Clark's Archive

In a group home far out in the country, reaching out to the edge of life

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

Hospice musicians Keith Mann and Kimberly Skoll sing the Beatles to Clark, who is dying, and unable to move or speak. What good people Keith and Kim are to do this, and so cheerfully and conscientiously. This was a tough visit, and a rough day for Izzy, who was stymied by the intense atmosphere of the group home. So was I. In hospice work, I see things I once only imagined, and that has to be a gift to me.

July 1, 2008 -  So in the realm of the dying, there are all this places and kingdoms that I was only vaguely aware of before, if I was aware of them at all. I didn’t know of the dramas raging behind in homes, and in nursing homes, and in group homes tucked away in corners of America out of sight, where people live on the edge of life, out of sight and consciousness of the living, who don’t really want to know.
I didn’t know how hardworking and loving poorly-paid health care workers can be, have to be.
We drove a long ways to see Clark, who is paralyzed and unable to speak or visibly react to people. Clark also has cancer, and is dying. He has not had an easy life.
Keith Mann, a Washington County hospice official, and Kim Skoll, a musician, among other things,  (I call her a good witch) often go to the farthest reaches of life to try and communicate with people like Clark and relieve their isolation. We hoped Izzy might as well.
In hospice work, you often have to go to the patient, because the patient can’t get to you and Kim and Keith got down on the floor of the group home for nearly an hour singing Beatles and other songs they thought Clark might like. It was hard to tell, but the nurses assured us he was reacting. We could see theother patients loved it.
The home was  a rough place to visit. Mostly occupied by people who can not care for themselves, many of them yelling and shouting with chronic and advances illnesses. It was hard to see, hard to be in this place, which for most of my life, I would simply have driven past without a conscious thought, assuming this had nothing whatsoever to do with me. Now I look, and now I see. Izzy has done that for me, and so has hospice.
Izzy has trouble reacting to people who don’t react to him. He was tested this afternoon.
At the door, a cat popped out suddenly and hissed, and Izzy jumped. Inside, he had to react to shouting, crying, and a lot of unpredictable smells, sounds and motions. He was calm, focused, but he couldn’t get Clark to react, even though Clark did seem to be looking at him – most of the time Clark had one hand in his mouth – and so tried to jump up next to him, then lay down on the floor as Keith and Kim sang.
Keith and I were both pleased by Izzy’s calm in the face of so much intensity.
I’ve spent much of my life communicating with people in one way or another, including on this blog, and it is a painful experience to have a human being right in front of me that I can’t quite reach. I just couldn’t find a way to do it, though I might have without my knowing it.
Izzy picked up on this, I am sure.
Keith and Kim sang their hearts out, and I am sure they did reach Clark. I think Izzy did, also. I hope so, but I’m not sure. In hospice, it doesn’t really matter what I think. You simply need to muster some faith that something got through. And then you take your camera, gather your dog, and you get in your car and leave.
“Clark,” I said as we packed up. “Izzy and I will be back, I promise.” And we will.