Jan 18 1992. This is an interesting situation. Virgil is very weak. No-one knows how much longer he is going to live, except that it probably will not be long. He is breathing Oxygen and spends most of his time lying down in the bedroom. Sometimes he is very clear, and knows who he is and who you are, but other times he is far away. He has always loved to sit right in the middle, to watch the "party" that he has convened boil around him, following the motion of the ideas or the tunes, even when he couldn't hear all the threads of the conversation. There are enough of us here to create the old "party" atmosphere in the house, at least part of the time, and you can see that it gives him pleasure: he loves to watch it, but keeping up with it tires him out pretty fast. 10 minutes of full blast and he's ready for sleep.
I tried to explain for Mahian, the home healthcare practicioner who has been assigned to us this afternoon, who Virgil is, and why we are all here. She is from Iran, and has only been here for a couple years, but she knows how America really works more than most people: she has seen how we deal with people at this stage in their lives. She is used to seeing abandoned people, alone and exhausted in their empty houses, and Virgil's last great party is a great contrast. In a society that masks its poverty with the veneer of material things, Virgil's incredible "richness in friends" must be quite dumbfounding.
There are usually 2 or 3 people near him, and several others performing various functions in the house; cutting up fruit or brewing coffee or making soup, or washing the dishes. There is also the rotating contingent of home health care professionals, and an RN came by at noon to take his blood-pressure and draw a blood sample. Dr. Shelby came by about 3:00 and sent me off to pick up a bedside commode from the equipment rental place. Very expedient. Much easier on Virgil than dragging him inot the bathroom across the hall, which tired him out horribly, was when he sat there, was quite cold, compared to the bedroom.
There was some uncertainty about medications expressed this morning, especially about the blood thinner (zanex?) that keeps clots from giving him strokes, but could cause him to lose a great deal of blood if he got injured in a fall, and sleeping pills, because they are addictive. If he were to miraculously recover, the addiction would be a problem, but most people would grant that it takes a smaller miracle to kick drug habit than it does to fix a broken heart.
Virgil had rheumatic fever when he was a kid, and has known he had a heart problem for a long time, although I had never heard about it. His Doctor told him to get his heart fixed over a year ago, when his hip was broken. For a variety of reasons, many of which will not become clear to me until I am faced with a similar decision, he decided to put off making the decision until it was too late to operate, and that decision brought us directly to this point. I am not, and never will be sure that the decision he made, by whatever route he made it, was not the right one.
He is not the least bit happy about how he feels. He just told Tom that his shaking hand on the drinking glass looked like the hands of a drunk with the DT's. But every once in a while, he grins that feirce, defiant grin.
I got here about 9:30 Friday and set up in Laura's room, which has the only 3-prong ac outlet in the house. Virgil didn't recognize me at all when I first walked in, and I got an awful rush of fear that I'd gotten here too late to say goodbye, but a few hours later, he woke up and knew everybody. It is overcast and cold, very cold for Fresno. It's colder than it has been in Seattle, but it's Califirnia, so there are still oranges and grapefruits on the trees. All but the highest persimmons are picked, and the birds are feasting on the last of them.
Jeremy Blustein showed my some shelf mushrooms growing on the big broken willow near the swampy area in the garden. I told Virgil about them and he described the old broken tree as inhabiting the shadow world between life and death, and asked me if we had walked along the seashore lately, reminding me of the cave at northbeach, with the head of the sun-god carved into the clay of the bank, and I told him the crashing waves of the winter storms had washed it away, and then the entire slope above had collapsed in a great avalanche of peat and trees and clay.
Minor emexency in the late afternoon. He has been drinking a lot of milk. Aside from Cello's chicken soup, which Mahain ran thru the blender, Virgil has mostly consumed water and milk. Milk gives him an acid stomach, so I ran off to the 7-11 for some Maalox, and got caught by the traffic on the way back. Crossing Cedar is an interesting gamble: the diagonal shortcut is not always the fastest way across.
