Kasey Cordell wrote one of the moving stories I've read in the past year. Final Post: One Local Veteran's New Mission
Julian Scadden who volunteers his time to ensure no Denver veteran dies alone, is one of great souls among us who work unnoticed and unremarked.
The maple trees outside Room 143 have just begun to blossom, but the lieutenant, separated from them by just a few feet and less than an inch of glass, can’t see the tiny buds and leaves unfurling. His eyes are open but clouded. “I haven’t left you, partner,” Julian says, approaching the bed. He carries a cool washcloth and gently pats the lieutenant’s forehead. “I’m right here.”
There’s a peculiar odor in the room, the scent of strong coffee (Julian’s: black, no sugar) and antiseptics blending with the sickly sweet smell of sweat and soiled linens. Julian doesn’t notice. That’s in part because of his own bouquet; he’s been here since yesterday. He came—as he always does—when the nurses called and said the lieutenant was close. No matter that it was evening. No matter that Julian had worked all day at the VA hospital next door, cleaning floors and toilets and emptying rooms of the ugliness that comes with illness. When the call came, he showered and drove the seven miles from his Aurora home back to the Community Living Center. All through the night he sat with the lieutenant, watching him seize, watching him fight to breathe, watching him struggle and win, and then watching him do it all again. Julian took a nap in his truck at 3 a.m. At 4:30 he said goodbye and went to work. Eight hours later, he’s back in Room 143. He’s shaken out his ponytail so his wavy gray hair flows down over his Home of the Brave T-shirt. He wants fresh clothes and a shower to wash off the smell of the day. He can’t stand feeling grimy.
But he’ll go without another night because the lieutenant needs him. Because this is what Julian does: He sits at the doorway to death, ushering his brothers through whatever portal separates us from the world we know and the uncertainty that comes next. No matter what time or what day, he’s here. Patting, soothing, cooing. No, the smell doesn’t bother Julian. He’s breathed it in some 200 times before.
In the military, and in war, soldiers learn and live by this solemn oath: No man left behind. And to Julian, that goes for the dying, too. “We promised them,” Julian says. “No man dies alone.”
Photography by Patrick Andrade