In last week’s blog post, I shared about our patient, Sam, who suffers from cancer and realistically may not live a long life. I have been slowly trying to prepare myself for his potential death or other patients who may eventually pass away. I mean, I know that we all die someday. Unfortunately, many people who live with HIV/AIDS will not live as long as others of us may.
Recently, I also shared how this community has become our second home. We care very deeply about the people we interact with. John and I have talked to each other about how hard it will be to say goodbye to everyone here at the end of our volunteer commitment. I realize that I may have to say goodbye to some of the patients before that point.
Not only is there Sam. There’s another patient here, let’s call him Joe. For Joe, HIV/AIDS affects his physicality greatly, and he cannot walk far with the assistance of a walker. So he typically spends most of his time in his wheelchair, on a chair, or in his bed. Joe can speak some English, so he has been a huge help to me and John - especially in our beginning months when we could hardly speak any Thai! He is such a lovely person. He has this kind, zen-like nature about him, and his regular smile is a little like a Cheshire cat - but with (hardly) any of the negative connotation.
In the past several months since he has been with us at the Care Center, he has been experiencing plenty of physical weakness. He has not really grown any stronger; if anything, he has grown weaker. As I write this, my eyes well up a bit intermittently, as I reflect upon all the people who fight their own battles here.
On another aspect of grief, we heard some other sad news this week. One of our former patients, passed away. She and her husband stayed in the Garden for about 3 months with us. They had some struggles, but we were all hopeful that they might find healthy ways to continue living their lives as best as they can - with the little that they had. From what we can piece together, she had not been feeling well lately. She was riding on a bike/motorbike with her husband, collapsed and then fell. She ended up in the hospital for a very short stay until she passed away.
Although I have experienced the deaths of a few people who were close to me throughout my lifetime, I am not quite used to the frequent encounter of death and tragedy that we experience here. Even if it’s not someone that we have met, we have heard plenty of stories of tragedy and death surrounding the people we know now here.
In our first couple of months, I was told about a young child (under two years of age) who experienced a tragic death - too tragic for me to describe on a public blog at this point. Despite the fact that I was processing new information all of the time during our transition period, I had to take some time and space to process this tragic death at the time. Even now, my throat gets constricted with emotion as I try to write about it.
Just tonight, John encouraged me to take a short break to watch a TedTalk with him (check out his media blog for more details). It gave me some words to put to the emotions/thoughts I’m experiencing - and created space for my eyes to well up. In case you can’t tell, that is a regular occurrence. I have been open about how emotional I am. But it’s more than that. To me, this connection with my emotions allows me to grieve along the way - as one way to process tragedy and death on a more regular basis.
And then it all leads me to think - how will I continue to make a difference in other people’s lives - to help alleviate the depth of their tragedies or the extent of their marginalization? As I’m doing in small ways here - like performing specialized massage techniques on Sam.
As John and I think about our future re-entry into the U.S. and a much different everyday environment, we pose these types of questions to ourselves. What is encouraging to me is that it seems like you, our blog readers, are processing some of this experience with us. We have had conversations and email correspondence with dear people in our lives (many of you, blog readers!) about how they have been affected by our decision to volunteer for a year. And it is heartening.
I want to keep asking myself questions. Because there is too much tragedy and death in the world. And if we can help alleviate it little bit by bit (or as they say in Thai - teera nit, teera noy), maybe a few more people won’t experience as much tragedy/death/marginalization/poverty as they do now.