Recently, my beloved friend, Jeff Nash, died.
Jeff, 74, a person with quadriplegia since age 19, had several surgeries at Munson in February 2012. He was on a ventilator 24/7, feeding tube and kidney dialysis. After stints at two other hospitals, he remained at a Grand Rapids hospital until his death. Communicating with him required reading his expressions and lips.
And, he was fully present. Spending time with him meant being in the presence of his sweet, loving, and independent spirit.
As I grieve Jeff’s death, I’ve been thinking about the value of kindness. Currently, international websites, articles and books abound on the subject.
Most definitions of kindness include the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. Kind people exhibit compassion, empathy and understanding in their thoughts, words and deeds. They express kindness towards themselves and others in common and unexpected ways. They know that being kind tends to breed more kindness.
Because Jeff was physically vulnerable, the kindness he received was crucial. By kindness, I don’t mean the hospital staff and visitors were medically competent or nice.
Instead, I mean he was seen — comfortably positioned in his bed, towels and blankets exactly where he wanted them. He could look out the window seeing the non-hospital world, he was shaven, given time to try and speak and that people really listened. I’m referring to deep listening — being heard as a human being in the most profound, sincere way.
Jeff was one of the kindest people you’d ever want to meet. He instinctively knew what someone needed — a kind word, joke, one of his specialty greeting cards, a hug or a long leisurely chat.
Celebrated author, George Saunders, in his 2013 convocation address at Syracuse University, told the graduates that what he regrets most in his life are his failures of kindness.