Army Veteran spends his days comforting the dying


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Julian Scadden, by his own admission, was not always all that likable.  He had some rough edges.

“I didn’t use to be a nice guy,” he said. “In fact, I use to be a bouncer.  I would take out my frustrations by throwing guys out of the bar.  I’m 5-foot-4 and I just loved throwing big guys out of the bar.”

But that was a long time ago.  The 67-year-old Vietnam-Era Veteran now spends his days doing quieter work.  He’s a housekeeping aide at the Denver VA’s Community Living Center. But his custodial skills are not his primary contribution to the hospital.   Over the last nine years Scadden has developed another skill:  comforting Veterans in their final hours.

Good Instincts

“Julian is an incredibly important part of our care team here,” said Dr. Elizabeth Holman, a palliative care psychologist who works with Scadden. “He has an instinct for what people need when they’re nearing the end.  Sometimes they just need his quiet presence.  Sometimes they need words of encouragement.  He’s just so ‘present’ with these Veterans.  He makes them feel safe.”

“He’s so humble…he doesn’t realize the tremendous value of his services, and of his heart.”

She continued:  “It makes such a difference, to spend your last moments with someone who is kind and caring. And it’s such a comfort to family members, knowing that their loved one wasn’t alone when they died.”

“I didn’t think I would be any good at it,” Scadden admitted. “I didn’t think I could handle it. But they give you training.”

Scadden’s training, however, got off to a rough start.  At one point his trainers began to wonder if he really had the ‘right stuff’ to become a member of the Denver VA’s Compassion Corps  —the volunteers who spend time with dying Veterans.

“They had their doubts about me,” he said.  “During training they told me I was doing everything right except one thing.  I said, ‘What’s that?’  They said, ‘You have to learn how to talk to people!’”

It was a sad truth.  Scadden’s people skills had become a bit rusty.  He had plenty of compassion, but it was hidden somewhere deep inside where no one could see it.

“I had to learn to be polite,” he said.

And so he learned.

Images of Julian Scadden at the bedside of a dying Veteran

Of Ducks and Water

“I’m glad they were patient with me during the training,” said the Army Veteran.  “Once I completed the training they just put me out there and I took to it like a duck to water.  And it’s made me a better person, to be honest with you.  I think this is my calling.  This is what my higher power wants me to do.”

But not all patients — even those who are dying — believe in a higher power.  And that’s okay with Scadden.

“My very first patient didn’t believe in a higher power,” he recalled. “But about a week before he died, he told me to thank my higher power for allowing me to be there with him.”

Scadden said that during his nine years of hospice work he’s seen some patients get very angry at what’s happening to them.  Some get mean.  Some get abusive.

“You see every kind of scenario,” he said.  “Some of them are just scared, or confused.  They don’t want to die. They’ll ask things like, ‘Why me?’   They feel like they’ve led a good life, and they don’t understand why they have to go through all this suffering.”

Other patients, as the end nears, slip quietly into a coma.  Scadden said this can be unsettling for some family members, who feel they can no longer communicate with their loved one.

“Just because their eyes are closed doesn’t mean they can’t hear you,” he said.  “I try to explain that to the family.  I tell them, ‘Talk to him, tell him you love him, because he can still hear you.”

To learn more about how to become a volunteer at a VA near you, visit www.volunteer.va.gov/programs.asp

Author

Tom Cramer

Comments

  1. Francine Price    

    Mr. Julian Scadden you would have made an awesome Hospital Corpsman. Thank you for your service Sir. God Bless you for all you do.
    Francine Price

  2. J Tanner    

    May God bless and keep you. You are an active, unselfish and compassionate man.

  3. Tom Cunningham    

    Mr. Scadden,

    Thank you for your service, and for comforting so many Heroes during their final hours. You sir, are an inspiration!

  4. John Bloodworth    

    To Julian:

    You will never know how you have touched my heart today by reading your story. My dad was a veteran who has passed on, and he is smiling down at you admiring your hard work.

  5. George Michals    

    I second the motion, truly a good man.

    George M.

  6. Matt West    

    Outstanding. Way to go brother.

    Thrive

  7. Jim    

    I am a Vietnam vet and I often think about the end and get tears in my eyes. God bless you sir.

  8. Mike Piazza    

    I was with my veteran Father when he passed while in hospice care and it left me numb. I don’t know how you can do it again and again but I admire your inner strength. What you are able to provide is truly a blessing. Thank you.

  9. Steven Ernest Caldwell    

    God bless vets of your caliber! Thanks for serving our brothers! Carry the torch high! The Lord is with You brother! Usn vn era.dv. Amen.

  10. Dean Freeberg    

    Brother Scadden,

    God’s power is amazing, as is the love you share with these Veteran’s who gave something of themselves to this great national.

    God bless you and keep you.
    Respectfully, Dean

  11. ill    

    Julian, God bless you my friend. Keep the faith and what you do will be rewarded.

  12. Anthony Musgrave    

    Thank you Mr. Scadden for the service you provide. I hope someone like you is there for me when my time draws near.

  13. Mark A. Currier    

    To our Brother Julian.
    It warms my heart and alot of others to see the time you take for dying conrads in their time of need.God Bless you.
    I am a Veteran US Army during the Cold War and My Father and Brothers are Veterans. It touches my heart seeing the
    work you do for our Veterans in need Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

  14. Lelan    

    This is life-changing to read something like this.

  15. Wesley Layman    

    God Bless you for what you do.

    I feel the same way as you do ,not good with words. Maybe one of these days I’ll find my calling.

    Great job ,keep up the good work.

    GOD Bless You!

    Wes

Comments are closed.