I sat next to myself as a man, slowly dying and afraid.
This won’t be a typical post. This is the account of an event having a significant effect on me; an encounter I won’t forget.
For those that read my blog often, you know that I post on various social media platforms. To preserve the privacy of the family involved, I will only share on Twitter and will omit names. Our connections across other media, as friends, may otherwise compromise issues. I would hate for them to stumble across this in that manner. Still, I’m so deeply moved I need to do something with it.
As a notary public, I’m occasionally requested for signing appointments. When I first obtained my notary, I imagined I would travel to sign clients in their homes. I had worked in real estate for several years, so it stood to reason that I’d be a shoo-in for loan document signing.
I expected to be making a ridiculous amount of money in after work signings. I’d hoped that they’d miraculously present themselves to me because lord knows I didn’t market myself to local escrow companies.
Despite my escrow experience, I was still required to take a state-mandated course designed to prepare notaries specifically for loan document signings. This seemed redundant to me, so I never pursued it.
To date, my notary has predominately been used at my place of business and the occasional word of mouth requests for friends. This is how I ended up at Palomar hospital last night.
A few days ago I was asked by an acquaintance of mine to assist with a notarization. Initially, I wasn’t given much information. I knew I’d have to meet these folks at the local hospital – I was informed that his situation was terminal.
I’m not sure why I assumed that he had cancer. I have a habit of jumping to conclusions based on theory substantiated by very little evidence. He was not dying of cancer, I would soon find this out.
I was briefed on what to expect before arriving. Nothing you’re told – nothing I was told, prepared me for what was next.
I checked in at reception; announced myself as the notary who was here to sign the gentleman in room 426. I waited patiently as the guard verified my identification, opened the large doors for me, then told me where to go.
Timidly, I drifted down the hallway until I was spotted by a relative of the man I was here to notarize. I had spent so much of my childhood in hospitals on account of my mother, why did this feel so foreign suddenly?
Entering the room, I was greeted by two women. The first was young and had an infant in her arms, this was his sister. The other was older and introduced herself as his mother. Suddenly, a gentleman stood from the chair he’d been occupying; this was his father. My attention turned to the hospital bed. This was my reason for being there – I was to help him complete a Power of Attorney.
This isn’t at all what I’d expected. He was young. Younger than me. I introduced myself and attempted to shake his hand. That’s when I noticed – when my heart sunk and I understood.
I had been told he was an alcoholic. I was asked to notarize a Power of Attorney for this man, authorizing his family to carry out his health care directives, or represent him once it was deemed he could no longer do so. I had not been advised of his condition. I suppose I should have assumed it was dire. Still, having never seen someone in this state, I was overwhelmed with raw emotion.
As I said, he was young. Younger than me and immediately my heart hurt for him. I knew he would not live to see his nephew grow up. I knew he wouldn’t see his own children (if he had any) get married. So much life, unlived. My heart crumbled. He tried to prop himself up in the bed, he was weak but resisted help from family. His skin was jaundiced. His eyes a shade of yellow that I am certain I’ll never forget. Terrifyingly haunting.
I searched them (his eyes) for what felt like an eternity. Probably too long for his comfort. I imagine he must’ve felt like an animal on exhibit. I asked questions to establish coherency; this was his wish, signing this document. He understood what was taking place and the ramifications. I kept trying to talk myself through the process of doing my job. Just do what comes next, stop trembling, they need you to be strong, this isn’t about you.
It was incredibly profound sitting in that room. The juxtaposition: the infant boy, the dying man, the parents, now watching their son die, and the sister who will be all that will remain of childhood’s happier days.
I felt overcome with gratitude sitting in that room. Too sensitive for the overhead lights, we opened the blinds so that I could complete the document. He grimaced at the first hints of daylight. I held back my own tears. Why had my own life been spared? Why had I been able to get sober? Did I even deserve it?
As alcoholics, many of us will ask the eternal question: why do some of us get it, and others just can’t or won’t? Some never will. As I embraced each member of that family last night, I didn’t question why he didn’t get it. I was humbled and marveled that I had. I’m so sorry that he won’t make it. If I could save him, I would. It makes it even more essential that I speak with purpose, offer help when asked, and listen when others speak.
I felt utterly shattered leaving that hospital. I still don’t know what to do with it. I can’t change his fate. Maybe, hopefully, I can be a light for others lost in the dark.
There but for the grace of God go I…