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Homeless man dies at peace with help of friends
Question of the Day
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Under clean white sheets in a bed in a quiet room at the Hospice of West Alabama, Vincent S. Haneman III died just after midnight on Dec. 23, 2013.
His friend Sharon Standifer made the early morning trip to collect his things soon after. Her homeless friend's possessions - a black plastic comb and fingernail clippers, a canvas and Velcro wallet, a watch with a busted crystal and no band, and a pair of permanent markers to make signs for begging - fit in a plastic freezer bag.
The 63-year-old was cremated at Northport Funeral and Cremation Services and his ashes sent to his younger brother, who talked to Haneman briefly for the first time in more than a decade days before his death in Tuscaloosa. But Standifer couldn't bring herself to part with his few possessions until early March, when she finally mailed them along with a message to Haneman's brother.
"It was really hard to let go of those few possessions because it was like I was closing the book on his life," she said.
Standifer and friends were the characters in Haneman's last chapter who came together to make sure he didn't spend the last days of his battle with lung cancer on the street and helped him reconnect with his estranged family. Ask the women and they will tell you it's providence that put people and places together in a short time, so Haneman had a comfortable place to die.
Standifer's friendship with Haneman began a handful of days before his death. Like so many others in her life, it started with something stirring and telling her to stop and help.
It began with a comment as Standifer stopped at the Shell Station on the corner of Greensboro Avenue and Skyland Boulevard owned by her friend Dawn Terry. Standifer was paying Terry for preparing some homemade party mix. Terry mentioned the money would help pay the hotel bill for her dying friend.
Terry - Haneman's guardian angel, according to Standifer - had met the homeless man the year before when he first arrived at her store.
Haneman was an affable transient suffering from paranoid schizophrenia who chain-smoked Pall Mall blue 100s and drank cheap beer and gas station coffee heavy with cream and sugar when Terry first met him in the spring of 2012. The thin man with gray hair and dark, thick eyebrows befriended the store's staff during his stops in Tuscaloosa as he hitchhiked between Tennessee and Florida.
It was a relationship with roots in Terry's faith and a desire to make a difference in people's lives. In the homeless camps in the patches of woods behind the stores off Skyland, Terry's reputation is that of a compassionate store owner, one who helps rather than calls the police.
"It's just something you feel like God tells you to do," she said. "You just have this feeling that it was something you were meant to do."
Terry let Haneman bed down in a storage room in the rear of the Shell's carwash and would put him up once a month or so at the nearby Baymont Inn and Suites so he could sleep in a bed and take a real bath.
Terry can't point to a specific reason for why she struck up the friendship.
"I just had a feeling about him that he was just special. That he couldn't live in a normal world," she said.
Standifer, a self-described adopter of the elderly and those who are hurting, asked if she could help with Haneman. Standifer paid for his hotel room for a night at the Baymont Inn and returned the next morning to give him a sausage biscuit and coffee for breakfast.
Haneman was gracious and polite, she said. Standifer's impression was of a gentle spirit who was not "your stereotypical homeless person."
"I could tell he was an intelligent man and a very kind heart," she said.
When he reappeared at the Shell station south of the interstate for the final time in October 2013, Terry said she could tell he was sicker. Haneman told her he had given up drinking because, physically, he couldn't do it anymore. He complained about his pain.
Haneman was diagnosed with lung cancer a few years before but never underwent any type of treatment, returning instead to his life on the road and managing the pain with generic Ibuprofen and alcohol, to the best of Terry's knowledge.
As Haneman grew thinner and ate less, Terry suggested a trip to a doctor.
"I told him just let me know when you are ready, I will take you to the hospital," Terry said.
In typical fashion, Haneman rejected the idea until the Monday before his death.
"It was always too expensive, too much," she said. "He always felt he could get along without it."
Haneman would shoot down proposals - hotel rooms provided by Terry, hospital stays, or clothing - as too costly.
Even as Terry prepared to take Haneman to the hospital, his restlessness urged him to make for Florida. Haneman insisted he must keep moving. Terry, in her firm maternal way, noted he could barely walk.
At Druid City Hospital, a doctor told him he did not have long to live after reviewing X-rays showing the cancer appeared as a cloudy mass in Vincent's chest, according to Terry.
Haneman was prescribed Loritab to ease the pain. He jotted down notes about his doses on the back of an old hotel bill in his wallet from a stay in Cullman.
On Dec. 20, Haneman agreed to move to the hospice after Standifer was able to get him a referral.
Latrelle Bell executive director of the Hospice of West Alabama, met Haneman for the first time at the Masters Inn, where he moved after the Baymont Inn, while he met with hospice staff. A team from the nonprofit assesses cases referred by doctors to make sure the diagnosis is terminal and the symptoms would be better managed in the in-patient center. Haneman paced and complained of pain in the hotel room as he met with the staff.
"He looked at me and said, 'Are you going to teach me how to die?'" Bell said.
Her reply was the hospice staff was there to make his remaining time comfortable. He would not be alone. He would have the things he needed.
"I think so many people think that our focus is on dying, but really it is on the quality of life," Bell said. "We try to make sure that person and their family have the very best quality of life with the time they have left."
Haneman asked whether he could continue to smoke at the hospice. Bell assured him it would be OK.
"If he couldn't smoke, he wasn't going," Terry said.
On Dec. 20, as Haneman's friends prepared to move him to the hospice, Standifer got a call from Charles Haneman, the brother whom the women believed was dead.
Haneman, always reticent about his past, had told the women his immediate family was dead and his remaining relatives were a few cousins in New Jersey, according to Terry.
