It had always been difficult for me to watch old men cry. Helpless and unsure,
I couldn't imagine the hardships they endured in life ... the want of the Depression
to the horrors of world wars. When they cried, they wept for their parents trying to put food on the table, for friends lost, for themselves.
About 11 years ago I cared for a gentleman who had had a severe stroke, and
it was hard to understand him when he talked. But he couldn't talk anyway because
he just kept crying.
"Are you having a lot of pain?" I'd ask. He always shook his head no.
"What can I do for you?"
"Nothing," he would answer. Then he'd look at me as his eyes filled with tears.
Helplessly I offered, "Let me know if there's anything I can do for you."
The old man would nod his head, then tears spilled down his face until both cheeks were drenched. Since he couldn't wipe his own eyes, I would dab a tissue on his sodden cheeks, then leave, wondering what was really hurting him.
One day, the old man's son came to visit. He approached me and asked how his father was doing. I told him that I didn't know if his father was sad because of
his stroke or if something else was bothering him.
"Let me see if I can figure it out," the son said. "I've got a good idea of what
About a half hour later, he came to me. "My dad was a survivor of the USS Indianapolis. They were on a secret mission at the end of World War II. They were
struck by torpedoes and sunk. No one knew they were there because they had no
radio contact. For five days they were in the water while sharks circled around them and picked off people one by one."
"It was. My dad has never cried about it. He said that since he's been lying in
bed, that's all he can think about."
With this information, I knew what I had to do to care for him. I pulled up a
chair when he started talking and just let him talk. I learned to accustom my ear to
the old man's speech pattern, and he told me the whole incredible story. He spoke
of the sounds in the water when the sharks came and the screams as 600 men were
yanked under. He spoke of the frigid water on his body and the darkness at night.
"It was so dark you couldn't see the person next to you," he wept. "We kept talking at night so we wouldn't feel so alone. We were all afraid to go to sleep. But
the worst part was the never-ending thirst."
I choked back tears. "I'm always amazed at what people can endure."
He smiled in that gentle way of his. "I wonder if the reason I keep thinking about it is to give me the strength to come back from my stroke." He paused for a
few seconds. "Because this is the hardest battle I've ever fought. But if I made it through the Indianapolis, I can make it through this too."
And he did.
From that day on he worked diligently at his physical therapy and became ...
again ... a survivor.