Farewell, friend

Do you ever wonder what you are doing here? Not sitting at your computer wasting time reading blogs, that’s just lame, I don’t know why you are doing that, maybe you should go back to work. I mean the existential question of what is this all about and what is the point of being here on earth in this lifetime. Most of the time I am thinking about crossing things off on my “To Do” list… sending emails, remembering to take the laundry out of the washer before it molds and stuff like that. Every once in a while I consider what my true purpose is but not that much. It’s kind of overwhelming because I don’t have a really good answer right now. I was thinking about this on my bike ride today because I found out about the recent death of someone I used to know. What was his purpose in his relatively short life? He died, I could die, I will inevitably die, I am running out of time to figure out why I am really here and then make it happen…

I am not sure what to call this person. He was not exactly a friend and not exactly a patient of mine but sort of both. I knew him when I worked in mental health. The place where I worked was a Clubhouse. No, not that kind of clubhouse. Its a day program for adults with chronic, severe, mental illness. It is just as much a “treatment center” as it is a supportive community, a place where people with mental illness, who oftentimes cannot hold down a job, have a hard time maintaining friendships, and who may be estranged from their families, can go for support, comraderie, and assistance with everything from understanding a bus schedule (OMG I cannot believe I got paid to help people with that! I need a bus schedule tutor half the time myself) to getting their meds before their prescription runs out, to securing a part-time job. The “patients” or “consumers” are considered “members” and the staffs’ role is to find ways to let members use their skills and abilities to facilitate the daily operations of the clubhouse, including planning, preparing and serving meals, advocating for mental health policy, running a thrift shop, planning social events, and fundraising. The idea is to engage people in something larger than themselves and to maximize their potential to live meaningful, productive lives in the community. Most of us do not realize that our everyday lives require us to be part of something bigger than ourselves, be it marriage, family, neighborhood, job, religious community, whatever. People with severe mental illness on the other hand do not necessarily have these resources, so the opportunities this day program gives them are truly unique and health promoting; Being part of something bigger than yourself means you have to wake up each morning. It means you have a purpose of some kind. We take it for granted but having a purpose, even a purpose for one hour of each day, is life sustaining. Consider the alternative: You wake up with no one expecting you anywhere, anytime, at all, for anything. Just the idea of that kind of makes me want to crawl under the covers for a long long time.

One of the members I am honored to have known passed away and this is what I remember about him. He was a kind, gentle soul. He had a hard time in the world, coping with mental illness. He didn’t have a job, he didn’t have much contact with his family, and his mental stability was iffy. He had a huge heart and a bright smile. He had courage. People with mental illness are some of the bravest, strongest people I know. Simply put, they get shit on by society and yet they have the fewest resources to better their situation. I know this is America, people need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, blah blah blah but I don’t really want to hear it unless you have a severe persistent chronic mental illness or have a family member with one, otherwise you can’t begin to understand what these people deal with on a daily basis. The endurance it must take just to keep on living boggles my mind. I had not talked to my friend in years but when I heard the news of his passing I saw his smiling face in my mind and I thought this world just lost a beautiful soul. I hope that he is resting peacefully or that his soul might have the opportunity to live in harmony with a healthy mind. I imagine he must have struggled with his purpose on this earth, as most of us do. I cannot presume to say what it was. I can say that he will live in my memory as a source of inspiration, as one whose smile could light up a room. I feel lucky to have crossed paths with him.

2 thoughts on “Farewell, friend

  1. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful post. I bet most of us wish we had folks help us “[engage] in something larger than themselves and to maximize their potential to live meaningful, productive lives in the community”. Love, the “bus schedule tutor”

  2. Anonymous says:

    ironically, i had one of my “consumers” write me a letter of recommendation for graduate school and came across said letter last night. AND another of my former clients from the cross disability program called me today. he has called every six months for the past 10 years 🙂 at least one of the two attended the clubhouse you wrote about. so sorry for the loss. it is amazing when those we “serve” actually teach us-tina

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