Being new to Wendell Foster’s Campus (WFC), I hadn’t developed many relationship bonds with the residents but this all would change as I spend more time with the folks we serve in the Supports for Community Living (SCL) program, and the Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) of Centre Pointe, through our outpatient services of Green Therapy Pavilion and through the many Campus activities. Many of the folks who live on our Campus came here as children or young adults, while others arrived within the last several years. Two of our own who'd recently passed away to don angel’s wings were older, and well, we just know older people get sick and die, right? Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier, but it makes more sense to us. And so, I naively believed, given I’m still new, I wouldn’t experience heartbreak or grief around the loss of an individual for a long time. Jerry proved me wrong, teaching me the valuable lesson to value every moment we share with someone who touches our heart, who touches our soul.
On January 9, 2012 I met and spent the day with Jerry Watson as shared in previous blog chapters. Jerry's eyes are what struck me the most whenever we connected in “yes” and “no” conversations. They were determined, and I could tell in them he had so much more to say than he was able to fully express as we visited at lunch. I sensed a sharp intelligence behind those eyes. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. I’d briefly cross paths with Jerry a couple more times in the two short weeks that followed, even asking him upon our first encounter if he remembered me to which he said, yep. I was looking forward to future Campus events in which we’d run into each other and visit. I looked forward to sneaking away from the office again to spend another day out with him and others on another SCL trip.
That time wouldn’t come because two weeks after our first meeting, Jerry was hospitalized with pneumonia, and Jerry would never return home to WFC again. He passed away in the wee hours of the morning on January 31, 2012. He was 34 years old.
When I heard about the news of his hospitalization and that things weren’t looking good, I felt concern, but it never registered within me that he wouldn’t pull through it. When I heard his health worsened, and Hospice had been called in, I began to realize he probably wouldn’t make it. Upon hearing of his death the same morning I came in to work, I wasn’t surprised. In fact, I numbly received the news. My head had me believing what brief relationship Jerry and I had wasn’t enough to emotionally affect me. This death would be like others; I won’t feel the grief.
I was wrong. A couple of days after his death, I sat at my desk working through lunch when I received an email forwarded to me from our CEO on an unrelated matter; however, the email originated from an email announcement of Jerry’s passing. As I stared at the email, the emotion caught me off guard and welled up within me like lava bubbling to the surface of a volcano. I broke down, sobbing. I surprised myself as I cried for about five minutes at my desk. Even now as I write, I get teary-eyed. We only spent one day together! Why am I upset? A part of me thinks, You shouldn’t be crying, you didn’t know him very long, not like the other staff has for all these years.
The thing is Jerry captured my heart. His soul spoke to my soul through his eyes. When you open your heart to others, they find their way in and touch it. Within three months of being at WFC, I’d opened my heart, and let these beautiful spirits touch mine. Every individual we serve in some way has captured my heart. Jerry and I bonded in a 2nd Street crosswalk, and over the Green Bay Packers. I spent more time with Jerry than the others on our day together, crossing the streets in his sweet time, moseying through Towne Square Mall, lunching together at Show Me’s, and somehow, despite the communication barrier, exchanging a brief conversation about football. It was the most fun I’d had in a while, and one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had since arriving at WFC. My closest friend will attest, I prattled on about what a good time I had and how much I enjoyed the company of these Three Gents, especially Jerry.
Jerry reminded me about going with the flow of life, being in the moment, present in whatever the experience. I also learned from him:
- we can connect with others deeply when we allow ourselves to open up to it;
- to be free of rambling thoughts that distract us from the moment;
- to remember to breathe and focus on the moment at hand, and;
- to let go of judgment and assumptions so we may really see each other, be with each other, and connect with each other’s souls through the windows of our eyes.
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