I always have feared death. It makes me uncomfortable. It scares me. It leaves me feeling a suffocating pain. When not faced with death, I can wax philosophically about the faith I have in an afterlife and talk poetically about how the deceased are in a better place now, but when confronted with death, I dissolve into a torrent of tears and literally feel my heart break. Today, I am firmly in the latter category, as we say ‘good bye’ to another one of our guys from the day shelter for homeless men where I work.
A week ago, Brian told his case manager that he was ill with a stomach virus, but the truth was that Brian’s body was succumbing to the cancer that had spread throughout his body. We were unaware of this truth, but Brian knew. He apparently was told he had cancer earlier this year, but he kept this from his long-time girlfriend and all of us at the day shelter. He chose to live his life just as he had done prior to receiving his diagnosis-maintaining his apartment he had through one of our permanent supportive housing programs, caring for his girlfriend who has her own medical problems, riding his bike all over Louisville, collecting aluminum cans and working temporary jobs to earn an income, drinking coffee (lots and lots of coffee), and always displaying his wry sense of humor. He is a true character!
He entered the hospital over the weekend, and at this moment, he is transitioning from life to death. Our staff, his girlfriend, and six other men in our permanent supportive housing program gathered at various times this morning to begin the difficult task of giving him a proper “home going”, and I would like to think that we succeeded in doing so.
I entered his hospital room this morning to find him looking terribly gaunt, struggling to breathe, and thrashing in his bed, as a nurse tried to prevent him from tearing out the multitude of tubes and wires emanating from seemingly everywhere on his body. One eye was closed, while one was open, and his words were incomprehensible. I sat next to him, took his hand in both of mine, and alternated between joking with him as I normally would and talking with him in a soothing voice to try to calm him. At one point, a lone tear slowly rolled down his cheek, and I asked him to squeeze my hands, if he could hear me. With that, he firmly squeezed my hands, and neither of us let go. I thanked him for letting me be a part of his journey and told him that I loved him, as I choked back sobs. I promised him that I would stay with him until he stopped fighting the invisible forces that were tormenting him, and finally, forty-five minutes later, thanks to a dose of morphine, he stopped struggling and slipped into a drug induced state. As his hand went limp and fell from my grasp, I told him to rest well and to think happy thoughts, like riding his bike down River Road, where I would see him during some of my drives, and I then made a request of him. I asked him that when he gets to Heaven to look for some of our other guys who have passed away, and I silently asked Jerry, Paul, Dehaven, and the other sweet souls to be there to greet him. I then selfishly asked that he watch out over me with the rest of our guys, as I can use all of the help I can get.
When I got ready to leave, I kissed his forehead and said, “I love you, Brian. Thank you for everything.” As I made my way to my car, I remembered something that Brian once said that has come back to me often, “Every day I do one thing to make my tomorrow better.” With that I smiled, and I vowed to do that in honor of Brian and to honor the precious life that I have been given. I hope that you will do the same. Good-bye, Brian, until we meet again. . .
That’s another story. . .
Categories: That's Another Story