Giving back when the giving is good
Jack Bacardi moved into Agape House thinking it was the end. He was in his 40s and had lived the “life of Riley” until drinking and smoking took a toll on his body.
Doctors warned that death was imminent. They were wrong.
Now 63, he has spent the past three years giving back to the hospice, grateful for the help he got during his darkest period.
“I don’t remember how long I was at Agape House, but it was for a long time,” he said. “I thank God for the people here.
“They made sure I had no problems. I pressed a bell and they were there. I thank God for this place.”
He had been confused by his arrival, arranged after doctors did all they could at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.
“My relatives said they were going to transfer me out of the hospital, but didn’t say to where,” he said.
“I asked the orderly how much were these apartments. The orderly laughed and said these weren’t apartments.”
Mr Bacardi was shocked when a doctor explained that he was at Agape House to receive end-of-life care.
“I knew I was sick, but I didn’t think I was that sick,” he said.
“That thought just never crossed my mind. I said to the doctor, ‘How could you think that? I don’t feel that way. I know I am sick, but I can still walk and move. I am just waiting to get out of here.’”
As he grew stronger, he started helping out, talking with other patients and fetching their meals.
Caregivers told him to sit down and let the staff do it, but he found it difficult to obey.
He thinks part of the reason is because he had worked as a steward at Elbow Beach Hotel.
In 2015, remembering just how much he had enjoyed helping the other patients, he decided to volunteer.
He is now at the day hospice every Monday.
Set up for people who are seriously ill but can still move, the programme offers meditation, massage and art therapy, manicures and lunch.
His first day was not easy. Most of the clients were elderly and he had difficulty relating to them.
“I came to realise that my life needed more purpose, but I didn’t know how to communicate,” he said. “After the second and third time of visiting I fell into it.
“It brings joy to me and fulfils my day.”
He started visiting patients in their homes, taking them breakfast or lunch and found that some were left alone for long stretches, unable to properly care for themselves.
Some talked of suicide.
“At Agape House, we make the patients feel as comfortable as we can,” he said. “But when they are home, it is a different story. That hurts me.”
When necessary, he will meet with family members and gently remind them of their obligations.
“I tell them you have to realise that they did for you when you were a baby and now it is time for you to give back to them,” he said.
Friends sometimes ask what he gets out of sitting around in people’s houses. His response is always the same: “I feel I am living the spirit.”
Losing patients can be painful, as Mr Bacardi discovered with one man he frequently chatted with.
He kept meaning to stop by his house for a visit, but never got the chance.
“Then, one day, I came to Agape House and he wasn’t here any more,” he said.
“That struck me real hard, because I didn’t have any more time to spend with him.
“But the time I did spend with him brought joy to both of us.”
He has become more spiritual because of his time at Agape House, Mr Bacardi said.
“I don’t believe in wasting time and energy when you can help someone else,” he said.
“God didn’t put us here for that. He left us here so we can carry on — take care of the elderly, the shut-in, the sick and the poor.
“Since He raised me up, I have devoted a lot of my time to Him. If it wasn’t for Him, I wouldn’t be here today.”
His dedication was recognised by the Centre on Philanthropy at an event honouring the island’s volunteers last year.
“I was certainly surprised when I got the award,” he said. “I said: ‘Oh well, OK, I’m glad I went to the ceremony.”