Friday, November 7, 2014

Lives Converge and Change Forever

The best friendships, it seems, never are exactly expected.

Randy Patten pats Matt Thompson's hand. “I knew the first time we met, that he'd be someone special in my life. I had no idea how special. No idea.”

Neither are the terminuses of such friendships.

“I knew Matt's health was declining. But I never expected it would be this fast.”

Randy and Matt have been friends for 34 years. Randy recently quit his job so he could be with Matt for his final months of life. Matt is not afraid of dying. He's a smart man, even though he is often discredited as such because of his disabilities.

Randy Patten (left) with longtime friend, Matt Thompson (right).

Matt was born with cerebral palsy, partial hearing loss, declining vision, and intellectual disability. His family knew what he was capable of, though, and they worked on his independence and education. He attended special education classes and was eager to have a job.

“He loved to work,” says brother, Geoff Thompson. “He was a janitor at a nursing home in Southeast Portland and loved it.”

Still, Matt's eyesight was worsening, and he eventually had to leave his janitorial position. Luckily, a program helped Matt find new work at a uniform company where he separated hangers.

Randy was born in Klamath Falls. He was an athlete, a member of his high school's track, baseball, and basketball teams. He graduated from Oregon State University with a business degree, moved to Portland at age 21, and could not find a job.

“I went almost thirty years ago into The Arc offices downtown actually looking for a job at the time. Just to pick up an application,” he says.

They weren't hiring. However, there was a rack of brochures, and Randy picked up one about an advocacy program that matched volunteers with clients with disabilities who needed assistance. Randy volunteered and was paired with Matt.
Matt at an air show.

“The rest is history.”

Matt was thrilled to have gained Randy as a friend. He called Randy daily—not just once, but 15 times a day. Eventually, Randy and Matt worked it down to six or seven.

The volunteer program ended, but the friendship did not. The pair took small trips around Oregon, had dinner, went to parades and museums, especially air museums. Randy got married; Matt wanted a girlfriend. Randy had a daughter; Matt light up when he held her. Daily phone calls continued through the years.

“When he goes, I will have a hole in my life.”

Matt has congestive heart failure. He was diagnosed a few months ago and likely would not make it to Thanksgiving. Matt knows he is dying.

“He encouraged me with his simplicity,” says Randy. “He saw the best in people, loved talking with anyone—a clerk in a store, a parking attendant, the guy at the gas station. I'm not a religious guy, but there's a spiritual purity to Matt's life. There's a lesson for all of us in the way he lived.”


1 comment:

  1. What a great story! Working in a nursing home now, that also houses people with disabilities, I see a lot of these relationships form, and am thankful for every one that does.