Monday, April 20, 2009

Tom's train pulls into the station

I was with Tom yesterday morning when he died. I didn’t expect to be. His wife, Cindy, had called me at 4:30 a.m. to say he was breathing his last, so I took her at her word. I asked Cindy if it was OK if I didn’t come over, and she said yes, that she just wanted me to know. She added that she’d just called hospice to come to confirm his passing.

So imagine my surprise four hours later when I arrived at the apartment and found that Tom was still with us. Being the stubborn cuss that he was, his “last breath” was a very long one. I sat quietly with Cindy and Tom’s son, Mark, for a while, and it was then that Tom’s big heart finally quit pumping. Mark whispered, “I think he’s gone,” and indeed he was.

What a moment. I haven’t fully processed it. Other than the urinary catheter a nurse had inserted a few days earlier, his death was as natural as if he’d left the room and quietly shut the door behind him. He was here, and then he was gone. The morphine obviously helped, and I have no doubt the end would not have been so serene without it. But Tom was at home, where he wanted to be, with friends and family, and the sky outside was a brilliant blue—like any number of carefree days when he as a kid exploring the woods near his home in Alsea. It was a great day to die.

We’ll be celebrating Tom’s life in a few days, probably after he is buried with full military honors at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland. Like so many who served in Vietnam, Tom’s life was disfigured by his war experiences. It was something he didn’t like to talk about, and yet he proudly wore his Marine vet medals. Life has its contradictions, and Tom certainly had his. He was a man of duty, a man with feet of clay, and ultimately a man of honor.


wags said...

I'm very sorry to hear this... At least that old body is gone, replaced by a perfect one. For a moving perspective on life and death go to: (use Internet Explorer or the music, which really adds, won't play)...
Safe journey,

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry for this loss, you gave us a picture of a wonderful man in so few words. Prayers from back east are with all of you.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful writing.
What a gift to be there at his passage. He may well have been waiting for his friend to be there. Life passages are so powerful and honorable. Last year I sat with a dying woman who I met that day. It was part of the compassionate companion program with hospice. She had no family in the area. Her last breath and letting go was very peaceful. I am less scared of death now. See ya next Weds.

josue said...

I am glad that Tom is not suffering anymore in his
mortal body.
But rejoycing in the presence of his Lord.
Wonderful men with a big heart.