A life that stepped across the line

By Loren Hardin – 

Ricky Bryan was admitted to hospice with lung cancer on Oct. 23, 2008 at age 52. Ricky was a Navy veteran, a truck driver, and a hardcore Harley rider, so it didn’t surprise me when he avowed, “The doctor told me that I wouldn’t live past last summer, but I’m not going to give up. I’m going to do what I want to do on the spur of the moment. I’m going to live!”
Ricky and his wife Cheryl were financially devastated by his illness, forcing them to move from their comfortable home in town to a small modest cottage in the country. Seeing they were barely making ends meet, and that Thanksgiving and Christmas were just around the corner, we gave Ricky and Cheryl a gift card to help them with the holidays. We wanted them to enjoy what would likely be Ricky’s last Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family.
Ricky’s hospice nurse, Jackie, asked Ricky to make a list of gifts he would like to buy for his family for Christmas and hospice bought, wrapped, and delivered them to the house. Cheryl, astonished, asked why we would do such a thing for them and I explained, “The way we look at it, you are valuable in the sight of God, therefore it’s not big of us to treat you right. It’s the only decent, intelligent and wise thing to do. Cheryl replied, “If only I felt like it!” I suggested, “You are valuable whether you feel like it or not.”
Shortly after the holidays, Ricky’s nurse, Jackie, called me with a request from Ricky, “Ricky wants to see you. He said he needs you to help him do something”, so I headed out to visit Ricky. We sat at the small well-worn wooden kitchen table next to the wood-burning stove and Ricky explained, “Hospice has helped me and my family so much and I want to do something for Hospice. I want to pay you guys back for what you’ve done for me and my family. I want to organize a poker run.” Ricky spread his sketches of fliers out upon the kitchen table and told me that he had already posted fliers at bike shops and “around”. I explained, “I have to get administrative approval first and there’s a lot that needs to be done. It’s going to take some time.” Then Ricky asserted, “Motorcycles will be leaving from your guys’ parking lot on May 3 whether you guys have anything to do with it or not.”
I knew Ricky wasn’t bluffing so I decided we’d better jump on board. I immediately contacted Teresa, our director, for her blessing and to get the ball rolling. Teresa asked our billing specialist, Sheila, to take the lead in organizing the event. Sheila enthusiastically and capably took the ball and ran with it, for which I am selfishly and eternally grateful.
Ricky’s condition declined and he reported, “I’ve been blacking out and falling. I’m used to going where I want to go but I don’t feel safe behind the wheel anymore. It scares the heck out of me, My mind has been fuzzy but the other night I really believe that a man sat down beside me on my bed and put his hand on my shoulder and told me, ‘It’s not your time yet.’ I feel like there’s something I still need to do. Maybe it’s the poker run.”
Ricky’s condition continued to decline and Jackie, Ricky’s nurse, alerted me, “Cheryl feels like we need to assure Ricky that we will follow through on the poker run regardless of whether or not Ricky can participate.” So we did. About a month later, on March 20, I received a voicemail message from Sarah, our on-call nurse, informing me that Ricky passed away at home.
Well, we made good on our promise to follow through on the poker run. The morning of May 3, 2009 was unusually cold with a misty rain falling. Ricky’s family and friends loaded Ricky’s turquoise and crème colored Harley-Davidson upon a trailer and attached his riding boots to the pegs of his motorcycle facing backwards, indicative of a fallen rider. Ricky’s bike led the group of 20 or so riders from the hospice center parking lot, through Portsmouth, to West 52, up route 125 to West Union, south to Manchester, and back to Portsmouth. When the riders returned we celebrated Ricky’s life, which was especially fitting, seeing that it was Ricky’s 53rd birthday. I can still see, in my mind’s eye, the small group of family, friends, hospice staff, and volunteers talking, hugging, crying and laughing.
It’s been nine years since Ricky told me he wanted to do something for Hospice, and Ricky has been helping hospice and the patients and families we serve ever since. We’ve come a long way since that first group of 20 riders was led out of our parking lot by Ricky’s bike. Last year there were 380 riders and over $200,000 has been raised through the ride. We will celebrate the 10th anniversary of our memorial ride this year. On Saturday, July 28, another group of riders will depart from our Hospice Center parking. We invite you to participate. You can call us at (740) 356-2567 for information.
Ricky’s example is a testimony of how our actions can have ripple effects, reaching beyond our wildest imaginations. So I ask you, do you feel like there’s something you still need to do? If so, then why are you still standing there? I leave you to ponder the lyrics of a song by Casting Crowns titled, “What if I Gave Everything?”
“So why am I still standing here? Why am I still holding back from You? I hear You call me out into deeper waters but I settle on the shallow end. I don’t want to look back some day on a life that never stepped across the line.”
Loren Hardin is a social worker with SOMC-Hospice and can be reached at (740) 357-6091 or at lorenhardin53@gmail.com. You can order Loren’s book, “Straight Paths: Insights for living from those who have finished the course”, at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.