Ken's story  photo courtesy of Betsy Neely Sikma

Ken's story  photo courtesy of Betsy Neely Sikma


Meet Ken.  Homeless. 48. Dying alone in a seedy motel room unable to speak because of the cancer invading his brain. I was his hospice nurse. I hoped I could help him.

Ken was both very angry and exceedingly loving. My friend was filled with fear and infinitely brave. He was somehow the most gentle yet fiercest person I’ve ever known. As so many of us are, Ken was a spirit of beautiful contradictions. 

Even with hospice services, and the luxury of a hotel room funded by a generous anonymous soul, most days Ken spent 23 hours alone. He struggled with the isolation. He also told me it was a shame that it took dying to feel for the first time in his life that he was loved, and that it was in that daily hour long visit that he found his first experience of community.

I begged Ken to tell me his story. This is what he wrote…

“I was born in 1963 in San Francisco. My parents were 17 and 21. When I was born, they decided they didn’t want me so they gave me up. They put me in DFAC’s which back in those days stunk like hell. Kids were being abused in all sorts of ways and nothing was being done about it. Was I abused? Yes, I was. Physically, sexually, and emotionally. Just because of the situation I was in. Not because I was a bad child. Kids used to tease me all the time saying my parents didn’t love me and that’s why they gave me away. The thing about hearing things like that over and over again is that you start believing that you are worthless and that nobody cares for you. Not only did I hear that crap when I was a child but I hear it over and over into my teen years and into my adult life. That’s when it got really messy.”

I wish I could complete Ken’s story, but he died before he was able to finish writing it. What I can tell you is that Ken died less angry and more at peace, that he died feeling celebrated and loved. I can tell you that in the end, I mistakenly thought I would help Ken but he healed me. I will always count him among my greatest teachers. Welcome Home Chattanooga is a place of healing- a community creating  a world no longer filled with unfinished stories.