Tonight we finally hit critical mass. Virgil is dehydrated. Perhaps from the medication, perhaps because the coffee we have given him is a diuretic, anyway, he is off meds for a few days, because his decreased blood volume makes the effects much stronger and their effects harder to predict. Jeff Shelby said that it felt much too sombre in here and according to Jemmy, prescribed force-feed vino. Not to Virgil, but to us. So we broke out the wine, and it worked wonders for the spirit. The house filled up with musicians, and one and all, the musicians let go in a way worthy of the event. Lee and E-Z ran thru an amazing mexican repertoire, and then Frank Hicks, surrounded by his band of Fallen Angels, sang old swing-bad songs he reputedly hasn't sung since his nites in front of a swing band playing NCO clubs during WWII. It was a hot time: to much applause, Virgil demanded a beer. Frank has a blood disease that almost killed him late last year. He was down 6 pints of blood when they got him into the hospital. Now he gets transfusions every week. Modern science has turned him into a real vampire. I was getting a little worried about all the gospel tunes and spiritual hymns that were running around the room for a while, but when Frank sang the old YMCA camp gospel "Power in the blood" he inspired it with an awsome, and knowingly ironic conviction. E-Z did a country song about being born an asshole that could easily be the next "God will but I won't God does but I don't..."
Jan 19 1992
Virgil's room wasn't big enough for the party, so people over-flowed into the other room and folded the Fresno folkmusic society newsletter on the dining table. The room rang bright with an endless parade of songs, from Mexico ot tin pan alley, Nashville to Greece and Bulgaria, and the train didn't get back til after midnite. I slept most of the night.
The 6am journey to the bathroom was very long and arduous. It was not worth the effort. Ernie and Freddie and Isabelle arrived about 7:30 this morning, after driving all night. Diane, the HHHCP who was here yesterday morning, and fit into this group like she was already part of the family, showed up about 8am to spell the official person. Now we are just letting the music run in Virgil's room. It's noon already and now that I know what time it is, I think he actually seems quite a bit weaker and groggier than he did this time yesterday.
1:14 pm The party is exploring itself for a while...
2:59 Virgil just got carried out into the living room, into the sun. He looked very weak right after the move, and Frank and I felt the first rush of losing him. It was very deep. Actually, it was terrifying.
The Oxygen tank is running low, and we had no trouble deciding to call for more. Now there is a mandolin/fiddle band running beautiful waltzes for him, as he lies basking in the sun. Its a great tinkley sound and I'm getting some of it on tape, long pauses and all.
It turned out to be a very hard move. Virgil really got tired in and out of a dream announced that he had flunked 6 questions on his master's exam. Pretty soon after that he demanded to be taken to the back bedroom, with his hearing aids out, cuz he had to rest. The back bedroom is still pretty cold, even tho the door has been
open all afternoon. and so we put him back in the big room and cranked up the fire. He fought pretty hard to sleep, with generally mixed results, until the new oxygen tank and the next wave of people arrived at 6pm. He is much weaker, or at least much away, but he has lots and lots of people around him, and they all need to see him, probably more than he needs to sleep.
After several hours of trying to keep the party "at bay" with my will power, to keep the room "shhhh... " quiet, I gave it up and went off to find some food to eat. To do this I had to accept that 1. it was impossible, and 2. that it was not my call, anyway. Virgil couldn't get out of this party if he wanted to. The door squeeks, the kids run around... the sounds of life are everywhere. Laughter and music is why we are here, and I can't make what is happening to us go away, so I don't know how it could possibly benefit anyone to make it quiet as a crypt in the house. Lee came to the same conclusion, by a somewhat different route, and the party has once again surrounded him, swaddled him, carried him off on its own path, like a magic carpet, until about 11, when the first round of people went home. Later on, the party reconvened for one last round, before it split into a group of talkers in the dining room and a group watching David's video in the bedroom.
1:45am He is very weak. The effort of sitting up to pee really knocked him down this time. Swelling in his ankles is working its way up his legs... he wants to go pee off the front porch, rather than pee in the bottle. When he wakes up out of a dream he is strong as an ox. He can find a place in there from which he can almost stand up on his own. He got us to sit him on the end of his bed, and then he had me to open the bedroom door, so he could hear the party in the next room. This allowed him to reach out and grab the doorknobs on either side of the door, and he used these to pull himself upright, which is pretty amazing considering that he can't even roll over on his side without our assistance.
Last nite, everything got written in the log book. This afternoon Tom and I picked up Warn at the airport at two rather than at 10 as advertized. He'd gotten stranded on the runway in Seattle by fog.
