his arms, paddling the kayak on Salmon Lake, in northern California. Here's the actual shot:

I met Jim at the Gray Eagle Lodge in the Plumas National Forest in 2002. It was a fairly innocuous meeting; I honestly don't remember much about him except he was very quiet and went along with whatever anyone else wanted to do.

We kept going up to Gray Eagle every year, and kept meeting Jim and his family and kept forging our friendship. In addition to being quiet and agreeable, I also found out, over time, that he was funny, he played the guitar, and he was nice to hang around with. (This is a pic of our usual campsite. Jim's in the middle, standing.)

Eight years later, we're good friends, even though he's in Sacramento and we're in Placentia, which is about seven hours apart. We don't know the details of each other's lives, we don't speak daily, or even weekly, unless you count our Facebook shenanigans. But we see each other when we can, and if he needed us, we'd be northbound to Sacramento ASAP.

Which made it difficult when we found out he had cancer. Neither Dale nor I are doctors, caregivers, or have any clue about how to help our friends and loved ones go through this awful disease. We can be cheerleaders. We can offer our shoulders to absorb tears, or the weight of the world. We can even stand in the middle of a hospital and yell, "Who do I have to sleep with to get some attention around here?"

Okay, I can probably yell that better than Dale.

So we hovered, as best we could, 400 miles away, texting, calling, and doing the Facebook thing. We saw Jim in August at Gray Eagle. He was taking a lot of extreme medication to control the pain, and had just had the first biopsy. It was either lymphoma or pancreatic cancer, and he'd find out when he got back from vacation.

It's weird, but we were praying for lymphoma. It is, at least, the most treatable and most recoverable.

Several weeks pass, mostly because it seems that his doctors and nurses each want to piss one more day away and schedule things daaaaaayyyyyyssss apart. Not that I'm bitter about the medical establishment and insurance companies… We finally find out it's lymphoma and he's starting chemo.

Yay, lymphoma! (Weird, right?)

His first treatment doesn't go well. He's in pain, he's scared, and all we can do down here is tell him he's in our thoughts and prayers and we love him and if the kids need anything, we're here to help. I see on Facebook that some of his friends are familiar with the effects of chemo and are offering suggestions, and I feel better, knowing he's got such a big support group.

Another few weeks go by and I don't hear anything from him. I send a message to his daughter, Alyssa. "How's your dad?"

"Not good." Her reply is devastating. He is in constant pain. The chemo isn't working. Nothing is working. He asked his daughters for permission to go into compassionate care and slip away. There is nothing else to be done, except to be medicated beyond consciousness and wait.

Turns out it was pancreatic cancer all along.

At 11:25 p.m., the same day I receive this message and alert the rest of his friends in southern California and send a message to Lyssie of love and support, I get a text from a friend of his oldest, non-bio-daughter (not that it matters). Jim has just passed.

There are a frantic few days, trying to figure out whether to run to Sacramento just to hug three girls, or whether to wait until we can be of help, or attend a service, or… or what? What do you do for a friend? When my dad died, we flew back to Illinois to attend the funeral and help my brother clean out his apartment. Services for Jim are still a few weeks away. He has family who are helping the girls.

All I feel I can do right now is get out the tissues and the pom-poms. Cry on my shoulder, Sweeties, and know I'm rooting for you.

And Jim – I'd tell you to rest in peace, but I'd rather you rest on your own terms. Let it be peaceful if that's your desire. Or come back and haunt us if it gives you a giggle. Love you always.

One of our outings was when Jim, along with "Sarica" (Sara, the oldest and her BFF, Erica) came to the Sacramento Convention Center to see Marcus sing with the All State Jazz Choir. He was here, in the audience:


Ali Trotta said...

Oh, Gayle. I just...what can I say? What can anyone say in a situation like this? Man, it sucks, I know. And this made me reach for the Kleenx, for a lot of reasons.

Jim sounded like an awesome guy. Thanks for sharing a little bit of his life with your readers. :-)

Helen Ginger said...

Oh, Gayle. That's so sad. I'm so sorry that he's gone. Reading your post, I feel like I knew him just a little. When things like this happen and someone says it's heartbreaking - it really is.

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