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Homeless but Dying With Dignity

Salena Zito on

CUMBERLAND, Maryland -- Had it not been for the kindness of strangers, Henry McCain would have died the way he led much of his adult life: cold, alone and without a blanket to cover his feet at night.

Instead, McCain left this world not as a nameless drifter but as a man with dignity, a sense of belonging and a last sip of his beloved, ice-cold Coca-Cola.

On the morning McCain died, Pastor David Ziler and his wife, Andrea, went into the hospice room they had created at the homeless shelter they run, gave McCain his medications, cleaned him up and sat his weakened body up in bed.

"Henry looked at my wife and asked if he could have an ice-cold Coke, so she got him a straw and dropped it into his mouth, and he said, 'That's enough,'" Ziler explained.

McCain then rolled over and went to sleep.

"Fifteen minutes later, we came back in, and he was gone," said Ziler. "All the way to his last, dying breath, he was wanting ice-cold Coke." Andrea, a registered nurse, said that the Coke was one of several odd food choices McCain requested in the waning days of his life as his liver cancer rapidly progressed through his body.

 

"He ate tons of hot pockets, butter pecan ice cream, sour cream and onion Ruffles, cold Hormel chili, right out of the can with hot sauce on it -- oh, I don't know how he ate that, but he loved that -- and, of course, drinking 'ice-cold' Cokes," she explained.

The money for the food, as well as his casket, funeral service and tombstone, things he would have never experienced had he not wandered into the Union Rescue Mission last year, all happened because David posted a fundraising request for McCain on the Union Rescue Mission Facebook page a couple of weeks ago.

Within minutes, Ziler explained, the fundraising goal was met, and then some.

David said McCain's other dying wish was a desperate plea for his body not to be sent to the state mortuary to be cremated and buried with the other nameless homeless in the state. "He also specifically requested an extra blanket be placed around his feet in the casket because he said his feet were always cold."

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