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bye, wally

ok, i’m ready.

a couple of blog posts back i said i wasn’t ready to talk about my friend, wally.  i am now.

wally looked like he had been a handsome man at some point in his youth, but age, addiction and cancer had robbed him of that.  his sunken eyes and cheeks spoke to his sickened state better than any other feature on his dying body.  i’ve seen pictures of holocaust survivors in concentration camps that looked healthier than he did.

one day wally asked me for a new pair of pants.  i grabbed the key and we went up into the donations rooms to find him something.  since he didn’t own a belt, we tried to find pants that fit him snug.  we couldn’t.  he was too skinny.  it was then that it hit me how sick wally was.

i apologized for not being able to find him a pair of pants that fit but wally just shrugged it off and told me not to worry.  the dirty and torn jeans he had on would have to suffice.  i offered to find a pair at the clothing store down the street but he wouldn’t have anything of it.  he shook my hand, thanked me for my time and left.  his hands were bony and cold.

there are some memories that always stay with you.

on one overnight shift i was able to sit and talk with wally about his life.  he had not had an easy go at life by any stretch of the imagination, but, as he told me, ‘other people have had worse lives’.  i wasn’t sure then and i’m still not sure now whether he said that to comfort me or himself.  possibly both.

chemotherapy was wrecking his body, inside out.  the cancer he had was an aggressive type so the doctors were meeting it with equally aggressive therapy.  and there was wally stuck in the middle, his frail body barely holding up under such horrendous conditions.

drinking alcohol numbed the pain, he told me.  he didn’t care that it made things worse.  he was going to have as much fun with his friends as he could before he passed into the next life.  his immune system could just suck it up, he told me.

ha!

wally coughed up blood and i panicked slightly.  i think he saw the worried look on my face as he wiped the bloody spit from his lips.

‘don’t worry about it, lucas.  i’m fine’.

he wasn’t fine but the way he said it almost made me believe him.  his voice carried such warmth and care.  the type of voice that puts you at ease.  i wanted to believe him so badly but i knew the cancer had him in a bad way.

‘do you even want to beat cancer?’

i regretted asking it as soon as the words left my mouth.  how insensitive could i possibly be?

‘on most days, no.’

silence.

after a few moments, he continued:

‘i think i’m ready to die, lucas.  i’ve dealt with a lot of pain in my life and i think when i die the pain will end.’

i haven’t talked death so frankly with anyone in my life like i did with wally that night.

‘but, there are some days when i’m with good people – my friends, what remains of my family and relatives – that i gain more strength to want to fight and live longer.’

‘conversations like the one we are having right now, lucas, they give me more strength and desire to keep pushing forward’.

with that, he shook my hand and limped his way to his bed,  blessing me beyond any words could ever describe.
thanks, wally.  i hope your pain is gone now and you are finally at rest.

rip wally

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trying to understand

it hurt my heart a great deal when i heard the details of the latest school shooting.  to think about such evil being committed against innocent, young lives makes me scared of a world my younger siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews will grow up in.  i want a safe society for them to live in, not one in which there are horrendous acts like this one committed.

i pray and will continue to pray for the families and all those involved.  may healing come upon your homes.

i have a problem with the way the conversations have been phrased after this latest mass shooting in the united states.  i suppose the media is to blame for some of this but i think theres a collective responsibility as well.  with all respect to the victims, both those who lost their lives and the ones left behind, i think theres something a bit off-putting about this story and its not for all the immediately apparent reasons.

is gun reform the biggest issue here, as the media claims it is?

quick fact: it is easier for americans to access guns than mental health services.

it bothers me that the conversation is being had almost exclusively around gun laws and no one seems to be saying much about mental illness.  yes, guns were used to take innocent lives.  yes, if there had been better safeguards in place then this might not have happened.  yes, we need to look at gun laws and reform the necessary parts to protect all of us, but it was a broken human being who used those guns to kill.

broken mentally.

that this young man had a large problem with his mind is so apparent and obvious that it feels redundant to say anything about it, and yet its being placed in a secondary column of interest and concern.

that scares me.

it scares me that our society can be so blind and dumb towards the ugly reality of mental illness all around us.  we are a collective of ostriches hiding our heads in the comforting sand, all the while the proverbial bombs tick down above the surface.

if this isnt a deafening wake up call to us what will it take?

7.1 percent of the american populace accessed mental health services in 2012.  its estimated though that 26.2 percent of americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder.  this number is most definitely higher when considering stigmatization of mental disorders and the lack of appropriate mental health services.  nearly 20 percent cant (too expensive) or wont (stigma) access mental health services.  here in halifax, nova scotia, less than 4% of the health budget is directed towards mental health.

what does that tell us about mental health? does it tell us that it is not a problem?

tell that to most of the people i work with on the streets.  of the hundreds of people ive met and/or worked with at street level, maybe a couple of them didnt deal with mental illness.

or try telling that to the almost 1 in 10 of canadians who deal with major depression.

lets ask the canadian mental health association.  heres a few things from their website:

Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague.
20% (1 in 5) of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.
Mental illness affects people of all ages, educational and income levels, and cultures.
About 1% of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder (or “manic depression”).

im not going to bother mentioning the percentage of mentally ill people occupying our prisons.  a quick google search will give you the staggering stats.

so it IS a big problem.. and its getting worse.

we cant expect things to get better when we keep ignoring the obvious warning signs and refuse to tackle the problem head on.  but with our heads firmly planted in the sand, the likely hood that things are going to get (much) worse before they get better is an unsettling reality.

