Monday, May 16, 2011

Mr. B's Memorial Service

Yesterday a few of my co-workers and I walked over to the memorial service of a former resident. On the way, I asked where he was going to be buried.

'He was cremated.' said someone.
'Oh. I didn't know that.' I said. 'That's how I want to go.'

'Really?' she responded. 'I can't help but think about--what if I'm alive? What if they start burning me and I'm alive?'

'What, would you rather be buried alive?' I said.

'Jeez, thanks!' she said. 'Great options'.

She then turned to another co-worker--he's a muslim--and said, 'you guys don't believe in that, right? You're religion?'

'That's right'. he said.

'What's the thinking behind that?' I said.

'The thinking' he said, 'although I'm not sure I believe it--because how could I believe god is all powerful and there are things he can't do--is that if your body is too destroyed God can't bring you back, and you just stay dead. But like I said, I question that.'

'huh. I knew Catholics thought something like that.' I said. 'Well, I'm definitely getting cremated then, because if I'm wrong about this whole religion thing, I don't think I want God bringing me back."

He laughed.

The service was lightly attended by case managers and other homeless and formerly homeless people. The guy was a pretty bad alcoholic, and was in a lot of pain towards the end. He was pretty grumpy when he stayed in our shelter, and we were constantly having to get him new clothes because he would shit and piss all over himself, and then get argumentative with us when we would ask him to clean up. He had got into a housing program not too long before the end, and I was told that he was a lot more peaceful then. Fewer accidents, better composure. The case manager that worked with him is a great person, and I admire her passion. She busted her ass to get him housing, and it brought him some final peace. I'm glad he got some.

A few people said some things that were nice, some said a few things that were funny, and there were a few prayers, and then everyone headed to the buffet table and started mixing. I'm not sure how I felt about the whole thing. Everyone in the room had been through a lot with (and for) this guy. His life was destroyed by addiction and a radically underfunded welfare system. No family could be contacted about the body, so the city is going to have to do something about it. I know some of the workers in the room really cared about the guy, but the sense that everyone was struggling for some kind of silver lining in their remarks made me uneasy. Why is it so hard for us to accept that some things are just terrible, and some lives are tragically wasted and unsupported?

I'm sad that his life went the way it went. I'm glad he's not suffering anymore, and I'm glad he got some peace at the end. I'm sorry that we couldn't do more for him, and sorry he couldn't do more for himself.


Lodo Grdzak said...

And soon we'll follow. (Now there's an upbeat thought!).

Willie Y said...

Some people can't remove themselfs from their destructive lifestyles and most of the time we can't push them into the right path.

Alcohol killed my brother and there was little we could do to stop it.

Anonymous said...


I could write an entire blog post in response to the question you raise in the second to last paragraph.

My humble opinion, and that's all it is, is that life is hardly ever black or white. There is a huge continuum of grey in between. It's hard for me to imagine that anyone's life is an entire waste. Their must have been some redemptive qualities in this man's life, regardless of how few they were. I think many people are prone to connect with those positive aspects after someone's death, even though they may not reflect how someone was in general. It's not up to me to attach any value judgment on how others respond to those who are deceased.

At the end of the day, the work that you all do at the Drop Inn Center speaks to the need of how important it is to stand aside those who have difficult lives and made choices that have cost them, but still you all continue to do the work that you do. And part of that work is still seeing the good in others. So even after someone dies, it is still wrong to find those nuggets of good qualities they've left behind? And if they are there, then their life couldn't have been an entire waste.

Spencer Troxell said...

Lodo:Definitely something worth remembering.

Willie:Alcoholism is a destructive monster. I'm sorry that you had to experience that.

Malcolm: Everybody reacts to grief differently. In this situation, this was my reaction.

I had a few light-hearted moments with Mr. B, and I know others did too. He also had a whole life before we met 2 years ago, so I certainly can't stand in judgment over that.

It's also perfectly healthy and normal to remember the good things, or to focus on positive memories. Losing people is hard, and knowing that justice will not always be served, and happy endings aren't waiting for all of us at the end of our stories can be difficult to swallow. So I totally understand the quest for silver linings. I certainly learned a lot from Mr. B. He taught me things about both myself and our society that I'm better off knowing.