As I walked out of Nathan Adelson Hospice I nodded to the volunteer at the front of the building.
“See you tomorrow night, honey?” she asked.
Silently I shook my head from side to side and gave her a half-smile as I exited. It wasn’t until I sat in the safety of my car that I let myself cry. I sat there and wept bitterly over Jack. He hadn’t yet passed, but I recognized the type of breathing I had heard as I left his room that night; he was at the end.
Jack and I met when I was walking down the Fremont Street Experience. He was a new face to me. I circled from a safe distance so I could assess him. He was 77 years old and very clean. He didn’t look like he had been on the streets for long. He held a simple cardboard sign that said, “Homeless, Help Me.” Jack was about six feet tall and thin, but I watched as his whole body slumped over when he began to weep that day. He put his head down and his shoulders hunched over as he cried. The sign started to droop.
I approached him and touched his arm. Startled, he looked into my eyes and apologized for crying.
“I’m not this type of person,” he said. “I lost my ID and my retirement got shut off. Now I’m in the shelter. I’m so humiliated to be out here. I just need money for an ID. Can you help me? I know you can. You are sent here by God; you are my angel.”
Jack and I set up an appointment to meet again. My team and I helped him get his ID, his retirement payments turned back on and eventually an apartment.
Jack never wanted much, just a small radio so he could listen to his Christian music, a microwave and a hot plate. He loved bright colors, so one of my artist friends painted him a beautifully colored heart that we took to him when we gave him a housewarming party. Jack loved the painting. He said the bright colors reminded him of happier days when his wife was still alive.
A love for music ran though Jack’s bones. He couldn’t help but tap his feet every time he heard music. We connected over our love for music and our ability to play the piano. Jack was beyond thrilled when he got to play the piano during a senior feeding at Reformation Lutheran Church. Sadly, his arthritis got the best of him and the ride on the bus and the walk to the church was too much, so his visits to play the piano became less frequent.
When he called me to inform me he was placed in the hospice, I rushed to visit him. Jack was such a favorite with the volunteers that some of them came to visit him and say their goodbyes. His pastor was able to locate his half-sister, so that they could communicate in his last days.
Jack didn’t wake up that last night I visited him, but I held his hand and sat in silence as I listened to him breathe. I said goodbye. He passed at the age of 78. He did so peacefully, indoors and with friends and family around.
I thank God for sending me Jack, my angel, who we saved from the streets.
Formerly homeless, Merideth Spriggs is the founder and chief kindness officer of Caridad, a homeless-service provider based in downtown Las Vegas. She can be reached at email@example.com