A Curious Friendship
By Margaret Aldrich as told by Barbara Lewis
Margaret and Barbara attended the same Livingston bereavement support group following the passing of their husbands, Rusty Aldrich and Billy Gallagher. Margaret is a former Livingston Hospice volunteer and Barbara plans to become a volunteer in the near future.
Who knows how a friendship will begin or where it will end?
After the death of her partner, Billy, Barbara Lewis sold her house, packed her belongings and moved up the coast from San Diego to Ventura. A new job awaited there and Billy's adamant wish that she move north after his death gave her the push she needed to make the change.
A chance encounter at Pierpont Beach in Ventura introduced Barbara to another Bill, Billy Moseley, a charming, charismatic man with an infectious laugh, a guitar and his traveling Chihuahua companion, JoJo. Barbara smilingly describes Billy as "a Cajun Leprechaun." Perhaps because this new Bill had endured many of the same life struggles as her Billy, Barbara felt an almost instant connection to the man. She did not see him as just one of the vast army of homeless people, although homeless he was. She simply saw him as someone with whom to enjoy the mutual give and take of friendship.
Bill was small in stature with an enormous personality. Life on the road had aged him prematurely, but had not dampened his spirit or zest for living. His gift of gab and expert guitar playing had brought him some measure of success in the music world. He'd played in country singer Mel Tillis' band. He talked of an audition with Paul McCartney's band Wings, but due to loyalty to the band Bill was touring with at that time, he had to pass.
Originally from New Orleans, Bill's disenchantment with "the system" came after a bad divorce, shooting accident, and the death of his father―his idol. All had prompted him to live life outside the bounds of conventional society. For years Bill supported himself as a musician or with manual labor. Over 30 years of traversing the country made him street smart and very much his own man. Over the Hill Bill, as he was nicknamed, showed Barbara "another way of looking at things."
Although Bill felt comfortable in the Ventura homeless community, living on the street was becoming tougher for a man in his late fifties. Years of self-medicated depression, attempted suicides, and a case of tuberculosis only compounded his daily struggle to get by. Barbara promised Bill that she would help him find a warm, safe place and with the help of Pastor Sam Gallucci's staff at the Harbor Church, Bill was able to complete the paperwork to receive Social Security Insurance. Now with his own Ventura County Credit Union account and a dream, Bill and Barbara found a small trailer and the Navalair Mobile Home Park near Pt. Mugu became Bill's new home. A new neighbor told them how to apply for Bill's Veteran Administration benefits.
With a secure roof over his head, Bill considered himself to be "the luckiest man on earth." For the first time in decades he took delight in the little luxuries most of us take for granted. The Sunday paper subscription and a Christmas tree with lights made him giggle with pride. He adopted a second small dog, Harley. Yet, even though he loved his home, at times Bill missed life on the road. A consummate storyteller, he missed a spotlight and jamming with other musicians. At times, he would befriend fellow travelers out on the Pacific Coast Highway near his home, inviting them in to share his food and drink, and once even buying a stranger's bus ticket back home to Florida. Barbara would caution Bill to not give everything he had away, but the combination of new fortune and old wanderlust only made him want to "pay it forward."
For six years Barbara and Bill were Team Moseley. She shopped and ran his errands and they enjoyed outings to the Ventura Pier, Neptune's Net (a special place to Bill, as he had once made his home camped on the hill across the PCH), and combing yard sales and thrift shops for treasures. Their mutual love for jamming, singing, and dancing to rock 'n roll oldies, and corny old TV movies cemented their friendship.
As time passed and Bill's physical condition began to deteriorate, Barbara also noted a gradual change in his personality. He became increasingly depressed and angry. Although Bill was reluctant to seek medical attention, in December of 2013, Barb convinced him to let the VA do a chest x-ray where a dark spot was found on his lung. The doctors thought the spot might be a reemergence of the TB. However, in front of the spot there was pneumonia, so after a week of antibiotics in the hospital, Bill returned home to his trailer. With still no appetite, and constant pain keeping him from sleep, Bill felt helpless and cried out daily, "What went wrong? How did I end up like this? I used to be somebody." And with nerve damage in his left arm, Bill could no longer pick the blues away.
Weak, less than 90lbs, and with the hope of palliative care in sight, they sought only a diagnosis of the spot on Bill's lungs. When the VA doctors wanted to readmit him, Bill vehemently refused. Team Moseley left with no diagnosis. "All he wanted was to be at home, and, once there, he became increasingly withdrawn pushing us all out. He was angry and wanted to be alone," Barbara said. Two weeks later he cried out for his neighbor Tim Walton who entered to find a frightening scene. Tim quickly cleaned up and called Barbara to say Bill wanted his dogs to be safe and for "those people she told me would come help me."
Barbara recalls, "He was asking me to call Livingston, but I knew that I needed that final VA diagnosis to complete the call. Returning for medical care was no longer an option. In 2007 my Billy made his palliative care decision, and I had promised Bill that I would support his decision. I had to make it happen," she said, "I loved Bill too much to break my promise. I called the VA palliative care office and begged to find a doctor to go outside the box. Just sign the papers. Please! One hour later Livingston called. I screamed with joy."
Barbara trusted Livingston Hospice; their bereavement services helped her find healing, friendship, and community after the death of her partner. Now Team Moseley took on hospice workers to help Bill through his final days. Barbara moved in as his caregiver, working with Hospice Nurse Julie Nishida, administering the pain medication allowing Bill to sleep comfortably. A gentle Home Health Aide, Carrie Stinson, bathed Bill and washed his hair, returning some dignity.
Just one week later, on April 23, 2014, Livingston Home Health Aide Daniel Canosa bathed a comatose Bill. He washed his hair, changed his gown and linens and made him ready for his journey. Barbara sat with Bill and reminded him that his friends had said goodbye, his dogs were safe, and that it was okay to let go now. "I thanked him for loving me, told him that I loved him; that he'd gotten his wish to die at home, and his daddy was waiting for him," remembers Barbara. She turned to shut the screen door and in that moment Bill Moseley headed on down the road.