One of the things that I love about my job, is that I get to meet incredible people.I work with adults who have had a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). When people ask what I do, I say "I work with people who are in Nursing homes, to get them out and back into the community." That is the CLiff note-short answer at a party.
For the past 5 years I have been working with survivors, and every one I've met has been an inspiration to me. Sometimes, I am fortunate enough to work with some one who has a profound impact on my life. This post is in honor and memory of one of those people. Mark passed away one year ago this week. His life and death continue to affect me greatly.
Out of respect for his privacy, I will not give great detail about Mark. So, how do I pay tribute to him, without giving too much detail. This is what I will say. When I met Mark in late 2006, he was sitting in a sub-standard nursing home, recovering from a TBI. He was in his early fifties, and at over 6 feet tall, was a gentle giant. I have rarely been so motivated to do my job quickly and thoroughly. We bonded quickly over our common interest in sports, and a love of peanuts and raisins for an afternoon snack!
I worked with Mark and his family to get him out of that horrid nursing home as quickly as we could. He was patient, and when things didn't always go as planned,he would often say to me, "it's out of our hands, Boss."
To Honor Mark, I must also honor his family. His mother, sister and brothers were amazing. They were fierce advocates for Mark when needed. As his health deteriorated, they supported him with such grace and strength, I was amazed.
For a while, Mark's health improved. He had a form of cancer that few people survive, yet for a couple of months it seemed that he might beat the odds. He had an apartment, and worked diligently to regain his reading and writing skills that he lost from the TBI. He exercised daily. And by exercise, I mean that he put the training I did for the Triathlon, to shame.
Sadly, his cancer returned in August of '07. He came to peace with it much more gracefully than I did. He said that he was okay with dying, because he had almost died from his TBI, and so he knew that what was waiting for him would be wonderful.In his last weeks, he was too tired to venture from his home much, so I went to see him almost daily. Often, we would simply sit in silence, as his language was failing him. Sometimes, we would watch a Yankees game. Sometimes, he would look over at me, give me a half grin and shrug his shoulders, as if to say, "it's out of our hands Boss."
And so, a year ago we said goodbye. His wonderful family was kind enough to let me see him in his last hour, which I am forever grateful for.
Much has changed in the past year. I have lunch with Mark's mom on occasion, because she is an amazing woman, and I feel fortunate to know her. When I am running, I often think of Mark. His spirit keeps me going when I want to quit and walk a block or two. When my job gets tough, and I feel like I'm not helping anyone, I think of Mark. His memory reminds me that we all have the ability to make life better for those around us. And perhaps most importantly, Mark taught me that sometimes "it's out of our hands" but that's okay.