This was written in 2010.
Today I attended a wake, a life-celebration, for a young man who died at the young age of 27 years old.
I first met Decarlo in a nursing home. I was very reluctant when I saw the Hospice Order requesting massage therapy to help his muscle spasms and depression. A feeling of discomfort in my stomach came over me because I have a son that age and I didn’t know I would have the strength to comfort someone who is dying so young.
My apprehension came true when I walked into the room and found a young man laying in bed, immobile, a TV, a form of entertainment perched on a stand next to his bed keeping him company. His diagnosis left his young body lying in his bed, not able to move; only his eyes could move. He and I didn’t know what to expect when I introduced myself and telling him why I was there. He was frustrated. He wasn’t able to communicate, the call-button securely in his hand, wondering how he would be able to use it.
I stood there not knowing what to do. All my experiences led me here but I felt paralyzed with the thought of not knowing where to begin. Was I able to help him? God only knows.
I recognized the patients that were there in the facility; the wheelchairs in the hallway, the sounds of patients moaning, realizing days gone by, wishing their life was different. The room he was in had a few more beds reminiscing of how diseases could affect a person’s body at the end of their lives.
So I began to help him find some comfort for his young body where anxiety has nestled in for quite some time. I was armed with the knowledge of what I was capable of doing and also grateful for the humility of needing God’s help. It was a moment where my feelings could have gotten the best of me, easily could have cried but I had a job to do. I left after giving a heartfelt massage, not thinking I made a difference but knowing I surely tried. I just wasn’t sure how I can help him.
So weeks went by, bringing in music to soothe his spirit with the hopes of comforting his anxiety. His body lay motionless. No words were spoken. Our communication grew. Over time, the music seemed to console his roommate, as well, and eventually the staff came in more often, drawn in by an oasis of peacefulness. My patient seemed to be getting more comfortable. As time went by, I understood more of what I could do to help, reassuring him and comforting him. He began to look forward to our visits. And so was I.
Decarlo would patiently show me what was working for him like motioning with his eyes that his neck was bothering him and we found that removing his pillow for our sessions gave him an opportunity to stretch his neck. We started to learn how to communicate. I discovered that I didn’t need the alphabet sign to spell out his words; his eyes were working nicely to help him communicate. Moving his eyes upward to adjust the head of his bed or his eyes turning in different directions so I can make the adjustments for him to watch TV, making him more and more comfortable. We were making progress.
Every Wednesday, I would look forward to our visits, compressing his worn joints, improving circulation the best I could. I would end the session with cleaning his eye glasses, re-positioning him to watch TV and returning his call-button to his hand, just in case he needed it. I realized that it was a comfort measure for him giving him that security that help was close, even if he wasn’t able to use it.
I was beginning to wonder how he spent his time in quiet and in solitude. I soon realized that it is possible to have serenity when you’re all alone. That it doesn’t take material things to find your inner happiness. How much we take for granted! That at some point in your life, all you have is yourself and God. And the serenity you will find is found within.
Weeks turned into months, and patience showed me how it helped our visits to ease anxiety and gain comfort. We had a routine that was really working. My patient liked jazz music, strawberry shakes, and a favorite prayer. There were days I joked with him when he was giving me a hard time just like my son does. I have learned patience is important. I have learned to be grateful in my capabilities to live a full life, that I do have all I need to fulfill a Purposeful life. We all do. I have learned that a person can find peace even when they cannot move. I have learned that you can communicate without talking. And touch is a fundamental need for people. That it may be the simple things that truly make you happy.
Then the sad news came one day. His mother died. It was devastating and heartbreaking news.
As time grew into months, Decarlo started to decline. He didn’t look the same, having lost weight and refusing food. I understand it is our business, caring for someone near the end of their life, and I thought I kept that in prospective. Understanding that I am only with my patients a short time at the end of their lives, but this time I felt very close to this dear young man. In my heart, I foolishly thought I could make it all better. But it is not about me. Was it ever? I have learned that my best efforts could not control what God’s plan is. And then I realize what a special opportunity this was to experience love on a core level. Helping Decarlo really gave me a sense of deep spiritual giving. For that I am grateful. And this lesson came unexpectedly; it came through the eyes of a young man.