Today is the seventh anniversary of my late husband's death. It may sound odd, but I always look back on it thinking, "it was a good death," as far as deaths go. It was back in 2002, just a few months after 9/11 when so many families sent their loved ones off to work, never to see them again.
I remember thinking how lucky we were to have time to do all the things we needed to do, say all the things we needed to say.
He had been diagnosed with a brain tumor back in 1992. The doctors gave him 18 months, tops, to live, had he taken the standard chemotherapy the oncologist recommended. Instead, after surgery Dan decided to try some clinical trials out of Tufts University and sure enough, two years later, the tumor was unnoticeable on a CAT scan. The doctors were amazed and were sure the original diagnosis must have been incorrect because they'd never known anyone to survive that long. We didn't really care, we were just grateful that he felt good, was able to do the things he enjoyed, as well as continue his career as an electrical engineer.
We put it behind us and moved on with the business of living our lives and bringing up our three sons. It was always there in the background that the tumor could return but it had little negative impact on our daily lives. The boys went from 3, 5, and 8, to 13, 15, and 18, before it did return; so they were given the gift of growing up with, and getting to know their Dad. I'm sure they would have had very little memory of him had we lost him as the doctors originally predicted, back in the early 90s.
But come early September 2001, the tumor returned. I thought he was having a stroke one morning and called an ambulance. He went into a coma as I discussed our options with his doctors, and decided to try some chemo. The doctors said the tumor was too deep to do surgery this time.
The chemo worked, though we anticipated that it would only be effective very short term. This time they predicted less than six months.
Dan never completely came back at that point. He came home and was able to enjoy is day to day existence, though his cognitive abilities were substantially diminished. He enjoyed being in the house with the boys running around, lots of visitors - friends, family, and church members. He had a wonderful Hospice volunteer who'd take him shopping or out for coffee or lunch. You had to be kind of careful because he might stoll off on his own or get it into his mind that he was going to drive. But never in a cantankerous way; he was always good natured and easy going about it.
A few weeks before his death we had a hospital bed delivered and he spent the last couple of weeks in it, with great home care through hospice. The night he died his brother Peter and Peter's wife, Laurie, were there with me. We knew it was time and we had some old home movies of the kids playing on the tv while I held his hand and Laurie and Peter and I talked. The boys came in occasionally, and each spent a few minutes alone with him. Dan's church group had been over earlier in the evening with their guitars and tambourines and had sang and played music for him. He was unconscious but I swear I saw him tapping his foot at one point.
I think it was about two a.m. that he finally let go. His hospice nurse had been there until about 10 and she came right back when I called and made the phone call to the funeral home we had prearranged.
The family - his seven siblings and spouses, and his Mom and Dad - gathered with us the next day to support each other and to remember the fun times.
It seemed his death came too early - at just 53 years old. But it was in peaceful and loving surroundings. I think that's the best any of us can hope for when our time comes.