L’Arche gave me a stable home, and help with my health. Without L’Arche I would probably be dead. —Clifford Rounds
by Amanda Horton
Just over a year ago I met my friend Cliff. He came to us in the L’Arche Erie community a meek and seemingly lost young man facing health concerns that many would feel impossible, as well as having nowhere to call home. His loving parents had passed away a few years prior, leaving him to fend for himself for the first time. Without the love and help of Mom and Dad he was losing his battle with diabetes and the unfortunate comorbid conditions that go along with it. People that he called friends were taking advantage of him while he had been living in squalor.
All of this would change in the near future when he decided to join our community.
Due to a series of unfortunate circumstances Cliff ended up in a nursing home with no idea what was next. A conflict with a roommate landed him in a short term facility where he ended up being rushed to the local emergency room because of diabetic emergency not once, but twice. When in the hospital the powers that be saw that Cliff’s prior living situation was just not safe. He was discharged from the hospital to a nursing home. This was a 30-day temporary solution.
We at L’Arche Erie had recently had one of our core members move to our director’s home to share life with her family. This left an open bed; an opportunity to welcome someone new to our community. Cliff was in the nursing home when his county supports coordinator set up a meeting for he and the L’Arche Erie supports coordinator. Rick is a very comforting man, someone who was able to present the idea of the L’Arche community in a way that did not seem as scary as the idea of supported homes had been to Cliff in the past. Cliff made the choice to check us out, having always declined what he had previously seen as giving up his independence.
When Cliff first came to visit us at the Jubilee Home he did not say much, though he did seem to be taking in everything around him. He came for short dinner visits a couple of times before moving in. During these visits he would go to sit in the room that would become him and just look around. The last couple times he actually napped there. I often wonder if this was because he was finally relaxed enough to rest comfortably. This would be something that he did for months even after moving in. Another factor making him so tired was the end of his battle with kidney disease before requiring dialysis. It was not long before he would need to begin the three times weekly treatments that he continues to attend to this day.
Slowly but surely Cliff began to spend more and more time with us, and less time isolating himself in his room. He was taking his medication as ordered and eating appropriately for his diabetes for the first time since his parents passed away. As time progressed not only did he warm up to all of us, but his health started to remarkably improve. His blood work showed that he went from being a completely uncontrolled diabetic to being what is categorized as under excellent control. Though he has begun undergoing dialysis treatments for kidney failure, he showed renal stability.
I remember shedding tears the first time I saw Cliff push his housemate who uses a wheelchair into a community event. He saw his housemate as a friend, a person that he wanted to help not hide from. Smiles became common, laughter filled the room when he was in it, and Cliff was finally at home and not fighting to be alive any longer. He was home, and we were happy to be part of that home.
Today, Cliff spends almost all of his time in the common areas of his new place. Our community opened a new house a few months ago, and Cliff and I were lucky enough to be part of the grassroots of the new Serenity Home. We play games, watch movies, go shopping, and at times just sit and talk our days away when medical demands allow the time. It is still hard for him to understand that driving is no longer an option, but he says that he is happy in his new life.
When Cliff came into my life I felt so sad. I wondered if our friendship would be short lived due to his poor health. He too was sad, as all that had ever made him happy had crumbled away. He is living through the diabetes, kidney failure, and vision loss that struck him mother before she passed. Instead of a sharp decline in health that he was experiencing prior to coming to L’Arche he is improving in everything. Now I am not sad when I see Cliff, I know we have many years of friendship ahead of us.
Cliff does not often speak about his childhood, or where he was before he came to us. But he did open up when I asked him a few questions.
What was your life like growing up and before your parents died? Did you have the kind of life you wanted?
My life was very nice. I was always happy at home with my parents. We had a good relationships. I rode my bicycle, played cards and board games, and on my Dad’s computer. He had cool games.
I worked on cars with my dad. We watched T.V., we loved car races. He always included me in everything.
When my mom got sick I helped take care of her. I felt that it was my responsibility as a son. I was happy to do it.
I definitely had the life that I wanted.
When you got sick, what was your biggest fear?
I wasn’t afraid of nothing. I was mad!
How did you feel when you were in the nursing home? What did you think your future would be like?
When I was in the nursing home I felt hopeless. Didn’t think my future was going to go anywhere.
How did you find out about L’Arche? Who were the first people you met and what did you think about them?
I met Rick, he came to visit me at the nursing home. He was the one who told me about L’Arche. I thought he was a jolly ol’ fellow! I met the Jubilee folks. I thought they were nice. That’s where I ended up moving to.
How did you feel when you found out you would be moving to L’Arche?
I felt happy. I felt that I would finally have a stable home, and that I wouldn’t have to live on the street anymore. I didn’t feel as helpless. I knew I might have a future.
What has been the best thing that has happened to you since you came to L’Arche?
Having a place to live. My health is better, I’m still alive. I may not have been. I am out of debt too!
What has been the hardest thing about coming to L’Arche, and who has helped you get through the hard parts?
Giving up my money. I didn’t like to give that up. I always did that myself. Maria [program specialist] and the assistants at Jubilee helped me to understand that they were just keeping my money safe.
What do you think life would be like if you hadn’t come to L’Arche? Where would you be?
I’d be dead. No doubt in my mind.
What are some of the things you’re good at and enjoy doing? Are there things you do now that you wouldn’t be able to do without L’Arche?
I’m good at fixing stuff, troubleshooting. I’m good at making people laugh. I like watching baseball! I like playing games and listening to music. I like to go see movies and go out to eat.
I can get places like baseball games and other places I want to go. I have friends to do the things I like to do with.
Amanda Horton has been a L’Arche assistant since 2009. She is pursuing a degree in social work and plans to use her new skill set within the community.
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