A Night in the French Quarter

This year’s annual fundraising gala, A Night in The French Quarter, was a great success. It was a beautiful night that bubbled with excitement, wonderful food, and fun for all who attended. The night was full of conversations and laughter with many of our supporters, but the whole evening was extra special for me because it made me think of Jimmy Hew. 

Jimmy had been a resident at The INN Between in the fall of 2016. He had been in hospice for quite some time and was living in his van in his friend’s driveway before he was referred to The INN Between by his hospice nurse. Jimmy was very sick, and the nurse worried about him alone in that van as he was declining more. Jimmy was hesitant to make a move, but after coming to inspect us, he found it suitable and decided to move in.

My initial impression of Jimmy Hew, was that he was going to be a challenge and not easily satisfied. He was ready to die, and he wished it would come soon. But to my surprise and everyone else at The INN Between, Jimmy decided to just enjoy whatever time he had left. He made himself at home quickly and started showing off his skills in the kitchen. He regularly asked us things like, “Have you had steamed dumplings? I’m gonna turn you on to them!” and then wasted no time making them for everyone in the house. I often found him outside with his shirt off, enjoying the sun on his back. He danced and sang, and was a pleasure to have around and be around.

As I do with our residents estranged from family, I began asking Jimmy if I could contact his family. Our house nurse had warned him that I would be doing that, so he was prepared and quickly refused my request. I’m not one to back down, so I continued to ask him every day and finally he said, “Fine, you wore me down, I’ll call my sister.” One phone call later, plans were in motion for all three of his sisters to fly to Salt Lake City to see him – after more than twenty years they were all together again. Watching Jimmy with his sisters is something I will never forget. They cooked, talked, watched football, and made plans for Jimmy’s burial. They spent a week getting to know each other again. After his sisters left Jimmy seemed happier and said that he had the best week of his life.

A few days after his sisters returned home, Jimmy woke up dreaming of a good cup of coffee. He had been declining significantly over the previous days, so I knew the end was near. I got him in the car and we went for a cup together. He was so content and told me how happy he had been over the past few weeks. When we got back to The INN Between, we listened to some music and I helped him get into bed. Jimmy was never fully responsive after that. I let his sisters know I felt his time was close and they texted back messages to read to him. The texts were filled with stories to remind him of his beloved New Orleans. We talked about his life in the Big Easy and I promised him I would return there someday to see it through his eyes. Jimmy responded to these things with tears and as the afternoon came he closed his eyes and slipped away peacefully.

Fast forward to 2017 and our planning for our Night in the French Quarter. I started to think about Jimmy and his beloved New Orleans and wished he was around to help us come up with some ideas for the gala. It was then that I heard Jimmy whispering in my ear. He said, “You need a second line.” A second line is found in traditional brass band parades in the streets of New Orleans. They typically consists of onlookers joining in on the celebration and dancing in costumes and having a great time. It honors the past while moving forward. I decided that second line would be a perfect highlight to the night and a great way to remember the residents we had lost over the last year. As the night grew closer I honestly imagined a lot of people sitting in their chairs watching me and few others dancing, but deep down I knew it was a good idea.

Gala night finally arrived, and the whole night was a whirlwind of activity. Jillian Olmsted, our events coordinator, had everything running smoothly and the space was decorated beautifully. Jimmy’s sister, Charlice, had sent us a box of decorations including some beautiful masks and beads. It truly felt like a Night in the French Quarter. People were laughing, playing games, eating, and having a wonderful time. I prepared a slide show with pictures of the residents we had lost. As I read each of their names it was hard to not stop and tell their stories and the memories I had of them, I wanted everyone to know that they were people who had a sincere impact on me. I said the last name - Trudi, who had just passed earlier that week - I heard the band start. I turned around to the entire room on their feet, waving their handkerchiefs, dancing and following the band. This second line was more beautiful than I could have imagined. I wept with joy and joined the crowed. I think our 33 angels were there watching and were perhaps as overwhelmed as I was that they were receiving such an amazing act of remembrance. That moment will play in my “highlights reel” for the rest of my life. And when I recall it, leading that line will be Jimmy Hew and I’ll hear him saying, “Come on shug, time to boogie.”

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