It’s not about the destination but the relationship you have with someone…
Updated: Aug 13, 2019
As a Biographer Writer I tend to meet a lot of interesting people. And sometimes very few of those people will have an impact on my life. John was definitely one of those people.
I met John at St Vincent’s Sacred Heart Hospice in Darlinghurst where I was volunteering my time to write his biography. When I knocked on the door of his hospital room to meet him for the first time, he was casually sitting back on his bed with his friends looking so relaxed and no care in the world. He did not look sick and looked relatively young, so I felt relieved to be meeting with a patient after so long who did not look ill – I instinctively knew I was going to enjoy working with him.
Meeting John in the Hospice didn’t feel all so bad. When his friends left, he plonked himself on his bed again and wanted to know what was going to happen. I explained that I was to meet with him for about an hour, once a week, unless he wanted shorter sessions; and in between sessions I would transcribe what he said and that’s how we would write his book.
So he began speaking…. Like most of the patients, he started in chronological order; where he was born, who his family were and where he grew up. I was surprised that he was only 50 years old and he had lived so many chapters of his life.
The more he spoke the more we went back and forth with his life; what some of his jobs were, his sons, the woman he married and the love he had for his parents. Before we knew it, our first session had gone on for 90minutes. I wanted him to keep going – I was hooked, but I knew I needed to be patient and stop our session. He was tired.
John looked at me and we both knew it was time for me to leave. He asked when he would see me again and I said I could see him tomorrow (being Sunday) if he felt up to it.
I left the hospital eager to get home and transcribe what he said. I was already captivated by his life.
When I called the next morning I was surprised how eager he was to see me. His voice had changed from the day before – ‘Mona, it was the first time in so many months that I could sleep the whole night!’ I felt like I’d been talking to a counsellor’. When I heard that, I knew more than anything I wanted to dedicate as much time as I could to working with John to ensure I captured everything about his life and give him his book before he passed away.
I was determined to beat death this time, because the past few patients I had worked with had passed away before they saw the completed version of their book. Not this time I thought. This time I would win, this time I would finish the book and get to see John’s face when I gave it to him. What I thought was determination at the time, I later realised it was my ego pushing through.
So my journey with John began. I slept, ate and breathed his story. I began seeing him every weekend – both Saturday and Sunday. When he left the hospital and invited me into his home, I felt like we were becoming friends. He would show me his home – talk about the renovations he made progress on, make a cup of tea, I would talk with his family briefly and then we would go into his study and get on with our session. We would laugh like we were old friends, sitting around talking about whatever we felt like. He would tell me his about life and I would listen. I was finding it hard to believe he was sick and because he didn’t come across like he was, I put it out of my mind.
There were moments I would try not cry, like when he talked about the proudest moment he had of his boys and there were moments we would both tear up with laughter when he talked about his embarrassing moments.
Still….a part of me was trying hard to not get attached and spend too much time with him; although I knew it was too late. I really liked him and his family. John was even talking about him and his wife taking me out to dinner to say thanks for all the time I was volunteering in helping him write his biography for his family. We both just kept saying how much we really looked forward to the sessions.
I loved hearing about his life and he felt really comfortable sharing it all with me. I felt so honoured to be sitting there in that room with him week after week and just couldn’t believe how easy it was being there with him.
I still believed I was immune to getting attached, until one Saturday afternoon, we were at the point of looking at pictures to include in his book. I was excited we were at the stage of matching pictures to his story because it meant he would get his book – but seeing him that day, it was the first time I had seen him unwell. I didn’t like what I saw and the feeling between us was different. I left his home with an empty sad feeling for the first time since I had begun working with him.
I tried shrugging it off. We said we would try catch up before I left for Melbourne to finish his book, after he had reviewed the copy I had given him. In the meantime, he was going to get his son to scan pictures relating to the book and email them to me. But I never got that email.
For the next two weeks we were finding it hard to meet. John wasn’t feeling well and I was struggling to find time to see him during the week. I was torn about leaving him to go to Melbourne for a week, but it was a must for family and I couldn’t not go. In my heart, I knew something was not right and I was hoping he would still be ok when I got back. I tried calling him when I was in Melbourne but I got no answer.
When I got back I messaged him the very next day to let him know I had returned and if everything was ok. I was relieved to see his name come up on my phone, but within seconds I broke down when I saw the message was from his wife to say he had passed away the night before. I didn’t know what to do especially when tears instantly strolled down my face. I’d been walking home from work so I tried to stop crying but couldn’t; I was in disbelief and 45minutes later, I don’t even know how I got myself home having cried all the way.
I was devastated. I thought I was upset because I had lost another patient before completing their book, but it was more than that. I felt like I had failed John by not pushing through harder; I felt like I had failed a friend. I thought I would beat death this time until I realised I was letting my ego get the better of me. I let myself forget why I was spending time with him in the first place, why I was volunteering my time and finally snapped myself out of it – ‘who really cared whether the book was finished or not.’ I had lost a friend and never got to say goodbye to him. Our last conversation was that he would call me back and he never did.
Not long after he had passed away, I began reflecting on my time spent with John and remembered something so beautiful which he kept telling me every time we met. He felt like he was talking with a counsellor. He hadn’t felt so good in so long, he was sleeping and looked forward to every single one of our sessions; he valued me as a friend. John didn’t care that his biography wasn’t finished; he just enjoyed my company as much as I enjoyed his.
Soon enough I realised, ‘it wasn’t about the destination, but the relationship you have with someone that matters’. For John it was about the journey of healing, and for me, it was about the relationship and the privilege to share the end of his life with him like I had been a part of it for years…
Even though I didn’t get the chance to see you one more time and say goodbye, thank you for coming into my life John and reminding me why I do what I do. RIP friend.