[July 24, 2010]
This past week I volunteered with Catholic Heart Work Camp for my second summer in a row. For those of you who don’t know, CHWC is a week-long camp in which hundreds of Christian teens from across the US gather (this week happened to be in Davison, Michigan) to serve the surrounding community and be the hands and feet of Jesus. Last year I was at the Goodwill on Center Rd pulling weeds and moving rocks. It wasn’t exactly the most fun project and I prayed that this year I’d be able to do something more engaging and more personal. My prayers were answered.
This year, I had the pleasure of building a ramp for a local elderly man. Don Lemmonds has Lou Gehrigs disease which means he has hardly any muscle left in his legs or hands. Before we built him his ramp in the garage, he had to go down three steps to go from his house to the garage floor. His body is deteriorating so rapidly that when he finally gets down to the last step, he can’t catch his breath for a full hour. Our team became highly motivated to build him a ramp so he could glide down on his wheelchair without any problems.
The first day we met him, my group sat down and talked with him to start getting to know him better. One of the coolest conversations from that day that I’ll remember for a while went like this:
Jerry: “Well we’re going to be here bright and early tomorrow to work on your ramp, so make sure you’re up by 8:30.”
Don:”Oh that’s not a problem, I’m up at 4:30 every day.”
Our group:”Wow, why do you get up so early?”
Don:”Well that’s what time my wife gets up to go to work so I always wake up with her and make sure she gets everything and so I can tell her goodbye.”
Don quickly stole our hearts.
Throughout the week, we continued working on his ramp and visited with him when we could. One of the most memorable experiences I had was watching him zoom around his neighborhood in his electric wheelchair. When he came back after getting his only fresh air of the day, we nicknamed him Speedy Gonzales and pointed out how fast he was going on his wheelchair. He replied, “Well when I pull out of the driveway, I have the chair on ‘turtle.’ But I hate turtle so as soon as my wife goes back inside the house I kick that baby into ‘rabbit.’ Then when I get back, I make sure I put it back on turtle.”
On Wednesday I had a great idea and shared it with the group. I told them we should write a letter saying what we were doing, providing a glimpse at how great of a man Don was, and our hopes for what this ramp would provide him with. I intended for it to be a sort of time capsule that we would attach to the bottom of the ramp which would be discovered only when the ramp had to be disassembled in a few years when they decided to move into a new house. My group leader replied, “You know, that’s a great idea, but Don might not even be here in a few months.” I recalled how Don had been told a year and a half ago that he could expect to live a year and a half longer. He had already zoomed past his “expiration date” but he, his wife, and my group leader were convinced that his time had now become severely limited. I couldn’t believe it and, as I went to bed that night, I cried at the thought of his passing.
We finished the ramp on Thursday and we were all excited to see his wife successfully guide him down in his wheelchair. His eyes were gleaming and you could tell he was ecstatic to have his own personal bridge to the outside world. He eagerly asked if he could try out his large electric wheelchair. We didn’t know if our ramp was big enough or strong enough to support it. But before we knew it, Don had zoomed up the ramp, turned around, and came back down. We were all so joyous to see how appreciative he was and were glad to know that we had made this sweet escape route available for him. The next day, we found out that he had even successfully walked down the ramp on his cane without any troubles.
I gave both Don and his wife my phone number. I hope that when Don needs someone to talk to, he will give me a ring and we can talk about his war days or about his time in the GM plant. I hope that on a day where his 79 year old wife has to go to work to support the two of them, he will call me and let me visit him so I can help him around the house and keep him company. I will do anything to keep in contact with the man who goes from turtle to rabbit when his wife’s not looking.
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R.I.P. Don Lemmonds
January 11, 2011