Archive for Thursday, June 23, 2011

Admiring a brave neighbor

June 23, 2011

If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

How many times has someone asked that question?

I know the answer now.

I stood at my door and watched as a neighbor of mine was recently transported by ambulance to a care center. He was wrapped in a sheet. His tan ball hat on his head stuck out from under the sheet; his black slippers protruded from under the blankets at the foot of the cot.

He and I took what turned out to be one of his final strolls last week down Allcutt. We walked slowly and he told me about changes, dramatic changes, in his health. No matter how many times someone tells you they have cancer, the news always comes as a bit of a jolt.

Over the months, he’d grown thinner, got out less and walked ever so much slower. On fine, sunny days, though, he took his walking stick and made it at least to the corner and back, taking short, frequent sips of air as he went.

I’ve known Bill to be a kind man, quiet and unassuming. A few years back he helped me with a project I was working on; he gave me his advice about how to do it. I don’t know when he moved in next door. Over time it just feels like people have always been around.

On that walk that day, I was able to thank him for his kindness and the respect he has always shown me. I told him I was sorry for his diagnosis; he wanted to know about mine and I told him. He listened intently, and then replied that he had decided against treatment.

“I am,” he said, “pushing eighty. I just don’t want to be in pain at the end.”

Eighty doesn’t seem so old to me anymore.

We talked about advances in hospice care and pain management — different and so much better than a decade ago. His family, who has so lovingly supported him these past weeks, will see that he gets the best care available.

He seemed, on that walk, resolved to enter this next phase of his life with determination and grit. It will not be easy.

On a cool rainy day, when it became evident that he could no longer be cared for at home, an ambulance came and took him to a care center. The EMT’s moved him with care.

The rain dripped from the leaves of the iron wood tree onto his cot as he passed by below. Only the clicking of the gate broke the stillness. Another sound went unheard, but was felt nonetheless as he passed by. It is a sound not heard by the ear but, rather, one that reverberates deeply in the heart.

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