Death enhanced Holston’s life
By Jon Mark Beilue
Someone should wear some Christmas musical socks Thursday night at the “Friends of Fogelberg” concert to benefit prostate cancer. Then at the most inopportune time, have them play “Jingle Bells.”
Jim Holston would have liked that. He would laugh out loud. In fact, it happened to him – at a funeral around Christmas one year.
“I think it was during prayer time, but he accidentally hit his foot and his sock started playing ‘Jingle Bells,'” said friend Pam Webb. “Well, he looked around like, ‘Oh, please, who did that?’ Jim relaxed, and dad gum if he didn’t do it again. So typical. He never had lemons, only lemonade.”
The last time – and first time – “Friends of Fogelberg” was at the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts in October 2008, Holston was the master of ceremonies.
He came on stage and asked the audience if he looked like a hospice patient, if he looked like a dying man. Hardly, but he was.
On June 18, 2009, eight months after that concert, he died of prostate cancer at age 65.
The concert on Thursday, in which all money stays locally to combat prostate cancer, is in tribute to a man who was a hospice staff member, volunteer and ultimately patient. There might be a joke in that trifecta, and if there is, Holston would find it.
“He was hilarious,” said the Rev. Jo Mann of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. “We were talking about his funeral, and what he wanted and didn’t. He wanted chili cheese dogs, but not cubed cheese. At the reception, Pam Webb brought cubed cheese probably to irritate him.
“He laughed a lot and made you laugh a lot. He saw the funny part of life, but it was not sardonic. It was not that dark humor that might have developed at the end of life and grief.”
The last few months of his life, Holston was working on a book. He joked with Danny Mize of Hospice of the Southwest that because of time it should be turned into a pamphlet. And in a way, it was. His life and his attitude about it are on the hospice Web site, http://www.hospicesouthwest.com.
Holston was a rare gift whose own impending death never clouded his life. If anything, it enhanced it. He had spent virtually his entire life helping others because he enjoyed being around others. His terminal illness was not going to take that away.
“The thing about Jim,” Mann said, “is his absolute delight in life. He was delightful, but was also delighted. He was delighted with what was going on around him and he really imparted that to other people.”
Maybe because while growing up in Borger, his mother had multiple sclerosis and he was her primary caregiver. But something welled inside of him about comforting others and treasuring all that life offered.
“At an early age, I think he learned how to nurture,” said Webb, “and to love and accept people for who they are.”
Holston went to college at West Texas State and sang in the cast of “Texas.” He returned to his alma mater as associate dean of student services and then director of student services.
He affected students. He made an impression just by befriending a woman who ran an on-campus concession wagon.
She came to Amarillo to give Holston’s friends roast beef sandwiches shortly after his death. He affected the entire university hierarchy. Flags at WT flew at half-staff the day he died.
From 1985 until 2009, he was involved in hospice care in just about any way someone could – counseling, working, educating, and ultimately, battling prostate cancer for eight years, a disease his father and grandfather also had.
“He taught me not to say to someone, ‘Hi, how are you feeling?’ but to say, ‘Hi, it’s nice to see you,'” Mann said. “That’s the way he greeted life. He taught me that death is a natural part of life.
“I don’t think prostate cancer changed Jim in the way he was. It was just part of who he was.”
The benefit concert Thursday is a tribute to the music of folk rocker Dan Fogelberg, who himself died of prostate cancer in 2006. But it’s also for an uncommonly common man who laughed, loved and cared, one of 32,000 who died in 2009 from prostate cancer.
If he could, Jim Holston would say go to the concert, enjoy the music, and dance or clap like no one is looking. Even if it’s “Jingle Bells” coming from someone’s socks.
Jon Mark Beilue’s column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com or 806-345-3318. His blog appears on amarillo.com.