Love Monger Ministries-Dying At Home…

Uncle Tom immediately after brain surgery June 2009

Hello Gentle Readers,

Last June, our family went to Ohio to be with my Uncle Tom during his brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. After chemotherapy and radiation treatments, we had hoped that Uncle Tom’s cancer would go into remission.  It did not.  Not quite 6 weeks ago, we got the call from my Aunt that hospice was being called in.

Three weeks ago, tomorrow, we left for Ohio once again, to be with my Aunt and Uncle in the final hours.  We arrived Monday afternoon to a wonderful meal cooked by my Aunt and a long night sitting with Uncle Tom, so my Aunt could get some sleep.  She had gotten a cat nap or two in the past 72 hours, but with us there she finally got about 6 hours sleep.

When we arrived, my Aunt shook Uncle Tom and told him we were there.  He opened his eyes but was not able to really acknowledge us.  It is our belief that he knew we were there, but our opportunities to hold conversations with the amazing man that was my Uncle had passed.

Uncle Tom was a decorated (retired) Air Force Captain and Vietnam Veteran.  During his time, he helped develop the earliest versions of software that later evolved into the Patriot Missile software used today.  He served his country proudly and loved his family.  Uncle Tom raised two children and, when I moved to West Virginia, he took on the late raising of myself.  I am who I am today, largely because of my dear heroic Uncle.

On Tuesday of our visit, we helped my Aunt with all the necessary business that needed done-phone calls, arranging for transporting my Uncle’s body back to West Virginia for burial, getting funerary clothes together as well as helping my Aunt pack for the trip back here.  It was busy, but helped us get through the difficulty of the day.

At about 9:45 pm or so, my Aunt, a retired nurse, grabbed a chair and told me to do the same.   My husband Tom was laying on the couch behind us and the boys were downstairs.  My Aunt sat by Uncle Tom’s head and I sat next to her holding my Uncle’s hand.  His breathing began to slow to 5-6 seconds apart.  Then it stopped all together.  10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds-we all knew-it was done.  My Aunt jumped up and kissed my Uncle and told him, “Bye, Tom.”  My Uncle, after being in a coma for over 24 hours, who hadn’t breathed for half a minute, said, “Bye”.  Then he said no more.

To tell the truth, I was a bit afraid of going to Ohio and being there when my Uncle passed.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Would it be scary?

However, at the time of his last breath and last word, I felt a tingle in my hand that held his and then I felt the most peaceful, loving feeling.  There are no words to explain it.  The closest I can come is to say that it was like the brightest, most beautiful light imaginable surrounded us in my Aunt and Uncle’s living room, only I couldn’t see it, I FELT it.

The experience was profound and life changing, to be sure.  It has been to soon to know how, but there is no way to have shared such moments with my Uncle, and my Aunt and Husband and not be changed.  I know that my feelings and perceptions about death and dying are profoundly different than they were 4 weeks ago, and my feelings about being with those I love most, preferably at home in those last moments before their spirit, or soul, or life force, or whatever else one may call it, leaves the body–well I’m a convert!

Maybe the most loving thing we can do for those we love is to live our lives in a way to honor them.  But to hold someone’s hand, and to be with them in the second most important event in their lives (the first being birth, in my view), well, I reckon that’s more important than we can imagine, until that time happens for us.

LaVerna and Tom Vickers