Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 30, 2006
Kairos allowed Jesse to die with dignity
CSS home for AIDS sufferers gave respect to dying young man
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
In the end, Jesse Jewell died with dignity.
"My oldest son, Jesse, passed away at Kairos House one week short of his 24th birthday," Brian Jewell told the hushed gathering Oct. 24 as a guest speaker during the Sign of Hope campaign luncheon.
"As much as Kairos House was a blessing for Jesse, for us it was a Godsend. For the first time in eight years, we knew he was safe. He was warm, fed and cared for."
Jesse was living on Edmonton's streets at 16 years old. He was addicted to cocaine and, by 17, he was shooting it. He would vanish for months at a time, until suddenly appearing on Christmas Eve, Easter or a family birthday.
He stayed a few days before disappearing once again.
Brian said it was very difficult for the family because they bathed Jesse with love.
A month after his 20th birthday, Jesse called his father wondering if he would meet him for coffee. Brian quickly agreed.
That was the moment Jesse told his dad he was HIV-positive. He contracted the disease from sharing needles.
"As he spoke, what I saw was a six-year-old blonde child telling me he was going to die. When my heart started, I realized he was sick and in pain - and that he needed help."
After a number of visits to the hospital for a battery of tests, the Jewells were told Jesse had tuberculosis of the pancreas. It was a sign that his HIV had developed into AIDS.
Jesse faithfully took his medication and beat the TB. He then headed back to his old lifestyle.
The next two years were filled with numerous visits to the hospital.
"This was the first time I heard of Kairos House," Brian said. "Jesse's doctor did not want him to die alone on the street as so many had done. He said that maybe Kairos could help."
Brian offered this opportunity to his son, but was denied. Jesse said Kairos was a place where people go to die.
In January 1994, Jesse's health began to fail noticeably. He called his parents telling them he was moving to Victoria to get out of the cold.
"It was where he was born so I'm sure there were other things at work," Brian said.
In the spring, Brian took Jesse's younger brother and sister to Victoria to visit him. He was shocked to see how much Jesse had deteriorated. His sister, 11 at the time, burst into tears.
He wanted to come home
"Jesse and I spoke about his failing health and what the future might hold. Him staying in Victoria caused a problem since we lived so far away. He said he wanted to come home and, three days later, I flew him back to Edmonton."
Brian took Jesse from the airport directly to the hospital where his doctor confirmed what they had suspected. Jesse was losing ground.
"Jesse and I spoke about his failing health and what the future might hold."
- Brian Jewell
Although Jesse agreed to go to Kairos, he was reluctant. When he got a room, he lay on his bed, pulled the covers over his head and refused to speak.
Brian wondered if he had done the wrong thing until the staff said to give Jesse a couple of days to settle in.
"Kairos gave Jesse 24-hour care. When he awoke with night sweats, there was someone to watch a movie with, play cards with or just talk. They gave him his medications when he needed them. He had three good meals and supplements that helped him gain a bit of weight."
Doctors came to Kairos and looked after Jesse, rather than having him sit in a hospital waiting room for upwards of 12 hours.
Reconnected with family
With Kairos' open-door policy for family, Jesse was able to reconnect with them - something Brian said had not happened for years. Jesse was able to make peace with many areas in his life.
He knew the end was coming. He asked to make a living will.
He also asked to be baptized so he could receive the Sacrament of the Sick.
Fifteen family members gathered in the basement at Kairos to share the moment. They prayed together.
In the days preceding his death, Jesse was hugging and joking with everyone. He was the strong one, Brian said.
"When people ask what Kairos did for Jesse and his family, the list is long. They gave him shelter, food, love, medical care, friendship, advice and most of all, they gave him respect. He knew he mattered," Brian said.
"We had peace of mind and a chance to reconnect with our son, brother and grandson."
Brian has volunteered at Kairos House since Jesse's death in 1995. He does not think he can ever repay what everyone did for his son and his family.
"We need not to only support Kairos House, but we need more places like it."