I had some more time to process Aaron’s death and I suppose I knew that this was a possibility. He was in the hospital for at least one month for each of the last three years and he had significant medical conditions. Each time he was released from the hospital he knew that there was a possibility that he would die alone on the streets of Camden. He was afraid this would happen and he wanted to turn things around so this didn’t happen. He wanted to have a more meaningful life. He wanted to be part of his family again. He was motivated to change.
Aaron did change and the program and counselors at Cooper Hospital’s Extended Care Program gave him the support and confidence to move forward. There was a key factor that the program could not provide, The amount of additional support and structure that only a mentor, a close friend or a family member that was willing to make a commitment could provide. Quite frankly, Aaron couldn’t navigate all of the barriers that bureaucracies, finances and technology would require of him.
He had a room, but he needed to find a way to get food and prepare food. If you have stayed in a motel room you know how difficult this would be for an extended time. If you don’t have a car, you know how hard it would be to get what you need and transport it back to your motel room. If there aren’t washer and dryer facilities on the premises you know how hard it would be to keep your clothes clean. If you haven’t dealt with agencies like Social Security and banks imagine how hard it would be to provide all of the information that they require, Imagine the long wait times on the phone and the number of times you are asked to contact another person or call back later when your phone has limited minutes. Imagine keeping this together when you suffer from anxiety and your frustration causes you to just give up.
All of the examples above, and more, are the reasons that addicts in recovery need that person that is able to encourage them and provide the time to navigate these barriers. I was able to do this for Aaron and he was very appreciative of my help. When I was able to help him get his Social Security claim settled and he was going to receive a monthly check, he asked me to be his Representative Payee so he wouldn’t be tempted to spend this money in an ineffective manner. He didn’t feel he could handle a checking account and wouldn’t be able to budget his money properly. This also gave me a chance to talk to him about budgeting money and planning ahead.
With his claim settled, he was responsible for paying for his housing at the motel and for securing more permanent housing. The cost of the motel and the cost of housing became very upsetting to him. He didn’t see how he was going to make this work and started to become anxious about becoming homeless again and everything that came with that possibility. This was clearly an issue that required more than assurances and encouragement. He clearly would not be able to make this work. Living independently was going to cost more than he was going to receive from Social Security and he wasn’t going to be able to do this on his own. Now that his claim was settled and he had “graduated” from the program, he still didn’t have the confidence, knowledge or skill to make this happen by himself.
He needed to be near a bus route to get services and to get food and essentials. He needed to be close to possible sources of work if he was going to be successful in moving forward as an independent person. He needed to be close enough to people that could help him so that they actually would be able to help him. He needed to find housing that he could actually afford. This list went on and on in his mind and he was starting to spiral out of control.
I was working on these issues when I received a call that he was in the ICU at Jefferson Hospital, Cherry Hill. At first, the prognosis was very bleak because of his medical condition and he was preparing to die. After a few days, he started to rally and was moved to another section of ICU and he seemed to be making progress, We talked about what he was going to do when he got out of the hospital and his tone was positive and forward looking. He talked about how great it was that family came to see him and how happy he was to be part of his family again. I told him I would see him tomorrow and how proud I was of his progress. I told him we would figure this out and he smiled and said that he was going to make this happen, He told me again how much he appreciated my help and we would talk again tomorrow.
I received an early morning call from the doctor that was treating him and he told me that Aaron had died. He was very easy to talk to and answered all of my questions. Aaron’s medical conditions were too serious and his health too compromised for him to make a recovery. I am very sad that he passed, but so happy that he had a taste of a more normal life from September to April. RIP Aaron Joseph Hentz (February 9, 1974 to April 19, 2021). You are our family and you will be buried with your family.