Penny 's turn to tinkle the ivoriod..
virgil saw to it that he had a very active afternoon. around noon he demanded to be hauled off to the breezeway but settled for the orange room with light from the ever brightening sky glowing in thru the big windows. he is tired of laying around and got lots of folks to turn, pull, lift and roll him into new positions a dozen times or more. he knows what he needs and people are making sure he gets it. what we can best learn from virgil is what he did to deserve all this care and attention and make our best shot at earning that kind of love in our lives. he has always been a kind of role model and is certainly one now for me.
karen leigh hi....its pretty late in the morning of monday-tuesday and the last few hours have found most of us in the room with virgil, singing together gospel songs, and just talking of anything. one thing among many wonders is the environment we're sharing here. the passage of time is so strange and simple; there is a rhythm constantly being created, recreated. virgil the gatherer bringing us all together. music, open hearts, and the building of a community keeping us together. it's pretty fuckin' special. we raided virgil's mini liquor stash and now several are sipping gin, all the other sweet sticky drinks having been rejected. well, guess what--i wrote a few more lines after these ones you just read, but they got lost in the nethers of the computer and now my train o thought is no more. i think i was thinking about the humor that's among us, virgil's full sense of humor, all our laughter,teasing and cracking up. this is home, lots of touching, crying, brainstorming and frying, and i am so happy to be here. and now i'm happy just to go to bed.
k. leigh have just been sitting next to virgil for a while now. it's tuesday, probably around one in the afternoon. he asked me, "did i do any good?". to hear that from him brings a swell of emotion--i mean, can you imagine, did virgil do any good??? i said, "you did all good, a world of good. and you still are."then after a little bit he said he wanted to "slip off, get rid of everything." he asked me how to do that. i felt stumped but i said something, don't remember quite what. something about breathing, letting go, and i told him that all things were fine, taken care of, that we all are with him and we'll let him go and that we'll carry on. a little piece later i asked him what he was thinking and he said he was trying to imagine what would come next, what the next place would be like. good question...to which i responded with some words about him going there and finding out, then letting us know, that we would join him (sooner or later,huh?). he also has been wanting addresses of "the ladies that can help me"-- hard to understand exactly but he kinda got the message across to me that there are some people, whom he doesn't yet know, who can help him slip off. we aren't them, we're helping him in other ways but he's finding it "hard to find them, the ones who can help me." some frustration and teariness passed through him when he was saying this. then he fell slightly asleep for a few seconds. meanwhile, diane, one of the home health folks, made
a big enchilada casserole and the house smells delicious and is cozy, despite the chilled air. feeling profoundly grateful to this phenomenal man.
1350 north wilson
fresno ca. 93728
virgil .... our beloved elder! thank you for your vision...by seeing great things you allowed all of us to see too!!
start here...I mean....having a party for your funeral is not that uncommon, but having a party for your death....Wowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!
Any one/every one is invited to type into this journal. Simply identify yourself, and begin typing. say whatever you thing you would like said. When you are through this message will appear at the bottom of the screen
1/25 /92 1:45 AM Jimmy borsdorf appears here to express the message that the party goes on, and how could we proceed except that Virgil has shown us the way. Thanks to this processor, and Joe for bringing the party to my house. Thanks, Virgil for the party ideal.
as usual, Virgil is the catalyst. Where will we ever find another?
7:24pm Wednsday, Joe again. yes, the role of the catalyst is unique in the world of chemistry: reactions occur in the presence of the catalyst, but it is not consumed in the reaction. on its surface, things happen that would never have occured in its absence. By its own attraction, it brings together elements that would not otherwise find one another. He showed us each other and pulled and pushed us until we grew past our .
don brown here -
so good to get a chance to say goodby i don't know that i've ever had a better friend or if i've known a more honest man he's taught me a lot of what i know about being a good human being so much more to learn he and michael two bright stars tthank you virgil for all your kind hospitality love
1:59am Thursday. Party is over for tonite. John-Paul and Linda are going home and Don Brown is going to bed. We turned Virgil onto his left side and Linda rubbed VitaminEoil into the crushed places on his side. HIs skin is collapsed under his hips, and pretty well smashed down on his shoulder, too. Sam went to the store around midnite, and he has been gone for way too loong. David vocalizes our hope that he is isn't in trouble. He seemsd pretty responsible, not like he would have done something completely flakey ireesponsible.
