Last Monday evening, my husband, Jim Diggins, died, 45 minutes after being admitted to hospice. As I have told people, he was ready, and I was as ready as I was ever going to be.
Characteristically, on the afternoon of his death, he woke up from a nap – during which I observed both the death rattle and apnea – to tell the nurse we had that day that she was an excellent nurse and wonderful communicator, and that he really appreciated her care.
I say characteristically because, throughout his long illness, Jim made it a point to not whine, moan, complain, or rage – even when he felt pretty awful. His philosophy was that, just because he was seriously ill and, after a point, seriously dying, there was no need to drag everyone down around him. He was by no means a nicey-nice Pollyanna, strewing rose petals wherever he went. What he did was stay himself. And to push himself to stay engaged, even though I could see what his efforts cost him. (A 50 minute phone call with an old friend was followed up by a 5 hour nap.)
It is no wonder that the doctors and nurses we worked with were always happy to see him coming, which – I can assure you – made dealing with his illness and the hospital bureaucracy as easy as possible.
When we got to hospice, Jim thanked the EMT’s who’d taken us there, and made a joke about how he wouldn’t be able to tell them “See you later.”
The hospice nurse, seeing Jim’s level of awareness and engagement, told me that she thought he still had a few days left.
Based on what I had observed over the past few weeks, and what Jim himself had been telling me, I figured he would die during the night.
Within the hour, he did just that.
I’m sure that, over the coming months, as I start processing things, I will be writing more about things hospital, hospice, death, dying, widowhood, and Diggy.
But for now, I’ll leave you with Jim’s obituary:
On February 17th, Jim Diggins died at Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers, Massachusetts, after a long battle with esophageal cancer. He was (a young) 70 years old. He leaves his wife, Maureen Rogers, his brother Joe (and his wife Shirley) of East Hartford, CT, his sister Alice Wands (and her husband Bob) of Flower Mound, TX, his cousin Steve Arnold (and his wife Linda) of Southwick, MA, and his nieces and nephews.
Jim was born in Bellows Falls, Vermont, the son of Grace (Griffith) and James Diggins. After graduating from Bellows Falls (“Ever Glorious”) High School, he enrolled in Rutgers University. At Rutgers, Jim founded the “No Study Club,” and spent as much time as he could in New York City. Nonetheless, he managed to graduate in three years. During summers in college, he worked on the Southwick, Massachusetts tobacco farm of his Aunt Carrie and Uncle Bill Arnold, but he wasn’t cut out to be a tobacco farmer. A chemistry major, he worked after graduation for a number of Federal government agencies. While at the CIA, he began taking night school classes in economics. Having decided to return to school full time, he spent a year at NYU before moving on to Harvard, where he received his PhD in Economics in 1977. While in grad school, he was a TA for the undergraduate macroeconomics course, Ec1010B, and also consulted to the Economics Department of the First National Bank of Boston.
After completing his doctorate, Jim switched his area of interest from monetary policy to healthcare, with a specialty in analyzing and forecasting the components of healthcare inflation. He consulted to hospitals and hospital associations throughout the country.
A lifelong learner, with interests in economics, physics, mathematics, statistics, and the history and philosophy of science, Jim was taking advantage of MIT’s online courses until shortly before his death. Since boyhood, he had been an avid Celtics’ fan, and he was an especial admirer of the Bill Russell era teams, and of Bill Russell himself, the player and the man.
Jim loved to travel, no more so than when he was able to use the frequent flyer miles he so devotedly collected. His favorite destinations were NYC, Ireland, and Paris, although he did say that his best trip ever was the one that he and Maureen took over New Year’s 1989-1990, when they went to Berlin to witness the falling of The Wall,
Jim was a character: unfettered, unfiltered, spontaneous, exasperating, imaginative and funny. He loved being around kids (and dogs), and kids (and dogs) loved being around Diggy. He will be missed.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 22nd at 3 p.m. at First Church in Boston, which is located on the corner of Marlborough and Berkley. Donations in Jim’s memory can be made to St. Francis House, which provides shelter and rehabilitative programs for the poor and homeless of Boston. St. Francis House is located at 39 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116.
I have a few blog posts stockpiled – that’s what took care of last week – so we should be good to go for a bit as I work my back to the new normal.