I ran into “Willie” in the hallway jabbering with a coworker, asking questions about how to get his buddy “Mack” to the dentist. I joined the conversation and “Willie” began to tell me about his friendship with “Mack.”
“The two of us have been friends going way back! 50 years! We’re best buds.” This dedicated best pal comes in with regularity to visit. He often brings things in that he needs. On this day, he had brought a brand spanking new pair of shoes, sleek black sneakers with lots of cushion.
“Mack” is a resident I see every morning as he makes his way back to his room after breakfast. He has some strength in his arms, which he uses to propel his wheelchair slowly and steadily down the hall. It’s just a crawl, really. He moves the wheels only a little bit with each push, but he gets there, inch by inch. We have a customary greeting that we share when we see each other. I sing to him, “Row, row, row your chair, gently down the hall – “ and he generally cracks up right about there, and if we’re feeling chipper, we laugh and say hello, and sometimes I even make up a silly verse like, “Faster, faster, faster, go! Isn’t this a ball!”
“Mack” always knows when I have a new bag of chocolates for the stakeholders, and he is not shy about asking for more than a few pieces of his favorite kind. After chatting with his buddy I checked in with him. He was sitting at the edge of a Bingo game that was winding down. I sat down and shared with him that I had met “Willie” and understood he might like to have an appointment with a dentist, and possibly have some dentures fitted.
“I would,” he said in his halting speech. “I lost them all in a car accident.” This was the same accident that left him paralyzed and with trouble speaking. He said he has been pulling out the remaining teeth himself. “Oh dear! Don’t do that!” I cried. “Naw, I hate the dentist, rather do it myself.” I let him know that I would work with the social worker to get his issues addressed.
Before I left, I asked if there was anything else he wanted to talk about. He said he wanted me to ask him some more questions. “Okay, sure,” I said. “Here’s another question for you. What else do you want me to know about you?” Without pausing he said firmly, “I want out.” “You want to go home with your wife?” I asked. He nodded, and sniffed back a sob, and started to tell me something that I couldn’t quite get. So he took out his pen and wrote the following message in his crooked scrawl: “I will never give up.” He pointed at his written words and spoke them again with emphasis. “I…will… never… give…up. Never.” I sat with him in silence for a bit and let that soak in. Tears welled up in my eyes. I touched his hand and promised my support, and we prayed.
His words, his commitment, his expression of strong desire have stayed with me. He knows what he needs to do to enhance his well-being. He wants connectedness, autonomy, meaning and he knows where he will find his joy. His expression of resolve was a gift and a reminder for us all: Never give up. Stay the course. Be an overcomer. If he can do it, so can we.
Chaplain Whit Stodghill