Shared Stories: Randy' Last Breath

Almost two years ago, Yolanda Reyna shared a story in this column of her chance encounter with a homeless man who had a big impact on her life. Yolanda’s compassion had an impact on more people than she could have imagined. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.   Curated by Carol Kearns

By Yolanda Reyna

I met Randy over two years ago. We were just two strangers crossing paths. He was a short little man walking with a slight hunch - a drifter in need of a meal. I was fortunate to provide that for him.  

Although needing nourishment in his body, he wasn’t spiritless. He was soft-spoken, kind and gentle, and welcomed me with a genuine and everlasting smile. After that encounter, I never stopped thinking about him. I wrote a story about how we met.  

My story was published in the local newspaper in June 2016, titled “Randy.” In my story I wrote, “I don’t know if I will ever see him again”.  

A year and a half went by and I did see him on the street again, but in another town. I was so moved and excited.  I was able to share with him that I never stopped thinking about him.  I hugged him and told him I wrote a story about him.  

Surprisingly he remembered me! He thanked me for writing his story and unveiled the most lovely smile. There was something about this man that I was so drawn to. By then, he was living in a homeless shelter and I was able to visit him.

I spent time with him on his 65th birthday. In the months I kept in touch with Randy, we created a unique friendship. He was my friend and almost like a brother to me. I called him regularly to make sure he was doing OK. He, in return, would telephone me just to say hello.  

I asked if he had any relatives close by, or family members visiting him. He told me he had a daughter and three grandchildren who lived in Colorado, but he hadn’t spoken to them in a very long time. He never mentioned anything about any friends, and I didn’t want to pry into his life too much.

While he lived in the homeless shelter he was restricted from drinking alcohol, of course. There were rules set and he was unable to make long distance phone calls too. Miraculously, while living in the shelter, he did not drink alcohol for a year.  

One day while visiting Randy, I couldn’t help but ask him about his life. He told me he had been homeless for 10 years. His mother had passed away in 2005 and he lost the home where she had passed away, leaving him to fend for himself. He also confided in me that he had started drinking at an early age, and that was all he knew.  

He often found shelter with friends from time to time, but then he would pack up with what little he had and drift back into the streets. I knew one day he would leave the shelter as he often told me he would. Sadly, when he did leave the shelter, he went on a drinking binge.  

He called me days before Thanksgiving, and told me he wanted to get a job, and get his life in order. We had planned on meeting during the week for a cup of coffee, something we had always talked about doing, but that day would never come.  

Just a day before Thanksgiving, I received a text message. It read, “I’m in the hospital. Call me.” I called immediately. When asked if I was a family member, I told the person I was just a friend. Apparently, one of the staff members looked through Randy’s cell phone and found my number.  

They couldn’t give me any information but told me I could visit him. When I arrived at the hospital, I was shocked and heartbroken to see he had been placed on life support. The hospital knew he had a daughter and was desperately trying to get a hold of her.  

Randy was unrecognizable. His hair was matted, and he looked pale and bloated. It was obvious he had had a fall. He had a chunk of dry blood on the bridge of his nose, and the side of his face was scraped pretty bad. I recognized his hands, because he was a nailbiter.  

I felt helpless, but I kept thinking about his smile. He always had a smile from ear to ear before this happened. It was gut-wrenching to see my friend needing the aid of a machine to help him breathe.  

In the days I visited Randy, I was able to pray over him, talk to him, caress his hand, and whisper in his ear, thanking him for our wonderful friendship. I had placed my story “Randy” by his bedside.  

One day while visiting Randy, I couldn’t help but ask a nurse, “What happened to him?”
She said, “I’m not supposed to tell you, but since you have been the only one visiting him, I will. He was brought in by an ambulance. He was found unconscious behind a liquor store.” 

One day I found a man visiting Randy when I entered the room. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Richard. He was a friend of Randy’s family and had received a phone call from Randy’s daughter. She asked him to be at the hospital with her father. When Richard asked me how I knew Randy, I handed him my story.  

We went to the cafeteria and Richard confirmed everything Randy had shared with me about his mother passing away and his homelessness. Richard also informed me Randy was going to be taken off life support that day. Randy’s daughter, Christina, finally called and gave her consent. I was present in the room along with Richard when the life support was removed.

I gestured to Richard to give me his hand so that I could pray. We bowed our heads and I asked the Lord to have his will with Randy and I thanked the Lord for allowing me to meet this kind man.

I said to Randy, “Go, you’re at peace now.” At 2:43 pm, November 28, 2017, Randy took his last breath. I leaned towards him and kissed him on his forehead. It was a profound experience.

Richard and I embraced each other. I was honored to meet Richard and he thanked me for watching over Randy and for writing my story “Randy.” 

Meeting Randy was by far one of the best experiences in my life. There was a time when I would have never approached any homeless people, but once again, there was just something about this man. I cherished our friendship. He was soft-spoken, kind and gentle. Before his final last days, he always had a smile from ear to ear.  

Randy was laid to rest three weeks later when his daughter came from Colorado. I was able to meet Christina and a host of Randy’s friends. She hugged me and thanked me for being by her father’s side. I was then asked by Richard if I would give a eulogy at Randy’s funeral. I was honored and moved.  

Before Christina and friends of Randy went up to the podium to speak, I went up. I opened in prayer and read Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd,” and I read my story “Randy” to a host of about 30 guests.

In closing, I shared how much Randy meant to me and how grateful I was to meet him.

Thinking back on this wonderful encounter and journey that I had with this total stranger, I marveled. From just two strangers crossing paths, who would have ever thought that I, a complete stranger, would give Randy’s eulogy! 

May you rest in peace, Randy.  I will never forget you.