On December 15 John Linker, a long-time resident of our Second Ave House passed from this life to the next after a long battle with cancer.
While John would occasionally eat at our dining room, we really didn’t get to know him until a neighbor of the shelter complained about John’s constant presence on his street—John would stand next to a gas station wall across the street from our shelter all day, every day, nursing a beer (or three) and smoking cigarettes. In an effort to be good neighbors, our response to the neighbor’s complaint was to invite John to spend his days in the backyard of our Second Ave house, where he could drink his beer and smoke his cigarettes without troubling anyone.
I wasn’t sure how this would work, as I initially found John intimidating and did my best to steer clear of him, he wasn’t aggressive or troublesome, he just had a visage that said “leave me alone, don’t mess with me.” Surprisingly, John was a perfect guest and fit right in with the group of guys at the house. A few months later when a room became available, he moved into the house. For the next four years John was an exemplary tenant and roommate. He could always be found on the back porch smoking a cigarette and nursing an Olde English beer.
Six to seven years ago, before he lived with us, John developed bladder cancer and received treatment that sent the cancer into remission. Then a year and a half ago the cancer returned. He started receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatment, but after a while it became clear that he wouldn’t survive this round of cancer.
We started making plans for his decline: switching, then eliminating the chores he did around the house and planning a move to a downstairs room when he would be unable to manage the stairs, etc. His biggest fear was that we would evict him from the house as his disease progressed. We assured him that it was our goal to keep him in the house as long as possible, hopefully until he died. That put him at ease while he continued with his treatment.
We didn’t quite achieve our goal though. After a long, slow decline, John had a precipitous drop-off in his condition the Monday before his death. On Wednesday we called his nurse from Mission Hospice, to tell of his condition and ask for assistance. She came to the house immediately, cleaned and sedated him and helped us move him to a downstairs room. His condition continued deteriorating, he was losing dexterity and all coordination, to the extent that he was unable to hold a cigarette and experienced repeated falls. On Thursday his nurse arranged for John to move to one of Mission Hospice’s care facilities and on Saturday he died peacefully hours after I visited him for the last time.
While John’s passing at the early age of 60 years old is sand and untimely, I have been trying to see the good in his time with us. John went from being homeless and isolated, basically friendless, to living in a nice home with caring roommates; he became a valued part of a community. While he had the dour personality of Eeyore, it was clear that John enjoyed the companionship found at the Second Ave house. As his disease progressed he was especially thankful to have a place to live during his medical treatment and eventual decline where he could be comfortable and continue doing what he loved most—smoking cigarettes and drinking his Olde English beer.
We are thankful for the opportunity John gave us to live our faith by the practice of two of the Works of Mercy: Care for the Sick and Bury the Dead. As John had no family we claimed his body, had it cremated per his request, and found a final resting spot for his earthly remains.
A few weeks after his passing we held a memorial service at our Second Ave house, John’s final home, in which friends and roommates gathered to remember John’s life: we told stories, laughed, and to honor John—drank some Olde English beer and smoked cigarettes on the back porch.
Rest in Peace John, you are missed.
In Christ’s Peace,
Peter Stiehler for all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House
Over the years you, our supporters, have been so very supportive of our work at Catholic Worker Hospitality House and for this we are eternally grateful. We simply would not be able to do our daily work of feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and so much more without your kindness and generosity. In this letter I want to give something back to you. I want to share a poem that has comforted and inspired me for decades. I don’t know if it ranks up there with the great works of poetry, but it has meant a lot to me. I first came across this poem one Sunday during college while straightening missals and song books in the pews of my parish church. I saw a folded yellow sheet of paper in one of the missals. I intended to throw away this piece of paper, until I opened it, read it, and was instantly moved. Over the years I have repeatedly stumbled across this poem on a yellow sheet of paper and it has never failed to inspire. Recently I encountered it once more and again found it comforting and inspiring. I hope you find it as moving as I have. Enjoy. –Peter
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble, it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive God to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy. –Max Ehrmann