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Bill and Hero

This is not what I had planned to write about this week, but life is full of the unexpected.

My friend Bill passed away on Friday, just after midnight.  The unexpected part of that sentence is not that Bill died, but that he was my friend.

I first noticed Bill several years ago.  I noticed him walking his dog around the neighborhood, I noticed him sleeping in his van across the street from my house, and I especially noticed him because he genuflected when he passed the catholic church up the street and he made his dog kneel, too.  But Bill wore a torn old Army jacket, he was disheveled and smelly, so I noticed him without really paying attention to him.

A neighbor shared that Bill was undergoing chemo treatments and had healthcare workers coming to the van.  I was surprised that someone would make “van-calls” in this era of no more “house-calls”, so I decided to find out more.  I learned that Bill, a Vietnam veteran, had worked until the cancer had made work impossible, and that then, rather than go into a medical facility that didn’t allow dogs, he had chosen to forego treatment rather than abandon his beloved dog, Hero.  Sutter Health, recognizing how special this man/dog relationship was, had decided to treat him from the van.

I introduced myself and my dog Stella to Bill and we started to get to know each other.  After some months I realized that the best thing that I could do was to photograph Bill with Hero.  He had few possessions and only one treasured photograph of the girlfriend he had lost in a tragic car accident.  I created the portraits and he took them everywhere – to chemo, to the hospital, to the SRO that they eventually got him into, and then to the community partnership housing apartment that was his dream home.

Bill pretended to be a loner, but he was really just lonely.  Without a family of his own, he had reserves of affection that he offered to the healthcare workers who cared for him, to the Homeless Outreach staff, to my family, and mostly to Hero.  He was excited to celebrate holidays with my family, thrilled to go to a Giants game, happy to walk the dogs in the park, just glad to be alive and be with Hero.  Toward the end the hospital visits and stays increased, but no matter how sick he was, he always called to make sure Hero was okay.  He always ended his call with “Okay, love you guys.  Talk soon. Bye.”

Meeting Bill was a gift.  I like to think of myself as a good person – I try to be nice to others, I give to charity, I support the rights of others, I pay my taxes . . .  But I was guilty of creating a line between the “us” of people living in buildings and the “them” of the homeless until I met Bill.  I won’t make that mistake again.


Bye, Bill.  Love you too

.Hero_6301 Bill_Hero61


PS –  Hero needs a loving home.  Please contact me if you are interested in adopting him.

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