I know that bury the dead is one of the works of mercy, and as a missionary of mercy, I am expected to do that. Unfortunately today we said goodbye to a gentleman who has been living at the mission for the last fifteen years.
Ironically, I met Dale about ten years ago on New Years day. It was our first New Year's at the mission as a family. There was a big dinner and anyone who wanted to come and have dinner was invited. Dave was working nights at the time, and that year it was his turn to work New Year's Eve, so he was sleeping but I took the kids to the dinner. My oldest was eleven, the youngest at that time was about two and I was pregnant with our seventh child. It was crowded but the food was plentiful and the kids and I were excited to be a part of it. We filled a table easily, and began to eat. Dale walked over with his meal and sat with us. I didn't know him. I had never even seen him before, but I thought he was really brave to sit with a large family, sprawling with kids. I even said to him, "You might regret sitting here. The kids can be rambunctious at times!" He just smiled and said he was happy to sit with a family.
I looked at his face. It was leathered, worn, and red, the kind of skin that alcoholics have. All his worldly possessions he carried in his backpack. He ate quietly, sometimes amused at the antics of my children, but he was content. He listened to our conversations and we passed him the condiments, asked him if he needed some pop, and basically just made him a part of our family for that meal. When we got up to leave, he thanked me for letting him sit with us. He said he hadn't been a part of a family for a long time, and it was nice to be with us.
Yeah, I went home and cried. I never forgot that. I didn't see him for awhile, and then for years I saw him all the time. He collected pop cans and bottles for a little income, and I think when he would see my van pull in, he knew that he had hit the jackpot!! There was always pop cans or bottles rolling around my floor. I would tell him, "I don't know how many I have, but you are welcome to any that I do have."
He started off calling me "Mrs.", but the last two years he called me Michelle. I would pull up for Mass or something that was going on, and he would smile, always greet me with a smile. This past year he was so sick, I thought we had lost him a few times, so when I did see him, I started giving him great big hugs. He told me I was holy. I just loved him. I could see the deep suffering, the years an addiction can take on a soul. I don't know his story, never will, I just loved him.
My guys at the mission, they see me as mom. Some let me hug them. Some just want me to listen and laugh at their stories. They just want to be loved. I can't judge them. I can't say "tsk, tsk. It's their own fault for drinking or drugging". One thing I have learned by being at the mission, we don't know what people carry with them. We don't know the pain of loss and hurts from childhood and beyond. I can't judge. Only love.
Dale was one of the men who have taught me how to love and not judge. In the world he was seen as a throwaway.
But to me, he was someone I loved.
Rest In Peace Dale.