Melvyn Parnell, a resident at Gift of Hope hospice in Baltimore, passed away on Friday, June 6, from complications from AIDS. He was only 50; he'd been at the home for ten years.
I didn't know him when his health was - not good, but better; when he was still lucid and not in and out of awareness; when he was still eating and not on a feeding tube. He was in so much pain by the end - from the sores that covered his lower legs and cracked and bled; from his intestinal problems. For him, a simple bowel movement was a struggle, and something for us to celebrate - honestly. That was the condition he was in. Death was truly a mercy for him: release from suffering here; rest with God. He was in pain; he rarely could talk; he was bedridden save for when he was carried downstairs and placed in a chair in the common area.
I can't explain...what it was to have him there as part of the home. His condition was awful; death was a mercy; so why do I have any sort of regret or sorrow? The residence is poorer without him, very simply. We volunteers, and the MC's who run the home, gave love and care, and in his way he gave it back to us. There's no Melvyn to cheer Father on in his sermon ("Go for it!"); no Melvyn to tell the nurse-volunteer she's "bad-ass". No Melvyn to nod in mute assent when asked if he wanted to receive Jesus in Communion; no Melvyn - during his last hospital stay - to cover his face with the sheet and only lower it when another resident came to say hello. Another man from the home just went back in the hospital with recurrence of his leukemia. He won't be able to be at Melvyn's funeral; but he will be perfectly able to sit in his room with that reminder of death much too close to hand. He doesn't need that right now. He needs to hope. I'm worried for him on that front, from the mood he was in when I saw him last; just after he heard about Melvyn.
What is "quality of life"? Who are we to determine it? As I type, I can hear the Agnus Dei being sung at Mass over in the church: Lamb of God, given up to death for us. It's God's to determine - God who suffered as we do, as Melvyn did. I did pray that it would not be long for Melvyn; that his suffering would soon be over. But act to hasten that end? No. We are not allowed to play at being God, ever. We are only allowed to place ourselves in His hands, and trust to him for our good. And now, we are only allowed, able, to pray to God for Melvyn's rest with Him. We were only ever able to stand alongside him; it was always between he and God. In the end it was only that question that mattered, and that we could never answer for him.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may the perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.