Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Client, Part II

Yesterday I wrote about hearing the news that a pro bono client of mine had suddenly taken a bad turn and the doctors suggested he didn't have much time left. Two states away, I struggled throughout the day with the mostly-irrational guilt that I wasn't able to go out and visit him. I wondered whether anyone would be able to see him, and I felt heartsick that it was possible that he could die feeling very alone.

I wrote to you late last night about my feelings on the topic. This morning I began calling the nurse who had contacted me yesterday. I tried several times for a couple of hours, but was never able to get through to her. I was hoping he would somehow make it a few more days so I could have the opportunity to say goodbye.

Finally someone answered the phone. I told the person who I was and asked for the status update of this man.

He died yesterday just after 5:00 PM. He was already gone when I wrote to you about him.

It was strange to hear the words, and I wasn't sure what I was supposed to say in response. Thank you? Ok? I appreciate the information?

I said none of those things. I just paused for a moment on the phone. And then I heard myself utter the only thing that felt appropriate in the moment: "I was really hoping you wouldn't say that."

The man on the other end of the phone responded, "I'm sorry. And I wish I had more details for you, but you'll want to talk to someone else who isn't available right now."

I asked the man on the phone if anyone had been able to see my client before he passed. He didn't know, but guessed that there may not have been visitors yesterday, since my client went so quickly after the first signs of the end showed that morning.

I hung up. There was nothing more to do for now. I texted my assistant so she would know and could pass the information on to a few others, in case they hadn't already heard.

And that was that.

I'll never forget him. I doubt he knew how much he touched my life and how much my opportunity to interact with him taught me. I wish I could tell him now. I can't. I was his attorney. But I am certain he did more for me than I ever did for him. And that feels strange.

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. That sucks, sorry for your loss Eli, but happy that you were able to learn from the time you had with him.

  2. Sorry Eli. I know you really wanted to be there for him. I remember when my grandfather passed 15 years ago. He was my favorite person, and I wasn't able to say goodbye to him. But he and I had a lot of good times together, and he shared a lot of stories with me and my family before he left us, and I remember those things and hold them dear. Just remember the good things about this man, and be thankful that he came into your life.

  3. I'm so sorry, Eli. I will be praying for you and your friend.

  4. I'm so sorry. But just remember that you tried everything you could to make sure someone could get there.

  5. I listened to "Fahrenheit 451" on audiobook the past few days, and a few words by Bradbury really struck me then and now.

    “And when he died, I suddenly realized I wasn’t crying for him at all, but for the things he did. I cried because he would never do them again, he would never carve another piece of wood or help us raise doves and pigeons in the backyard or play the violin the way he did, or tell us jokes the way he did. He was part of us and when he died, all the actions stopped dead and there was no one to do them the way he did. He was individual. He was an important man. I’ve never gotten over his death. Often I think what wonderful carvings never came to birth because he died. How many jokes are missing from the world, and how many homing pigeons untouched by his hands? He shaped the world. He did things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.”

    “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there.

    It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”