This is part two of Sean’s story.
If you haven’t read the first part, click here first.
I wish it had lasted forever.
I wish that if you asked me “How’s Sean doing today?” that I could say, “He’s doing great. He’s back in school. He’s even dating someone.”
But when you’ve been as serially abused as Sean was and when the complications from that abuse result in a cascading set of mental and physical health problems, the story often doesn’t end the way that you wish it would.
Sean’s health declined badly over the next couple years.
I was walking by the coffee shop one morning, when his friend rushed outside.
“Something’s wrong with Sean! He can’t move and half of his face is drooping!”
We called the ambulance and I rode with him to the ER.
The doctor told him to go home and rest with a hot compress. I swear I could hear him quacking on the way out of the room.
Finally, we contacted his nurse practitioner, who prescribed him a set of medications before he went home.
It was Bell’s palsy.
Six months later, he suffered another stroke and was put into a nursing home to do rehab.
We cleaned his apartment top to bottom and threw him a welcome home party, stocking his refrigerator with two weeks worth of food, so he wouldn’t have to cook.
It cheered him up, at least for the day.
However, Sean never fully regained his ability to speak or to walk. He struggled badly with depression, triggered by his physical problems. His mood and health vacillated wildly, depending on whatever toxic set of poorly coordinated chemicals his often disengaged set of doctors and nurses had put him on next. He was in and out of the hospital a couple times, and by the time he was forty, he was walking with a walker or a cane, when he wasn’t hiding in his apartment.
We all worried about him.
One day, I got a call from a friend from the coffee shop where Sean had visited all those years.
She sounded panicked.
“Guys,” she said, “I heard that Sean is dead. Did you hear anything?”
I wasn’t particularly worried at first. This was not the first time that someone had called us, panicked because they heard someone was dead, only to call back a little later when they found the person remarkably alive and kicking, a little irritated at all the panic.
However, as we tracked down the rumors, as I visited his apartment and knocked on his door, as I talked to people at his apartment building. I started to get anxious.
Finally, we ended up in the apartment of one of Sean’s closest friends.
She had the number for Sean’s mother.
She began to cry.
And then we knew: Sean had died, of a heart attack, likely brought on by the combination of medications he was taking.
It was the first death in our community. Everyone came to our house that night. We ordered Chinese and other forms of culinary prozac. One lady, who, I think, was more there for the free food than for Sean, said, “Oh! Get sorbet! And coffee ice cream! I love coffee ice cream!” (I know that loving people means not punching them, but I still wish Jesus had made an exception for that one.)
We cried, we laughed, we shared stories, we were together, which is really all you can be when something like this happens.
When everyone had finally left, dishes and silverware scattered around the house like morbid mementos, I sat down, and I cried.
We waited to get the call to do Sean’s funeral. We were Sean’s pastors after all. Everyone knew that.
The call never came.
The funeral director had been instructed to give Sean a Catholic funeral, because he hadn’t been a part of a real church.
We found out the time of the funeral and we got there early.
The funeral director helped us carve out some time during the service for sharing about Sean’s life.
A lot of people said really positive, really hollow things about Sean’s life.
Then, Sean’s therapist got up.
I had never met his therapist before, but he had been part of Sean’s life for nearly a decade, meeting with him every week through both good and difficult times.
He spoke with passion about the truth of Sean’s life, about his real trials, about his real courage and determination.
As he finished, he said, “You saved Sean’s life everyday, his family, his friends, his social workers and – the glorious people of the Vine.”
This therapist, who had counseled Sean for a decade, who knew nothing about us except by the changes he saw in Sean, knew that we, the glorious people of the Vine, had saved his life.
There’s a lot that I mourn about my time at the Vine: relationships I screwed up, the wrong calls I made, the moments that my anxiety strangled my joy.
I’ve left a trail of mistakes behind me a mile long.
Sean is not one of them.
Sean was our brother and we saved his life. We saved it everyday.
That’s a moment I’m willing to hang my hat on.
Coming Saturday! Why I Talk About My Failures
Coming Tuesday! Part Seven: Quick Everyone! Act Normal!