It was hard to imagine that the healthy 6’1” man in my office had once been down to 133 pounds and in a wheelchair. My experience of him in the Mission was as a soft spoken, hard working man with kindness in his face. When I asked him what circumstance had brought him to the Mission, he said, “Well, let me start at the beginning.”
He had been in Alaska since 1991 and had worked canneries and boats from St. Paul to St. Petersburg. He was a wanderer until, at 50, he married Jackie. After so many years he had found the right woman and their life was good. Claude had a little business and he adored his wife. He said that she helped him change so many things in himself. Two years into that happy life, Jackie began to sicken and by the time Claude could get her to go to the doctor, it was really too late. She died of cancer 2-1/2 years after their wedding.
Claude sank deeper and deeper into depression, using alcohol and drugs to try to numb the pain. He got more and more sick from the drugs and alcohol, from not eating, from not taking care of his diabetes, from sorrow. The VA in Anchorage placed him in an assisted living home because he was so weak and wasted he couldn’t care for himself. Angry with God he said to Him, “If you’re gonna take me, take me!” He felt he’d been placed there to die.
Nine months later, Claude was still in the same home, and he said, “Something just clicked.” He got up out of his wheelchair, gained weight, and got healthy. He realized he was wrong for cursing God for the loss of his wife and asked God for forgiveness. He left the home and was on his own again. But “on his own” was not a good place for Claude to be yet. He turned to alcohol again to fight the loneliness; that, plus his diabetes, put him back in the hospital. As the hospital planned his discharge, Claude told the medical personnel, “I am not going to leave until I get help. I’ll most likely keep on drinking and I’m not going back to that. I have to have some help.” He had dug in his heels and was not budging. VA got called in and that very afternoon Claude was on a flight to Fairbanks and the Mission. That was in April and Claude says he thanks God everyday for the Mission. He says, “It’s boosted my morale and it’s easier to stay positive here. This is a great place and there’s really good people here.” I asked him if he had hope for the future and with a small smile he said, “Oh, yeah”.