Becoming Involved In Someone's Death

donThis is Don. He was a resident at a shelter in Lincoln Park. He was also the quietest man I’ve ever known.

Don lived here for more than a year and I didn’t know him at all. That’s the way he wanted it.

You’d see him in the community room and he might be reading a novel. More likely he’d be working on a word-search puzzle.

Occasionally I’d see him walking to the train. I’d wave, he’d nod his head. I’d laugh and think, that’s Don.

There are three pretty good reasons anyone ends up homeless. Addiction, illness and joblessness. Don had the trifecta. ¬†Alcoholism, heart disease and no income is a tough threesome to beat. He almost did….almost.

About a month ago, flu spread through the shelter. A bunch of us got sick and Don was part of the group. I wasn’t worried about him….I had my own case of the flu to deal with.

I got better. Don didn’t.

After a couple of weeks of flu-like coughing and body aches, he ends up at Stroger Hospital. Not a place you want to spend any time.

He’s there a week and no one says anything. I ask one of the staff members about him and she knows nothing. But it’s not just her. No one knows what’s going on with this guy. How is this possible?

This might be hard to believe but I’m pretty much the leader of the residents in this community. I’m a little older than most. I’ve been here a little longer. Plus I have occasional moments of clarity.

I also didn’t realize this until recently but I’m emotionally vested in the people here. They may not be family but when you live so closely with people and deal with their problems, it’s hard to be detached.

It was time to find out what was going on with Don.

I went to a Dollar Store and bought two word puzzle books and a get well card. It’s easy to be big for 3 bucks.

I talked to two case managers and the three of us take a road trip to Stroger. I’ve been on a lot better road trips.

We get there, find his room and see ten doctors working on Don. Stroger is a teaching hospital so that isn’t so unusual. The hour that it took to drain his stomach was.

I looked into Don’s room and he was sound asleep. I didn’t want to wake him so I left the books, the card and a note.

I asked a nurse if he’s going to be okay. She said they were doing their best to keep him comfortable. Ominous.

A week later, word spread that Don was transferred to another hospital. It leaked out that it was a Hospice unit. Don had Pancreatic Cancer.

A decision was made to keep the news from the residents. Bad decision. How are you going to deal with the emotions of 35 people when you tell them one of their own has died? It would be like a school when a student dies. Crisis counselors all over.

Someone leaked the bad news. At least everyone knew what was going to happen. One problem solved.

Don died last Wednesday night. It was announced after dinner the next day. Tears. Sadness. One of our own was gone.

I had a couple of talks with some people and everyone seemed okay. They were dealing with this fine.

Everybody but one person. I was so concerned about Don and everyone else that I forgot to take care of myself. I left myself very vulnerable.

About an hour after getting the news, I found myself crying. I couldn’t stop. I eventually calmed down and called a friend who knew this story. What she said made sense. While I wasn’t that involved in Don’s life, I got involved in his death.

The next night we had a celebration of Don’s life. All 34 of us had a word search puzzle.

wordfind This is the one I did. One half hour of mind numbing fun. It gave me some closure,

I did it for Don….and for me.


This is the second in a yearlong series called Faces of Homelessness. Here’s the first piece The Face of Homelessness Isn’t What You Think

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Filed under: Faces of Homelessness

Tags: Homelessness

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    Every five years or so I decide to update this section. I can't believe I've been doing this for close to ten years. The last time I did this I was close to sixty years old. Now I'm just a few months away from the big 7-ZERO. Scary AF!!! I'm pretty sure I won't be doing an update when I hit 80, but you never know. But until then, lets just be grateful.

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