‘My life goal is to try to make a new friend every day.’

The first time I met Clayton E. Weeks, he had just finished shoveling the snow from one of the many storms Maine was hit with this year. He was shoveling so that his wife, June, 80, didn’t have to. The Weekses were living in a trailer off Roxbury Road in Mexico, about an hour’s drive from my apartment in Auburn.

Clayton, who was 81, welcomed me into his home and his heart within just a few visits, calling me his “adopted daughter” after only knowing me a short while. This wasn’t surprising if you knew Clayton. He told everyone around him: “My life goal is to try to make a new friend every day.”

He did that up until the day he died.

Clayton was born in Mexico. He went to high school there, married his first and second wives there, raised his children there and worked in the former Boise Cascade paper mill in nearby Rumford for 40 years.

In November 2014, Clayton went to the hospital with pneumonia and found out he had lung cancer. When I met him three months later in February, Clayton was in the care of Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice — though if you met him at that time, from his outward appearance you would have had no idea he was dying.

June and Clayton spent the last 10 and a half years of their lives together. They were married in 2004, after Clayton’s first wife of 46 years, Rachel, passed away in 2003. But June and Clayton knew each other long before that. They graduated from high school together. Clayton would say that June “wouldn’t give me the time of day in high school” and only did now because “the playing field was smaller.”


This was just part of his humor. No matter how much he was hurting on the inside, he wore a smile on his face and loved an audience to captivate with a story. And everything reminded him of a story.

Clayton reminisced with me, giving me far more stories than I could ever write down. He spoke to me about his time in the U.S. Army, when he was stationed in Germany. From that we learned that we both cross our sevens — something he picked up in the military and I picked up from my parents. He told me about scouting, and that being a Boy Scout leader was one of the most important things he ever did. He remembered his time with the Pigeon Flyers Club, and sending a pigeon back to Brooklyn; the owner thanked him wholeheartedly because most people would not have bothered returning the pigeon to its rightful owner.

He loved sharing stories about the telemarketers he gave a hard time to that week, either by pretending that he didn’t speak English or telling them his wife couldn’t come to the phone “because she just left and he didn’t know where she went.” And all the while he and June were snickering in the background.

I looked forward to seeing him every week, hearing his stories and piecing together parts of his life.

As time passed, Clayton changed. He lost a significant amount weight, and energy. Eventually, the pain was no longer bearable. But even then, he was euphoric when a friend came to visit or he got a phone call from one of the men who was once a boy in the Boy Scout troop he had led.

Clayton died on May 17 after being in the Hospice House 10 days. He was surrounded by his wife and some of his children.


I learned of his passing when I returned to Maine after a visit to Wisconsin to see my brother graduate from law school. While I was celebrating a young man’s future, many loving family members were celebrating an older man’s life. He had inspired everyone around him. I witnessed many tell him that when it was their time to die, they hoped they could have the same outlook on life and death that he had.

“We were here to love each other,” June said. “I pulled a bed next to him for 10 days. Boy, it killed my back, but I stayed with him till the end. I always said I would be there till the end. That’s what marriage vows are.”

Clayton was June’s rock and, to the end, June was Clayton’s. In one respect it was easy. There was no self-pity with Clayton. During my visits, I often heard him thank God that he still had time to make new friends.

“He never said, ‘Why me?’” June recalled. “He always said, ‘I’m no different than anyone else.’”

Hospice House: 10 years of care and comfort

Clayton Weeks’ life story is unique. But it has at least one thing in common with almost 5,000 other people’s stories: the Hospice House in Lewiston.

Ten years ago this November, the Hospice House took in its first patient. Since then, more than 4,470 patients — and many more of their family members and friends — have benefited from the facility’s care, support and comfort.


The idea of an inpatient hospice center arose before the turn of the century, with discussions, studies and site visits by Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice and others concerned about end-of-life care. By 2003, the agency, which started providing home-based hospice care in 1982, had purchased a site on Stetson Road. In early 2004 the board of directors approved $3.7 million in construction and $1.5 million in capital campaign costs for the building. Fundraising soon began. In September 2004, construction was completed and Hospice House accepted its first patient in November.

The mission was simple but significant: Provide dying patients and their families with a home-like environment when care at home was no longer possible. That care not only included medical support but specifically focused on easing the pain and fear experienced by dying patients and their families.

When it opened almost 10 years ago, the 14-bed Hospice House was the only facility of its kind in the state. Today, 41 employees and a host of volunteers provide 24-hour admissions, round-the-clock nursing care, individualized care plans and overall end-of-life support to patients such as Clayton Weeks, who have increased Hospice House numbers each year.

Hospice House staff will hold small tributes to the facility’s 10 years throughout 2015, such as the release of 10 balloons in honor of the 10-year anniversary at its 5K Run and Remembrance Walk in May. An anniversary celebration is being planned for November.

Author’s note

I became interested in the idea of hospice because of its tenderness and kindness to patients in their end-of-life journey. When I contacted Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice in Lewiston, I had no idea what would happen. I thought to myself, “Why would anyone let me photograph something this personal?” But as a photojournalist, I am often surprised by the people who want to share their stories and let me witness their most intimate moments. Clayton Weeks agreed to allow me into his life, and over three special months, I photographed him. I think Clayton did it for two reasons: He wanted to help a young photographer tell an important story and he wanted to share part of himself that could live on even after his passing. He joked that I would have to airmail the newspaper to him in heaven.

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