John Grezenda, 81, has been living on the streets of Duncan for more than a month (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Column: Uncomfortable with tears, but 81-year-old changed that

Robert's column

The sight of tears always throws me off.

I recall disagreements with girlfriends over the years and, apparently, they all quickly picked up on the fact that I always crumble when they started to cry because they usually got their way when the waterworks began.

I just wanted it to stop and would agree to anything that would make that happen.

I don’t know why that is.

Perhaps being raised as the youngest of five brothers who attended all-male Catholic schools as a youth, emotional outbursts have always been alien to me.

I know that everybody cries sometimes, whether for joy or sadness, but it had always made me uncomfortable and tongue tied when I was the one who was expected to deal with such raw emotions from those around me.

I had come to assume, much to my dismay, that I was a pretty cold fish.

But a recent incident in Duncan woke me up to the reality that maybe I’m human after all.

I met John Grezenda earlier this week when he came through the doors of the Citizen looking for help.

Grezenda is 81, disabled and has been living on the streets of Duncan for more than a month.

I could tell instantly that he was a proud man, but his life had spiralled out of control in recent years, leaving him in dire straits.

Apparently, he had a home, a wife and the other attributes that many consider necessary for contentment in life.

But his beloved wife died and then his home burned down, along with all of his belongings.

The only thing he has these days is his old age pension, but it’s not nearly enough to cover all his expenses, including a high rental rate.

He tried homeless shelters and couch-surfed with friends for awhile, but finally found himself sleeping on the streets.

I got the word out to the public about his circumstances and some suggestions began trickling in, including that he should check out a couple of local societies that cater to economically challenged seniors like him.

As Grezenda has no phone or computer, I tracked him down at a local soup kitchen and told him there may be some options available that he should check out.

That’s when I noticed him droop his head a little and he tried to hide the fact that tears were welling up in his eyes.

“I’ve never been like this in my whole life,” he blurted out suddenly and loudly as his voice cracked with emotion.

“I’ve always had a wife and a comfortable home, but my life began falling apart after my wife died. I’ve always paid my way, minded my own business and never caused anyone any problems. I hate being like this but I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it.”

Watching this proud man quietly weep in frustration over his life and in embarrassment over having to seek help from strangers broke my heart and I felt my own eyes fill up and my voice was also unsteady when I continued talking to him.

I think that may be the first time in my life that I acted appropriately when confronted with tears.

Grezenda straightened himself up, finished his lunch and said he would check out my tips on finding a place to call home that afternoon.

I intend to keep track of Grezenda to make sure he’s OK, especially with another cold winter coming up.

While he profusely thanked me and the other good folks at the Citizen for trying to help him out, I think I also owe him some thanks as well.

He showed me that I’m not so cold-hearted after all.

Cowichan Valley Citizen

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