A day for Mike (Black Bear Man) usually began with him being mechanically lifted out of bed, then washed, dressed and fed by staff at the longterm care hospital where he resided. Mike was a quadriplegic. His paralysis occurred when in a drunken state, he attempted to perform acrobatics on the roof of a tall house. He fell to the ground and broke his neck in the process.
Mike had suffered from severe alcohol addiction long before his accident happened. And it remained at his side for many years thereafter. He desperately wanted to quit the booze but unfortunately, he was never able to find the strength necessary to fully rid his life of it. He was getting there though, slowly but surely. I’m sure he would have put alcohol behind him for good if he had lived longer.
Mike was overtaken by an infection and died at age 43, approximately 13 years after his accident. Mike and I were good and loyal friends to one another for the entire eight and a half years I knew him preceding his death.
Mike was poor as the proverbial ‘church mouse’ but, shrewd character that he was, financed his alcohol addiction by hook and by crook and by placing into motion at every opportunity something he called “the way of the con”. It went like this. He would spend a good part of the morning sitting in the hospital lobby, where he would wait for a visitor with a soft and generous heart to come by. There were many, and Mike had a knack for skillfully separating one of ‘em out from the herd before he pounced. Eye contact was necessary and once it was made, a conversation between Mike and the visitor probably went something like this:
Visitor: “How are you doing today?”
Mike: “Not too good.”
Visitor: “Oh dear, what’s wrong?”
Mike: “Well it’s my birthday today, and there’s this shirt I wanted to buy, but I’m $10 short…”
You can imagine the rest, can’t you? Mike had birthdays at least 15-20 times a month.
A big white jug which easily held 20 ounces of beer was attached to Mike’s wheelchair. A large plastic straw protruded from it. The business end of the straw lay deep in the jug, the outer end, near his face, waited for Mike to suck up beer from the inside. How he loved it.
Mike had lost brothers and sisters to alcohol addiction. They died from liver diseases associated to alcohol abuse, car accidents and some even lost their lives in drunken brawls. I asked him one day. “Mike,” I said, “alcohol has cost you the lives of your siblings. It has placed you in a wheelchair. I want to know how it is that you still want a connection to it. I want to know why you don’t hate the stuff for all the misery it has cost you and your family?” Mike didn’t have an answer for me.
Severe alcohol addiction really is a heartless monster. I guess it could be as big as the tall house Mike fell from, and more ferocious than a wounded lion twice that size. But let’s be clear, it can be slain. I know, because alcohol had me in a death grip for most of my life until one night I killed it dead. I wonder though if I would have been able to slay it if I had been paralyzed from the neck down and living in a longterm care hospital. Such a place is not exactly an ideal setting for recovery from a severe addiction, is it?
Black Bear Man would have pulled it off, I’m certain of it. We talked about it often. His urge to drink came at longer intervals in the last years of his life. He turned on to spirituality and received the name “Black Bear Man”. Because of the blessings of Great Spirit, he is sober now and doing quite well for himself in the Land of Souls.
He asked me once if I could write a poem that would express his gratitude to the nurses who showed him kindness and professional care. I agreed. When the poem was finished, he had it framed and he presented it to them. The nurses placed it on the wall in their lounge. Please find it below.
Black Bear Man was a good human being. When next you pray, say hello to him. Ask something of strength from him. I’m sure he will oblige your request. He was that type of guy. Believe me, he still is.
The Great Song of Hope
© Albert Dumont
I hear your soothing voice
And it sings the great song of hope
And your warm compassionate eyes
Calm my frightened heart
And your soft and gentle touch
Lifts my will
And reassures my battered spirit
And when you stand near my sickbed
The room fills
With the dedication and commitment you have
To all who are sick and infirm
And I am comforted by your presence
I will forevermore
Honour the memory of your goodness
For when I hear your soothing voice
It sings the great song of hope
(Inspired by the thoughts of Michel Cornell)