22 years ago, his soft spoken style insisted I get closer and lean across the bed rail. Despite the odor from the gangrenous wounds and medications, he still made me smile. His touch was so desperate and sincere. His voice was urgent and matter-of-fact. “Please don’t forget to come to my funeral. I don’t want to die and never be thought of again.” AIDS had destroyed him at 28 years old in his prime, once strong, energetic and proud. Now he was dependent on everyone for everything. He moistened his lips and sipped gently on the straw. He knew he would not keep this down either, as with everything he now tried to eat or drink. “It’s worth it” he would say with a smile and apologize once more as I tended to his sheets and clean gown.
He must have died that night, alone in his room. The next day was my day off when I went in to visit him. The busy desk clerk shuffled the stack of papers and said “he didn’t have any friends or relatives so they cremate them. He’s gone son, there is nowhere you can go view anything.” He didn’t even have any personal belongings. Homeless he came into the hospital and homeless he left. And I cried, I felt I had let him down, this stranger I had only just met. All he wanted, all he talked about, all he thought of in his final two days was the possibility he would never be thought of again.
22 years later, his soft spoken style insists I lean in closer to my soul, and remember. No, Steve, you will never be forgotten, not in my lifetime. You taught me so very much from your classroom bed. You taught me to be gentle in all things, to move sheets slowly, to support arms and legs with both hands, to keep the water temperature just right. To laugh, to listen and to never forget that no matter how much you may want some things in life, reality can be very different.
And today I hope he knows. I hope he remembers the day I stopped by to see him and he was gone. I hope he would smile and realize it was never too much trouble to spend that extra moment there, holding his hand. Did he know I was wondering if he was being truthful about the effectiveness of the pain medications I had given him earlier, and still wonder.
Caring Choices is grateful for the opportunity to help with the planning, preparation, discussions and decisions each of us may have to face someday. Knowing the desires and wishes of our loved ones is so much more the issue than any one single act or event. Knowing that someone will continue to remember is often all that matters. It is never too soon, but it may at some point be too late.
© 2014 Caring Choices
Oh my goodness, this brought me to tears. I too had a close encounter with a young man dying of AIDS at the age of 20. I myself, was only 21 and working my way through school by doing phlebotomy. I had developed a great rapport with this a couple of young men, AIDS patients in Philadelphia. Has did you Jim, I came in one morning to find the beds empty, but not my heart. They have left an indelible mark to this day. I think the most important lesson I took away from that is to not fear touching someone’s dying body without gloves (which was the dying wish of one of them), nor their hearts without some other barrier to protect myself. Although it is painful to lose people, even “strangers”, we all have worthwhile lessons to learn from each other. And ones we have to teach others in our turn. For some reason these young men had come here from Cuba at 13 & were immediately turned into prostitutes. I carry their memories to this day that their brief lives were not in vain. Just as you have carried Steve’s memory. Peace, Love & Blessings Pam
Thank you so much Pam, for the beautiful sensitivity you share to this blog. It takes much more courage and strength to love in this world than to hate. It is an honor to know you as my friend.