Kenny, also known as “Tiny,” enrolled in hospice when he was 72 with Parkinson’s disease. Kenny resembled an old weathered mountain man with his long, grey beard and grey hair. Kenny’s wife, Tressie, pulled out some old photos and declared, “Elvis didn’t have anything on Kenny! Kenny always wore boots and had his collar turned up. Me and the girls I used to work with at Mitchellace were sitting outside one day, and Kenny pulled up on his motorcycle. And when Kenny took his helmet off, they all yelled, ‘There’s Elvis!’” Tressie testified. “Kenny was a wild man. When he was 17, he tried to throw the judge out the courtroom window, and it took seven men to hold him back. That’s why they have bars on the courtroom windows in West Union today. But Kenny had a tender side. Kenny helped people. Kenny stood up for people.”
I wrote a two-part series about Kenny in the Portsmouth Daily Times, and Kenny told his family, “We’ve got good news. I’m gonna be in the paper this weekend.” Kenny’s daughter, Christiana, lamented, “I just wish it could be in our local paper so everyone who knows Dad could read it.”
This week, I’m writing about something Kenny’s wife, Tressie, shared with me. Tressie reflected, “A lot of people have been on my mind this week. I stopped and saw Carolyn and Charlie.” Carolyn and Charlie were Tressie’s lifelong friends, and Carolyn was also a hospice patient who I visited weekly. Tressie continued, “I spent three hours with her. I even ate dinner with them. Charlie was cooking cabbage, and it smelled, but it sure tasted good. Then I stopped by my son Mike’s. He told me, ‘You haven’t been here more than 10 times since I moved here.’ And I hadn’t. And I stopped by to see one of my coworkers. Her name popped into my mind. Her boyfriend died suddenly; they’d planned on just enjoying their time together. They had so many plans. And I had Sandy on my mind. She was beautiful, like a movie star, a model. When I was a little girl, she taught me how to walk with elegance by having me walk across the room with a book on top of my head. She walked up here to the house so many times, and she always brought flowers. Kenny and I took her places with us; we spent time with her. She was a wonderful woman. I had her on my mind, and I kept saying, ‘I’ll go tomorrow.’ About a week went by, and tomorrow never came. It’s today, and I just found out that Sandy died. We all do it. We’re all human. We are the ones that miss out.”
When I pulled away from Kenny and Tressie’s, it was a cold, misty dreary November day, around dusk. A few miles down the road, “I had it on my mind” to visit the editor of the Peoples Defender to see if they would be willing to run Kenny’s column in their local paper. But I said to myself, “It’s late, cold, rainy and dismal out, and I’m tired; and I would have to turn around and drive 20 miles in the other direction. The editor probably isn’t even still in his office, and I don’t even have an appointment.” But I was haunted by my conversation with Tressie, so I went anyway. Steve, the editor, just happened to be in his office, and we had a wonderful conversation. I pitched the column and he said, “We’ll give it a try.” Kenny’s story was published the following weekend, and they have been publishing the column for more than four years now.
On my way home, “I had it on my mind” to visit Shirley at the hospital. Shirley was one of my previous patient’s mother-in-law and primary caregiver, and the mother of my coworker, Linda. Again, I said to myself, “It’s been a long day; it’s miserable outside and I just want to get home. Besides, Shirley is probably swarmed by family and friends, and she doesn’t need to see me this evening.” Again, I was haunted by my conversation with Tressie, and I went anyway. As I drove up the entrance of the hospital, I received a call from Linda. She asked, “Will you do me a real big favor? Will you go see mom and help her fill out legal papers and a living will? She’s finally ready.” I told Linda, “I’m already here.” When I walked into the room, Shirley was surrounded by family members, and she immediately said, “I thought you would be here.”
Tressie is right, isn’t she? “We all do it. We’re all human.” We’ll never be perfect, but surely we can do better. So, the next time we “have it on our minds” to call or visit someone, instead of talking ourselves out of it, let’s do it anyway.
“Why, when I came, was there no man? Why, when I called, was there none to answer?” (Isaiah 50:2)
Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center-Hospice, and can be reached at 740-356-2525 or at [email protected] You can order Loren’s new book, “Straight Paths,” online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.