October 6th, 2009:
Unexpectedly, I have had my first experience of loss at Maitri. Although this home primarily intends to provide end-of-life care, it also offers respite care. When a person is loosing the ability to provide for their needs at home, they can move to Maitri for a three month, six month stay to build back their stamina. When it's determined that the person is well enough to move back home, they do.
With my new friend Cicero (Chee-Chair-O), it was more extravagant because he moved to the U.S. from Brazil some thirty years ago. When Cheech moved to Maitri last April, he was carried in on a stretcher. He was not expected to live long. His pain was so severe that he openly considered suicide. And then, the Maitri magic kicked in. Cicero stabilized. Then he started to get better. He learned how to walk again. In July his condition had improved so much that he was able to fly to Brazil to visit with his family for the first time in two years. There, his sisters took care of him, and he took care of his mother. Given her advanced age and declining health, it was decided that Cicero would relocate to Brazil to spend an unspecified time with his family. It might be for two months or more. No end date determined.
Since the health care available in Brazil for his multiple conditions was not equal to the care here, Cicero planned to visit at home and then return to the U.S. if his health started to decline. Although he came to Maitri as a hospice patient, he morphed into a respite patient. Early this morning, the respite was over. Cicero loaded up his possessions, called a cab and headed for the airport and the long flight to Brazil.
Of all the losses that can be suffered at Maitri, this is surely the lightest and easiest. No death. A happy family reunion. The beginning of a finale with his family that could not have been imagined a few months ago. Many reasons to rejoice. However, as he became my friend in a dramatically short time, I was caught off guard by my feeling of loss when I realized yesterday that he would leave. And when I woke up this morning, my first thought was that he had left.
Although he was raised in the Brazilian upper class with it's systems of private schools, private clubs, homes behind walls and all manner of protection and sequestering from the larger turmoil of Brazilian society, Cicero had a deep yearning to be free in the world. He wanted to take the cross town bus. He wanted to be mingle in crowds on the street. He wanted to move to America where no one would have any idea that he was of a protected class. So he came North at the beginning of his maturity and lived her for 30 years.
In that time, he became a key member of the hospitality community; meaning, he was a lead concierge at the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square. And he cultivated many other personas as well. A notable equestrian with his own horse. A serious opera, symphony, ballet aficionado. But most important, he developed an integrity and ability to cultivate people that was memorable. I liked him immediately when I moved into Maitri, and, as good luck would have it, our room adjoined each other so we anchored the north end of the garden.
As we enjoyed each other's company more and more, time ran out. And that was the loss that I faced in the past couple of days. Cicero didn't die; far from it. In fact, his plans are to return to the States when his health compels that; hopefully to return to Maitri. We may well see each other again. Here. But for now, he's gone and my inner kid misses him a lot. He was such a companion. So much fun to simply sit next to and enjoy.
As I said, this is an easy loss. But it's a foretaste of other losses. There will be people I know now and dine with and enjoy in passing who will die while I'm here. And, of course, all these losses are paths toward the biggest loss that I am heading toward: the eventual death of my self. I know that's a major reason that I'm here. It's not the only reason because there's also some serious living that I'll experience. But the ultimate intention is that this is where I want to die. Thank you Cicero for your friendship and intimacy. Thank you for reminding me that losses are incremental, not always just sad, sometimes beautiful and able to lead us back to ourselves and our mortality.