Standifer and Terry began reaching out to find any family members once it was clear Haneman didn't have long to live. Standifer called a foundation in New Jersey named for a Vincent S. Haneman in the hope there was a connection.
"We could not stand the thought of him dying without family knowing," Standifer said.
When Haneman's younger brother called, Standifer explained Vincent's condition. Haneman, a Navy veteran and retired regional director of the employment security commission for South Carolina, hadn't spoken to his brother since 2001.
Haneman's younger brother always assumed there would be "the call," the message something had happened to his older brother, who had begun hitchhiking in his early 20s. The years the phone didn't ring became the assurance his restless brother was still OK.
"The call I got, I never thought it would really happen. It brought back some memories, some good childhood memories," Haneman said.
But also the reminder of the what was absent, of what the men did not experience.
"It just saddened me because, growing up, as a young child, I idolized him because he was my big brother," he said. "Growing up, you had these ideas of having a family and your kids would visit with their uncle's family ... I think he had every intention of doing that growing up."
The friendly transient was once a diligent student, fastidious in his appearance, who had a normal upbringing in a loving family, according to his brother. "It's like you found out a whole different world about Vincent," Standifer said.
Vincent S. Haneman III was the eldest of two adopted children of an Air Force officer and his wife, according to his brother, and the grandson of a prominent New Jersey judge, who was his namesake.
Haneman was Buss to the family - a diminutive of Buster, the name given to Haneman as an infant by the hospital nurses who cared for him before his adoption.
The boys lived with their mother in central Florida, near their maternal grandparents, after their parents divorced when Haneman was about 10, his younger brother said.
He grew into adolescence in Mount Dora, Fla., a city north of Orlando in aptly named Lake County. In a childhood surrounded by water, the brothers grew up boating, fishing and traveling the state to compete in AAU swim meets. Haneman, a lean teenager with a tan and dark hair, was a member of a high school rock band, the Wrong Numbers, which played venues across central Florida and had a song crack the rotation on local radio stations.
"He taught me how to fish. We had a real close relationship until I was too young to hang out with his friends," he said.
Haneman's brother can't point to a specific point where his brother changed, but, during his late teens, he grew distant and his behavior became erratic.
"It was like a switch went on and he didn't want responsibility for anything," he said.
Haneman began to distance himself from his family when he was 17 years old. He dropped out of high school as a junior or senior, his brother said. At 18, Haneman was arrested for the sale and possession of marijuana, but was given two years of probation with the help of an attorney hired by his father.
About five months into his probation, Haneman and a friend decided to drive to California in a car stolen from the friend's mother. Near Dallas, the teens were in a wreck, and Haneman, in violation of his probation, was sent home to Florida, where he spent a year in the county jail, according to his brother.
Haneman was never the same after jail. his brother said. More than 40 year later, Charles Haneman wonders whether his brother was lucid, or if the symptoms of his paranoid schizophrenia had already begun to manifest.
"It seems like from that time, from about 18 to 19, he started that dive," Charles Haneman said.
Charles Haneman said his older brother became heavily involved in the drug culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s, doing menial jobs for cash and hitchhiking between Gainesville, Fla., and St. Petersburg, Fla., where the boy's mother had relocated after re-marrying. Haneman's parents would set him up in apartments, only to see him eventually evicted for failing to pay rent, according to his brother.
At 22, Haneman was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic after his mother had him evaluated when he returned home "and was just bonkers," according to his brother.
Charles Haneman said his parents continued to help their eldest son, but communication with the family ceased when Haneman threatened his mother's life.
"I remember mother telling me she woke up with him at the end of the bed with a knife from the kitchen," Charles Haneman said.
As his brother's life shifted toward a transient nature that would define it, the younger Haneman completed high school and joined the Navy in 1973, serving two stints before retiring in the mid-1980s. Contact between the brothers was sporadic after the younger Haneman graduated high school. Haneman would ask about his brother when he was home on leave and hear he was "hitchhiking everywhere."
The brothers talked briefly in 1982 when Haneman called from a halfway home in Gainesville, Fla. The brothers didn't talk again until 2001. By that time Charles Haneman was living in Akron, S.C., with his family. The brothers talked briefly. Haneman was at a truck stop in Ohio hitchhiking his way back to Florida.
The next time the men talked, Haneman was in Tuscaloosa in December 2013. Haneman was in lots of pain and the conversation was short, his brother said.
"I wish the conversation would have been a lot deeper," he said.
Before Charles Haneman could make the trip from South Carolina to Tuscaloosa, his brother died, three days after being admitted to the hospice.
"I don't think anyone expected him to leave that soon," Standifer said.
Cheryl Rolf, social worker for the in-patient unit, and nurse manager Tammy Liveoak were not surprised by Haneman's passing once he overcame his restlessness and relaxed.
It is not uncommon to see someone in such pain linger - too uncomfortable to die, according to the women.
"That's really common," Liveoak said.
Haneman broke the news to his father, who now resides in Columbus. Ga.
"Dad didn't say a whole lot about it," he said. "I'm sure it brought up some memories and regrets because it didn't turn out the way he wanted."
The estrangement of Haneman was difficult for his parents.
"They loved the both of us as their own. They did love him and really never stopped, even though they were afraid of him," he said.
Haneman's brother sees his father's enduring love in the men's discussion of where Haneman should be laid to rest.
The father and son discussed making the trip to New Jersey to put some of Haneman's ashes in the family plot and another trek to Florida to spread what's left in a small family plot where Haneman's mother is buried.
"I think that speaks volumes," Haneman's brother said.
Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, http://www.tuscaloosanews.com
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