On Friday evening, I ushered my kids out the door for a weekend with their dad. Things had been heavy for me, so I turned on the DVD player, intending to re-watch my favorite movie and eat a plate full of cookies. When I walked into the kitchen for the cookies, I saw a text on my phone from my best friend, Amy. She invited me out to dinner with her friend Kristina. I laughed at my two dinner options, and gladly accepted her invite.
Dinner was wonderful. I was so happy to meet Kristina and her husband Chris. We chatted about common interests and found dancing. Amy and I said how much we love line dancing at Prospectors and Kristina said her dad loves swing dancing at a place near Lancaster. I sat straight up in my seat and said “You have my attention.” I was so excited about the potential for dancing! Social dancing is the thing I missed the most during Covid, I am much happier when I can get out to dance. Dancing is important to me, it’s necessary. She said she would ask her dad when they were dancing again and we could all go together. I figured maybe it would happen later this summer or fall, working with everyone’s schedules.
On Saturday morning, Kristina messaged me to say, swing dancing was happening that night! Her dad, Jim was so excited to go! It wasn’t likely that Kristina or Amy would be able to make it, but I happened to be free so I said yes! I was more than excited! I dug out a dress that I used to wear swing dancing years ago, I searched for my dance shoes but couldn’t find them so I ended up wearing sneakers. If you know me, you know I live in pajamas. Not only was I excited to go dancing, but I was happy to put on a dress. I couldn’t wait!
When I got there, he greeted me in the parking lot with a hug. He was smiling from ear to ear, and so was I. We walked right into the dance lesson. It was a great time. We danced and chatted. He said he was warm and a little tired, he made sure to take breaks and it gave us the opportunity to talk.
Jim told me how dancing was healing for him. He was divorced and it hit him hard. He found dancing, specifically this group of dancers, and he loved it. You should have seen the look on his face as he described how he lived his life; it was full of joy and love. He had a light in his eyes as he talked about healing through dance. He talked about how kind and wonderful this dance community is. He told me it was incredibly helpful for him when he realized he can go out, have a good time, and make connections with people. Jim was kind.
He also told me about his love of hang gliding, and roller skating. I was surprised to hear a 73-year-old man loved roller skating. He talked excitedly about the jumps he liked to do on skates, and how he liked to travel around the dance floor like he was roller skating. He told me about a time when he was hang gliding and a hawk flew up next to him. He loved sharing that experience. Multiple times, he offered me one of his snack bars. Later, Kristina told me he was always trying to feed everyone.
Jim talked about a few couples that met on the dance floor and have since gotten married. He loved how dancing brought people together. He talked about his strong dislike for alcohol and how he left places where people were drunk dancing. He showed me his shoes, and said they were regular sneakers but he put leather padding on the bottom to turn them into dance shoes. He told me how important it is to find yourself and to know that you can be your own person, even after a big divorce. He said dancing helped him do that. Dancing helped me do that too.
We talked about how he loved taking videos of all the dances and video recording was a chance to take breaks. He told me about his YouTube channel and I wrote down where I could see his videos. I was genuinely excited to see them. When I took my phone out to write down the information for his videos, I asked if we could take a photo together. I had no idea it would be his last one. He was so happy. I only knew Jim for two and a half hours but it felt like I really knew him. It felt like the first of many times dancing and chatting.
He was ready to dance again and we danced a foxtrot to a song called “I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart,” while skating around the dancefloor. When the song was over, he asked me to dance again and he said “Let’s see how I do.” I thought that was odd, but let it go.
We danced to a swing song called “C Jam Blues.” He was full of joy. At the end of the song, we smiled at each other, but then he let go of my hand and fell backwards.
I saw it in slow motion. I knew he didn’t trip, I wondered if he lost his balance. I knelt down beside him, and put my hand on his chest, he wasn’t breathing. For the first time in my life, I looked up and said “Call 911.” Everyone had already rushed over, and there were two nurses giving instructions. Someone started chest compressions right away. I held Jim’s hand.
The paramedics arrived quickly and they took over. I called Kristina and talked to the cops. I told them I wasn’t leaving him. We didn’t know Jim had already left.
I went to the hospital with Derrick and Tara, we waited in a little room off the ER. Shortly after we arrived, Jim’s spirit came in and sat with us in the chair across from me. He said “It was a great way to go.” I cried and told Tara he wasn’t going to make it.
I cried nearly the entire time we waited. Everyone was so nice and supportive. The whole community of dancers showed up to support Jim, they all waited outside of the ER.
The doctor came in and said he didn’t make it, but they would keep breathing for him until Kristina arrived. After she saw her dad, she came in the waiting room. I don’t think I have ever hugged someone so much that I just met, the day before. We hugged and cried and she told me it wasn’t my fault.
We joined the community of dancers outside with more hugging and crying. I cannot express how kind hearted and supportive everyone was. The love they all have for Jim is beautiful.
I have to believe this whole weekend was orchestrated so Jim could pass while doing something he loved. I have to believe I was meant to be there for him. Everything happened so fast, I met Kristina on Friday, we talked about dancing together at some point, Saturday morning she messaged me saying dancing was that night, and I happened to be available. She told me how excited he was to go dancing again. I was excited to go dancing again. He was out on the dance floor, surrounded by friends, with light and joy beaming from his body. We shared a love of dance until his last heartbeat.
Thank you, Kristina for asking me to share my story, writing is therapeutic. I’m so sorry your dad has passed. Thank you to the amazing group of dancers who showed up to support Jim and his family. You are all beautiful souls. Thank you to Amy for randomly inviting me to dinner with your friends. Thank you, Jim, for letting me share your life for an evening. This is certainly something I will always remember.