I attended a memorial service yesterday afternoon, for my friend “Macho Man” aka Carlos. Macho Man has been a part of the family at St. Joseph Hospital for about seven years now. When we first met him, he had all four limbs intact and was just starting to adjust to renal dialysis. His journey from that day forward has been full of the obstacles that often come with diabetes. First he lost a part of one foot, then a portion of the whole leg on that side. Eventually a bit more of the remaining foot. Carlos ultimately learned to scoot around with two very short residual limbs, a prosthetic leg, fingers that didn’t bend much, and eyesight that was quite limited.
As we visited at his memorial service though, no one was talking about any of that. Instead, we all shared memories of his love of life, the twinkle in his flirtatious eyes that never seemed to go dim- no matter what the rest of his body was suffering. This self-proclaimed “Macho Man”, Carlos, is the reason I have the Village People on my iPhone. I will always remember his grin as he wheeled into the rehab gym day after day wearing one wild T-shirt after another to make us laugh. “Macho Man is here” he would say in his deepest voice. This thin, frail, very sick man was still eager to be the life of every party- even if the party took place on a therapy mat in the hospital. Each time we thought his death was near, Macho Man proved us wrong making miraculous comebacks. I confess we often wondered if it was good news that he made it through yet another week, until we saw him smile again.
Carlos had names for us, his therapists, too. We were Charlie’s Angels…which eventually morphed into “My Angels”. As three of us entered the funeral home today, ragged and hot, still in our work scrubs, we heard several people announce, “they’re here, those are his angels…” Macho Man had successfully reframed his whole scenario making it something a bit glamorous, and even fun. Better yet, he invited everyone to join him.
At the close of the service, the gathered community stood to sing a song in Spanish, I only caught a handful of the lyrics, but I was touched by the priest’s introduction to the hymn. He invited those who knew the music to stand and raise their hands in the air to God. He reminded us all that we are on this journey together, and that when it is too hard for some of us to raise our hands up, then it is time for those around us to do it for us. We are a community of love. As his family sat quietly in the front of the chapel, those who love Macho Man sang, hands raised high in prayer, symbolically holding up those who are weak from grief and years of caregiving. This is part of being the Church.
The love for Carlos lives on strong. This same love that supported Carlos for so long will get his family through the days and months ahead. I do not share this story to glorify suffering, but rather to give glory to life and to love. Carlos’ story is testimony to God’s spirit flowing in our midst in places that do not resemble a church at all, between people who are not relatives, or even fellow church members. Carlos knew life was about more than his body, and that he didn’t need his limbs to love those in his midst. He knew that he could be Macho Man even when he needed really a lot of help. Because Carlos had an authentic sense that he was loved, he was able to bless the rest of us even as he suffered. Those of us who helped Macho Man in his times of practical need will be ever helped by his example of both the giving and the taking of loving relationships. Thank you Macho Man!
Rev. Polly Toner