Tribute

Posted: March 30, 2007 in Friendship, Health, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Veterans

Lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Sam. I’m sure it’s because Easter weekend is just around the corner.

These past few weeks, whenever a non-homeless person has taken the time to have a conversation with me, I find myself telling them about him.

I’d seen Sam a number of times at the clinic. He was one of the familiar faces I’d recognize when I had a medical appointment. We’d nod at one another or give each other a wave of recognition, but we never really did become friendly with one another. He was just a regular at the clinic, until the night he first showed up at the homeless shelter.  

It’s funny how you can recognize someone, but fail to remember where it is you "know" them from. That’s what happened with Sam and I. We knew we had seen each other somewhere or other, we just couldn’t place where or when. But when he saw me he said: "Hey. I know you from…" but neither one of us could recall from where.

At dinner that night, he sat across the table from us and that began one of my most treasured friendships.

What can I say about him? I’d never known him to be brash or verbally unkind. Always smiling. Ever polite. A gentleman – a truly gentle man. An easy going personality that always makes you feel good about yourself. A contagious laughter – one that comes from down deep in the heart.

Heart.

That’s probably the best way to describe Sam. All heart.

Sadly, Sam passed away Easter weekend of 2006. Passed away in his sleep at the homeless shelter.

Sam had COPD: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder.

I remember that evening that he looked just a bit tired. The smile that was always present seemed just a little weaker. Oddly, there was this aura of serenity about him. Almost as though he knew that this was to be his light night. Perhaps he did.

I recall his turning in a little earlier than usual that evening. No one really thought anything about it. After all, he was a senior citizen.

The next morning when the lights went on, one of the shelter staff tried waking him. But Sam didn’t wake up. As I looked through the doorway of the "dorm," I knew something was wrong. He was lying in the same position that he had been in when I’d seen him the night before. That seemed odd to me. But then we knew – he had died in his sleep.

I remember backing up until my back came in contact with a wall. I remember sliding down until I was crouched down like a lost child in an elfin forest. I remember hearing myself saying over and over, to no one in particular: "Aw man!"

And, I remember the grief I felt.

Yes, Sam was a senior citizen. Yes, he had a fatal degenerative pulmonary disorder. But he was also and honorably discharged veteran.

He should not have had to suffer the indignity of passing away homeless, at a homeless shelter. At the very least, he should have died in a VA medical facility, in the company of other fellow veterans – his comrades in arms.

Everyday I see numerous vehicles around town displaying the magnetic ribbons that say: "Support Our Troops." Yet, in this country, there are about a half million homeless veterans. Don’t they also deserve our support?

Many would have seen Sam as just another homeless man. Some might have seen him as an older gentleman with a fatal breathing disorder. Me? I saw him as my friend – one that I miss dearly.

That he died Easter weekend? I’m sure that someone somewhere might attach some great theological or philosophical significance it his death. Others would simply say that people all over the world die everyday and that it was just his time.

All I really know is that his friendship added to the overall fabric of my life. Now that he’s gone, my life is just a little less full. Just a bit more empty. A bit less bright.

Good night, Sam… My Dear Friend.

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