Celebration of Life

On April 8th, we lost James. He’d had a stroke 2 years ago and had been struggling with his health ever since. He was in a lot of pain at the end and the difficult decision to put him into hospice had been made. It was the right decision as he passed the next day. He left this life surrounded by friends and music – exactly how he lived. I’m sad he is gone, but relieved he’s no longer in pain.

This last weekend, family and friends gathered at Esther’s Follies (where he used to perform) to celebrate James’s life. Wonderful stories were told and music played. Here are a few photos and videos from the celebration.

Thanks to everyone who came and shared. And thanks to everyone who helped mom get this wonderful gathering put together and enabled it to happen.

Iris has been essential to my mom. She’s an amazing person/friend and was there for mom when I was too busy being a selfish weanie to be there (which was often).

The Journey Home – by Iris Bowden

The summer of 2012 James suffered a stroke that brought great challenges his way. He had to learn to walk again, had to almost remember he had a left hand and then with sheer willpower had to convince that hand to play the piano the way it used to. Not an easy fete when those fingers were numb and wires were crossed between his brain and the finger tips. Never one to give up, Jamesy persevered already practicing on a keyboard in the hospital. There are so many folks who shined during those tough times like William – a young man who became his caregiver and a new relationship and bond was born. I can’t count the times when he would say well if William were here … There were walks with Larry and movies with Rich and a physical therapist named Chris and Leova who played the scales over and over with him to get that left hand to cooperate again. And so many more – please forgive my memory and lack of knowledge because of course I wasn’t there every day.

There’s this guy who’s been around a long time who always greeted James with Hey Wagner what’s going on. An answer was expected and one always given. The Scrabble games were many and Tony finally stood a chance to win. Just kidding Tony! Tony’s lady Mary Lou helped Linda get all those things done that you don’t have time to do when you are helping someone.

There was definite success. James played gigs and he and Linda continued their work with seniors through their Joy and Action bell ringing program. His wide repertoire of music blessed many a seniors life in Austin, across the US and even into Canada.

But things just were never quite the same. And Jamesy battled on. Most folks didn’t know how tough the going got because James was the master of faking. If you called he would tell you he was fine and talk and talk. The conversations were his mainstay. He lived for them. Slowly but surely his body began to give him challenges he couldn’t beat.

In those last few months one bright spot was his piano student. Savannah brought smiles and loved showing him what she could play by ear. He finally learned that variety was a must. And admitted to himself that she was a whole lot like him – ‘I will do it my way’ Wagner. Frozen grapes for a treat after a lesson were never forgotten.

March of this year brought the knowledge that James wasn’t going to beat the inevitable. He knew before that but always had hope and determination. Some really special people spent time with him now. Faye of Larry and Faye checked on him often dressing his wounds and encouraging him. And Nathan and Wendy. Nathan is the roommate from another decade that James loved especially when the plumbing went crazy at 8602 Primrose Lane. That’s what friends are for right? Wendy’s nursing skills were valuable too as she stopped by just to be sure he was okay.

The last week of March, Hospice Austin brought many new people to his life. And always the regal host even on his worst day he met them in the living room and enjoyed the conversation even though he was exhausted when they left. One fall that weekend was a definite challenge for me. It only took about 45 minutes to get in the chair again.

One last concert!!! Sunday March 30, 2014 will go down in history as a jam session made just for James. Friends he hadn’t seen in years played songs they hadn’t performed together in years if ever. Thank God for Bethgal better known to some of you as Beth Gallagher. She knew how to make James’ day in so many ways. She created time her busy schedule to do just that over and over and over again. And those calls to set up that jam session were just the medicine he needed.

I was so blessed to be with James six days of the last two weeks of his life. The memories of Larry’s first voyage to Walmart for Jamesy’s eye glass repair kit and Rich playing Scrabble for the first time in a very long time and lastly the Klondike Bars. Mint chocolate chip – yum!!! Those memories are mine. And then Christopher House. What a blessing. Just a short 28 hours but those hours were his gift back to Linda and Bethgal and me. Old family friends were there Elizabeth and Gary. Plus Sandy. And around 2:30 Saturday afternoon April 5 as Bethgal played the song on the top of every playlist James ever played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” it was time for home. De Lewellyn walked in adding her beautiful alto voice and as they switched to Amazing Grace James changed his address permanently. Peace at last. As we left Christopher House, Lindy reminded James to look for my Avery because she could show him how to get around heaven and where the piano was. What a journey. What a life. How blessed each of us are to know James in that special way he had for every one of us.

And during it all including the last 3 weeks Linda couldn’t have made it without Nicky and De and Beth and Mary Lou and Tony. Oh and Sheilah. Phone calls with that very special sister who is too far away to be at her side saved the day many a time. Nicky has a special gift too – organization. We all know that’s a challenge for our Linda but Nicky took over into the wee hours of the morning and got what needed to be done – done. And that quiet person. The one who means all the world to Linda has stood by her mom through it all. She can handle things that none of the rest of us would attempt with diplomacy and courage and compassion. Her name is Beth Wilson – a beautiful soul that is amazing – she truly loves her mom unconditionally!

Be blessed by the memories – there are many!!!

If you have a memory of James you’d like to share, please do so on legacy.com.

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