Friday, April 21, 2017

I Would Like You To Meet Someone

Many of you know what I do for work.  Behind the philosophical renaissance, political enlightenment and wikkid fahkin' smartassery that is this blog, I actually have a grownup job (and it's not selling flannel shirts).  But what I do between 8 and 4 Monday through Friday is so much more than a job.  I have been blessed with opportunities to meet men and women of varying abilities, personalities, strengths and weaknesses.  I have been able to spend years knowing people and watching them navigate life in ways that you and I could never comprehend.  Successes that may seem simple to you and me are celebrated daily.  Successes like learning to put your change back in your pocket after buying a soda or reaching out and touching a button that makes a device say "I need the bathroom, please."  Challenges are met head on.  Sometimes, the challenges win.  But many times, those challenges get kicked in the ass by perseverance and the will to just do it.  However, because the foundation of what we do for pay is based on human relationships, the heartaches are as inevitable as the joys.  Ethics tell us that we are not supposed to let emotions affect our work.  But our supervisors and directors do not expect that.  They know that .  

It’s been a rough run lately at the office.  We have had to say goodbye to too many people, some expected and some not expected at all.  In my career, far too many times, I have seen people with developmental disabilities pass away with little to no family having been in their lives.  Wakes and funerals are attended by a few paid staff and forced friends who are only friends by circumstance, told by professionals to live together, work together, bowl together and dance together.  Far too many times, when they are gone, little to nothing is said about their lives on this earth and the impact they had on others.   

I want that to be different.

I would like you to meet Chris.

Sadly, Chris passed away yesterday morning after a year-long, stubborn battle with various medical issues.  He would have turned 59 in May.  Chris refused to let Alzheimer's, end stage heart and lung disease, pneumonia or 14 days intubation back in 2015 decide his time to go.  No, Chris would decide.  He decided this yesterday morning.  His hospice nurse had called for an ambulance to transport him from his group home to a hospice home in Danvers as it was apparent he was nearing the end.  Before the ambulance would get there, however, Chris bid his friends and staff farewell.  He saw his brother and his cousin Wednesday.  He was not going to die in some strange home in Danvers.  He was going to die in his own home, where he has lived happily the past 12 years.    

Chris had warm eyes, an infectious smile, lots of neckties and Down Syndrome.   Those who knew him were most certainly touched by his gregariousness, his spirited facial expressions and his genuine charm and demeanor!  I actually knew Chris well before I started working at DDS with him.  He was an altar boy at St. Michael Church in Lowell where I was a parishioner growing up.  But I really got to know Chris in 1989 at Camp Fatima where he was a camper and comedian and I was a young volunteer counselor trying to figure out if this was the kind of work I wanted to do.  How I will always remember Chris is from the talent show that year.  He decided his talent was telling jokes.  So he got up there in front of a few hundred campers and counselors and in only the way he knew how, microphone in hand, he proceeded to tell joke after joke.  Of course, most of us had no idea what he was saying.  Couldn’t make out a single word.  But we all knew when the joke was over and he expected a laugh because he would raise his arms in triumph.  So we would oblige with hearty laughter. 

I met up with Chris once again in 1999 when I started working at the Lowell office and became his Service Coordinator.  He was living with his mother Betty, who was in her mid-80s and a helluva feisty woman who kept a bottle of Hennessy under her kitchen sink to keep her young and hearty.  At 86 years old, she was still making the trip into Boston with Chris to see his cardiologist.  The doctor was apparently quite the handsome man as Betty would always paint on the lipstick and wear her finest shawl for those appointments.  But in 2004, Betty could no longer care for Chris.  It was in December when we had to help Chris move away from his mother and into a group home.  While the separation was heartbreaking, it was inevitable.   Betty died a few years later at the ripe old age of 92 (the Hennessy worked).  By then, Chris was settled and happy in his home.  His brother and his cousin became more involved in his life.   We can all take heart in that today, he is back together with Betty, and he is telling her the same jokes.

Chris was one of the first people served by Goodwill back when it was on First Street, long before it moved to Middlesex Street and even longer before it became American Training.  He was one of the first participants in RARA.  He was a consistent presence in his Centralville neighborhood off West Sixth Street and at Camp Fatima's Exceptional Citizen's Week every August.  People who knew him loved knowing him.  It was his joy being around people, it was the way he expressed friendship, it was his handshakes to every churchgoer after mass and it was how he would wave you off and tell you to “get outta here.”  There is so much to remember fondly.  Especially his jokes.  

Chris was one of many in 1989 that helped that young volunteer counselor chose his life's path.  And for that, I thank him!!

Rest easy, buddy!  See you again someday!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Easter Weekend... I have a few questions

All around the globe, Christians are celebrating the resurrection of their lord Jesus Christ this weekend.  They celebrate his last loaf of bread, his final breath and his mysterious yet predictable fulfillment of his promise to rise from his own death and save us from our sins.

So of course, I have questions.

What does INRI mean?  (I don't really want to know)

At what point did a giant bunny with painted eggs become part of the story?

If he rose on the third day, shouldn't it be Easter Monday?

What's so good about Good Friday?

Why are the Greeks a week later than the rest of the Christians??

Who were those two miserable bastards crucified alongside Christ, and what did they do?