In Memoriam: Rev. Nicholas Temple (1946 – 2016)
**UPDATE: There has been a Facebook group setup for remembering Nick. **
I started a blog circa 2006. I had about a 2 year run of blogging for fun, and then, Facebook took off. Most of us never went back to it. A few kept on blogging. One of the first bloggers I started to follow, Sometimes Saintly Nick, went into Hospice care, last week.
I think I have known Nick for something like 10 years now. Never having met him, I know that he was a UCC clergy member, a Veteran, a social worker, a father, a grandfather and a cat lover. I know that he loved music, that he was a crusader for social justice, an old school activist, a musician, a romantic, (his birthday was Valentine’s Day) and he had a corny but unwavering sense of humour. Despite being of service all his life, he was virtually housebound and alone, for many years. He was, like so many, a lonely soul, who found community through his computer.
In the time I knew Nick, he lost his ability to work, his mobility, his lifelong home, his health, his independence and finally, his life. I remember feeling that some of this had to be made up: Surely, so much misfortune could not befall one person. But it was not made up. It was a slow and steady decline and one that is all too familiar to those who have seen loved ones reach old age without financial security. Nick was one of the fortunate ones – he was a US Veteran and he had health insurance and as much as his HMO frustrated him, and played fast and loose with his dignity, he had some coverage for his chronic and terminal conditions. And yet, it seemed a pitiful show of health “care.”
The last decade of Nick’s life was testimony to poverty in America.
I remember my surprise to find that he had been admitted to hospital and was unable to walk. I learned about it on Facebook, because we became Facebook ‘friends’ when I stopped blogging. For the next five months, Nick was in hospital and he posted updates several times a day. It was heartbreaking to see him so poweless and alone; in the hands of seemingly inattentive hospital staff and at the mercy of beaurocratic nonsense from his HMO. Nick had family and friends nearby, and they helped advocate for him, but they had their own lives and whatever time they could spare was not enough to fill his days or spare him the indignity of a terminal hospital stay. He felt he had been “warehoused” in the slow wait for death.
In the midst of this suffering, the group of online friends, who had perhaps never met him in real life, rallied around him, 24/7 from many different time zones. I remember that one virtual and long distance Facebook friend called 911, to get him attention in the hospital, because the staff were failing to respond to his calls and, as I recall, he was about to fall from his bed and injure himself.
As Nick’s cancer kept him in hospital – in fact, shuttled between hospital to hospital, care home to care home – we saw a lot of nonsensical posts come up and that worried the lot of us. Was Nick slipping into dementia? Was he too heavily sedated? His returns to lucidity were a relief to us all. This week, however, was very confusing. A few days before Hospice, Nick was elated that he was going to be released from hospital. The next message was that there was more confusion about where he would be going, again. Then the next status update was that he was shaking and cold. And then, he became unresponsive.
The next message I saw scroll through my Facebook feed was written by a family member, telling us that Nick had been transferred to Hospice care. I was in a coffee shop, in Shoreditch, working on an article. I stopped and I sent him love and prayers across the miles, and I cried in the middle of the coffee shop.
In the days of our grandparents, people had pen pals and wrote letters to one another pouring out their hearts and souls, or perhaps just the day’s events, if one was terribly British. Virtual communication is nothing new. But Nick made the most it. I remember his ventures into video blogging and seeing him play guitar and sing for the internet. I remember the antics of his fur babies, Alex and Midnight. And I remember the warmth and the compassion of our Nick.
It is not new to come to love someone simply through correspondence. All of us – Laurie, Ruela, Spo, Bob C, Little Lamb, Paulus, Beader – all of us who knew him, also came to love him, through the internet, the medium of the blog and then through Facebook. What was new in our times, was that friends of friends could also come to love him, online, too. Nick did not just make friends. He created a community of strangers bound together by a common love for our Sometimes Saintly, Nick.
Poverty is nothing new, either. What is new is how indifferent the world has become to the dignity, indeed the divinity, in another human being. As a society, we have become comfortable with homelessness, and death with indignity. We no longer see it. Dickens would never believe that we had managed to invent the computer and the internet, but had not alleviated the misery all around us. We fail to see what is right before us, even in our most intimate circles.
Every day, Nick was a part of my life. And the loss of him is as real as the loss of a dear and intimate friend with whom I have spent time, in person. Nicholas Temple mattered to me.
In his final days, Nick was without his computer. I can’t imagine how that was, for him. His computer, his iPod and his blackberry had become his lifeline. He was aware of just how alone he was, in the hospital. I looked last night at his last few status messages on Facebook. Two of the last status updates, when he was lucid, were: “No visits, no calls, no computer – Doesn’t anyone care?” to which many of us replied that we cared, or we clicked ‘like’ to let him know that he was not alone. And one that I missed – I don’t know how I missed it – a cry in the darkness: he was alone, he was afraid, and he was putting himself into the hands of his God.
Never were there more true words written about the end of one’s life.
In the end, we are all alone. And, we are all afraid. We don’t know where we are going or if this is it. All we can hope is that we are loved and that something will be there, lighting our way onward. Death is inglorious. It is humbling and it is cruel. And it comes to us all, far too soon. But it need not be reached with such indignity. I cannot help but feel that Nick’s life was cut short by poverty and neglect.
All I could do for Nick, when I learned of his transfer to Hospice was to send him love, prayers and light from thousands of miles away. In these final days, I posted a letter to him and told him how loved he was. It did not reach him in time, but, in his last few days, even people who didn’t know him, (friends of mine on Facebook), were also sending their prayers, love and light to help him find his way onward.
He was loved, and all I can hope is that he felt it, and that it comforted him.
Don’t tell me that the internet, Facebook and the mobile phone are alienating and isolating. It is not the technology, but the way that it is used that determines the quality of one’s life and relationships. It is not computers that make us indifferent to one another. Computers brought Nick into our lives. But if Nick’s death is to have any meaning, let it be to shine a light on our indifference to the misery of others all around us.
Nobody who knew Nick – in real life, or virtually – is the same person they were, before they knew him. He mattered to us, and he deserved far better than he got. He was a courageous soul, and the world is a little less wonderful without him.
Farewell, friend. Thank you for your friendship. We light your way, onward with love, Sometimes Saintly Nick.