 

the other thing that bothers me about this is the horrible contrast it shows between western people and other people of our world.

why is that the children in gaza dont get the tears of the world for the latest bombings in palestine?

why dont these children, who live on the wrong side of an apartheid state, gain even a fraction of the tears and prayers the western children get?  i dont want to get weighed down in quantifying senseless deaths against other senseless deaths but there seems to be a particular skew here.

what about the children who have died in pakistan and yemen by american drone attacks?

why dont these children (an estimated 178 of them) get us teary-eyed and mad at their murderers?  why dont we send each other mass facebook prayer letters and doctored pictures with kind and inspiring words for these children?

a car bomb goes off in damascus and 50 people are killed, some of which are innocent children.  the scene is gruesome.  more innocent lives lost to senseless violence.

do we blame the media for this?  surely, they must be most responsible because of their biased opinions, right?  we dont get to decide what news we consume, do we?

do we?

i realize at this point that this post probably wont get me too many fans.  ranting about mental illness is one thing but calling into question our collective moral integrity might be cutting a little too close to some people’s central nerve.

see, it wasnt just gun reform we need, nor mental health funding, nor learning to care more about other people you dont know.  we need a gut check and ask ourselves harder questions.

are all the people of our world weighed on the same scale?

if so, why doesnt it seem like that?  whether its mentally illness or foreign people dying/being killed, its the same story.

can we afford to lie to ourselves any longer?

no, they are not being valued/weighed the same.  some children/women/men are less valuable than others.  its plain as day, isnt it?!  our news media, facebooks, twitters, chats over coffee, supper talks with the family, etc, etc, ad nauseam(!) tell us it is.

there are ‘us’ and there are ‘them’.

(pause)

whats happening to us?!  or, maybe its more apt to ask, what has happened to us?!

(long pause)

are we losing our humanity?

(another long pause)

(still pausing)

or are we just sick and need help?
maybe we need healing from our mental, emotional and spiritual wounds, and help understanding who we really are.

i hope help and healing come soon, because our world really needs it right now.

//end of long rant

RIP all  the children of the world who have died due to war, starvation, poverty, disease and everything else that steals a life too soon.  may your souls rest well in His kingdom.

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tragedy in kansas

for some of us its just another sunday.  for those in kansas city, this sunday will be much different than last sunday and all the preceding sunday’s leading up to today.  tragedy has a way of doing that.

a couple of days ago, a young professional football player who plays for the kansas city chiefs took a gun and shot his girlfriend, the mother of his newborn baby, multiple times dead.  he then went to the practice facility where he works to thank his coach and general manager for all that they had done for him.  then he turned the gun on himself and took his own life.

we hear about these situations in the news often enough that we become numb to them.  people murder other people.  its a sad reality that we a forced to deal with.  people also take their own lives, leaving behind people who cared for and loved them.

i came across this story because im a sports fan and because im a sports fan i tend to visit sports websites to get my ‘fix’.  what was first reported as a suicide by a football player soon became a story about a football player who committed murder-suicide.

what happened inside that young man’s head?

i read a few of the comments tagged along at the end of one of the articles.  most people were very sympathetic towards the situation, offering their rip’s and condolences.  some people werent as kind and offered their distaste and judgment towards the young man.  i read some very harsh and hurtful things that i hope his family or friends didnt come across.

it amazes me the senselessness that comes out of some peoples mouths and, in this case, fingers at times.

was this simply a case of domestic violence taken to the extreme?  maybe, but maybe not.

football is a violent sport that involves men crashing into each other with tremendous impact, often times injuring players.  many times those injuries cant be seen on an x-ray or be helped with some physiotherapy.  head injuries are very common in a game where men bash their helmets against another man’s.  with enough force, a person’s brain can shake inside their skull and cause damage.  we call this a concussion.  concussions have been shown to contribute to depression, anxiety, mood swings, lack of ability to control stress, loss of social judgment and aggression.
could this young man have been dealing with some mental illness due to head trauma that had flown under the radar?

in a society that stigmatizes people who deal with mental illness, its more common for people to live with unaddressed and undiagnosed mental health issues/illnesses then seek help.  people who wouldnt think of saying a racial or ethnic slur glibly talk about nut cakes, lunatics and crazies.  its no wonder more people dont seek help.

or maybe the young football player just snapped.

in professional football, as in most professional sports, players are more commodities than human beings.  weight, strength, height, 40 time, jersey number, etc.  im just as guilty of it at times, getting frustrated when one of my favorite players has an off-shooting night.  they arent simply numbers on a roster or spreadsheet.  they are people with emotions, sensitivities, dreams, families and lives away from the sports field.  when we dehumanize human beings, should we be shocked when they dont always act human?

whether it was mental illness, a sudden aggressive, irrational mood or something else we are unaware of, it saddens me more than i can articulate in words.  but why?  i didnt know know him, his victim or anyone related or close to them.  i cant explain the why, i simply am.

im learning as i get older i cant nor do i feel the need to explain everything.  some things just are.

rip jb and kp

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