Virgil hasn't peed in over 12 hours, and there is some worry, and even a short discussion about having him catheterized. Jane, who is a nurse, palpated his bladder and commented that had fluid in it, but that it wasnot full or bursting. He hasn't taken in any water in about 8, and his kidneys are failing, so it doesn't seem likely that he's generating alot of urine anymore.
3:18am Thursday David is going to sleep in the armchair in Virgil's room, Im gonna stay on the bed next to him. He is really slowed way down. I cut back the 02 to cut fdown on the noise the hissing stuff makes, it had no noticeable effect on either the depth or the rate of his respiration. I monitored it for 5 minutes, counting each breath... and it didn't change at all.
Virgil is really gone away. He is still breathing, slow and shallow, but he's gone.
Virgil stopped breathing for a few breaths
\Virgil stopped breathing at exactly 7:30:30 by my watch. He took his last breath and let it out slowly and he didn't make a sound. I could not see death enter the room.
Virgil`s last breath isn`t any kind of end ... a transition for sure ... and death didn`t enter becuase too many folks are still here.
virgils spirit will live forever. it just didnt live long enough for me. people like him we do not encounter often enough in life. some people arent lucky enough to ever rub up against a spirit so wonderful as his. virgil definitely knew how to BE. Gudo Hallstone Virgil thank you for sharing your last days with us. I felt so touched when you made it known that you wanted to die in the presence of your friends. To be with you on Monday for a couple of hours was precious -with you giving directions-water, hankerchief,move me to the front room-in the same directness you''" used to set up camp at Sweets Mill.Thank you for showing us how and where to celebrate life. I was proud to be a part of your extended family. Ken Hallstone
Leon 1/24/92 1:31 PM
I arrived here early at 2 am. Jan was just walking outside and asked me for help taking stuff into the house. My mother had called me earlier in the eveneing at 8:30 pm or so and givenn me the news that Virgil had passed on. I told her that I would come to Fresno either in the morning or just start drivng that night. I made several telephone calls before I left the Norris'. I called here and Sharon Brrown answered the phone and we talked for a short while. I also talked to JP. After checking with other people who were here, they both told me that it was not very foggy here in the Valley. One call I made was to Mark Mueller in Black Mountain. Not too many people in Fresno know Mark. I met Mark at New Year's Camp Harmony 1977. He and I became instant frriends and when Mark came to Visalia to play aat that yearr's Fa Do Do, I introdued Marrk and Virgil to each other. Mark has two children named Virgil and Pearl. They would have become friends anyway but the fact that Mark's son and Virgil had the same name, gavve them additional cause for instant Comaraderie. It was 12:15 am in North Carolina and beause Mark had three gigs to play over the weekend in Virginia besides working on Friday, Mark and I did not talk very long. He thanked me for letting him know about Virgiil's passing on and then he let me talk to Megan(Mark's girlfriend). Megan is about 22 years old and is a former East Coast festival brat. I told her about Virgila and how he had the ability to draw people around and set up really good gatherings of people. I told her what I knew about how he'd started Sweets Mill back along time ago and what a wonderful gathering it had been. I told Megan about Michael Byxbe's death. We talked about some other stuff as well.
I finally left the Norris' about 11 pm. It took 3 hours to drivev to Fresno. As I drovev along, I sang songs that were for myself as well as for Virgil. I last saw Virgil alive on Monday, Jan. 13 at St Agnes. I had just flown back from Hawaii two days before. When I arrived in Fresno and heard aboutr Viirgil being in the Hospital, I knew that I would visit him before leaving for Santa Cruz. I pretty well knew that that would be the last time that I would see Virgil aalive. Of course, I hope that Viirgil would live a few more weeks and that I would see him again when I returrned froom Santa Cruz.
I'm happy that I came. I stayed up all night long.
JP and I made it to dawn. At dawn I sang the Bob Marley song that goes:
Rise up this morning. Smile at the rising sun.
three little birds sitting by my window
singing sweet songs of melodies pure and true. Singing
this is my message to you
Don't worry about a thing cause every little thing is gonna be alright ( x2).
Thanks Virgil for always being there for us. we love you.