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written Sunday, 12/12/2010
On Thursday my dear friend Nathaniel West passed away. I got to know Nat and Joan, his wife of 38 years, upon moving to Louisiana five and a half years ago. In many ways Nat was like a loving father that I never had. Likewise, Nat and Joan viewed me as the son they never had (Our ages and ethnicities even made this relationship seem plausible!)
Despite paralysis from an accidental gunshot wound in his childhood and the nagging health issues that resulted, Nat managed to keep a contagiously upbeat demeanor. Even when in physical discomfort he could always muster a smile in the presence of his loved ones. And whenever he let out one of his country-tinged cackling laughs, I couldn’t help but laugh along with him no matter what kind of mood I was previously in.
In my first year of teaching I’d often visit Nat & Joan after a grueling day of teaching at post-Katrina West Jefferson High School. They’d listen and console attentively, yet I could never feel too sorry for myself in the face of Nat’s struggles. Nat and Joan had a soothing way of bringing the trials of my new profession into perspective, and I’d always leave their house feeling re-energized to face the next day. I can’t imagine enduring those early years of teaching without their support.
Nat would try to advise me about women, touting his credentials from back in the day as the self-professed “Rooster.” Joan and I found endless humor in this loving and devoted husband’s crowing about his purported mastery of navigating the henhouse. He was attempting to dispense serious wisdom, but he’d just smile along with us whenever we’d affectionately yet somewhat mockingly address him as “Rooster.”
I lost count of how many times Nat ended up in the hospital since I’ve known him. Two of his hospitalizations occurred during evacuations for hurricanes Katrina and Gustav. He kept managing to fight back from dire situations, yet we had to face the reality that one day the odds would overcome him.
Just before Thanksgiving this year, a catheter infection landed Nat in West Jefferson’s Coronary Care Unit for the final time. For three weeks he bravely withstood a ventilator tube down his throat, various needles and medications, and the regularly-scheduled kidney dialysis that would drain him of his energy three times a week. I never found him fully awake during this stay, yet from what Joan would relate about his moments of lucidity, he was done fighting for life this time. The restlessness that he initially exhibited seemed to be overtaken by a calm acceptance that he was ready to depart this world. Both he and Joan were at peace when Nat finally passed away early Thursday, December 9.
All of us who love Nat will deal with his passing in our own ways. I think most of us are comforted that he was ready to go and that his suffering wasn’t unnecessarily prolonged. My overwhelming emotion is one of gratitude for the timing and duration that our lives intersected.
Here is the program from Nat's funeral on Saturday, December 18, 2010.