December 13, 2013 § Leave a comment
How are you doing? I am blessed. This was the standard reply of Lionel Sandiford, one of the older San Franciscans living alone who helped me with my research. Since he signed a disclaimer, I can reveal his identity.
This morning I attended the memorial for Lionel at the Canon Kip Center of the Episcopal Community downtown San Francisco. Lionel suffered a a stroke after having ridden a bus with pneumonia from Florida because he wanted to die in San Francisco, in his community. He literally left the hospital and jumped on a Greyhound to arrive in San Francisco and then die. I cannot imagine what thoughts went on his mind during the long ride.
Lionel was an inspiration for me and many others. A great and elegant singer, a fine carpenter, Lionel fought for the rights of other seniors like him. He told me how much he wanted to leave his hotel room in the Tenderloin to have a kitchen where he would invite all his friends. He unwrapped the fancy china he wanted to use to enjoy the meals with his friends.
He did not manage to move though. Yet, he created a community of friends that replaced the family. His family does not even know that he died since his body has remained unclaimed. Canon Kip did claim his body and organized a touching memorial where we all sang with full lungs “Oh when the saints, go marching in, oh when Lionel marches in..” It was deeply moving. Other African American men and James Chionsini and I reiterated the importance to use the effort of Lionel as a springboard for claiming the rights of low-income older adults that do not have the luxury of an apartment in a city with very little affordable housing.
Dear Lionel, your immense spirit and wonderful voice will always be with us. We are blessed that we met you.