It’s Funny Where Life Takes You

jim-cartoon-webThe first thing you notice about Jim Abts are his eyes.

At 94 years old, his body is frail, but there’s a curiosity in his eyes that burns bright.

These are the eyes of a man who has seen amazing things. As an officer in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. Later, as a cartoonist, whose painstakingly, stippled caricatures graced Hawaii’s political pages. Finally, as an author, who published a deeply personal novel about the Battle of Bataan.

Jim sits comfortably in a black leather chair in his charming home in a quiet, gated neighborhood in Hawaii Kai. He’s surrounded by mementos of a life well-lived. Framed photos of signed artwork. Wooden knick-knacks and ceramics from foreign lands. Colorful fabrics with exotic patterns draped over rich, wooden chests filled with treasures.

While his voice wavers when he talks, it’s clear he’s a natural story teller. Jim tells us that he’s color blind. Pat, his wife of 70 years, says his socks are always wrong. He shares the story of how he passed the Army’s vision test. The “string test” forced him to distinguish between colored strings of yarn. How did he pass? He simply copied the guy in front of him. He laughs and his voice becomes strong with swagger again.

Born in Nebraska during the Great Depression, Jim’s path has led him around the globe. Under the command of General MacArthur he fought from Australia through New Guinea. He’s lived and worked in Panama, the Philippines, Japan and New York City. When asked his favorite place in all his travels, he answers matter-of-factly…

“Hawaii.”

jim-hands-webHe remembers when the land his house was built on was a pig farm, long before statehood. Last week, Jim and Pat celebrated their 70th anniversary here. And although his five living children are spread throughout the mainland, they visit constantly. This is where Jim chooses to be at the end of his incredible life. A year ago, his oncologist diagnosed him with colon cancer. The cancer had spread to his liver. Surgery was not an option. For a man who has lived many lives, facing death wasn’t easy.

But Jim wasn’t ready to stop living yet. He wanted to make art. He wanted to spend time with his family. He wanted to explore his new passion for Japanese woodblock prints. His doctor recommended Hospice Hawaii. Now an entire team is dedicated to Jim’s care. Candace, a social worker from Hospice Hawaii makes regular visits to his home. Candace gives Pat invaluable support and gives Jim an eager friend to talk to. Now Jim lives comfortably in the home that he loves, doing what he loves, and will continue to do so for as long as he can.

As a veteran of three wars, Jim would be the first to tell you that he’s not a hero. But his life feels like something out of a movie. He’s worked as a soldier and an artist. He’s lived as an academic and an adventurer. He’s traveled to the ends of the earth to find his happy ending. And after a long, amazing journey, he’s finally made it home.

At Hospice Hawaii, it’s about living your remaining days with dignity and comfort in the way that you choose to.