One Final Goodbye

The decision to enter hospice is never an easy one.  The day my Uncle Donald made the decision that hospice was his next step was powerful.  After a lifetime of managing a genetic disorder that attacked his body, he decided it was time to stop and leave the rest to God. Hospice was a surreal experience.  We were sad, angry, and frustrated; but we were also laughing, smiling, and enjoying our time together as a family. Uncle Donald planned every part of the funeral service and we were all very clear as to his wishes.  My part was to play piano during the visitation hours.  I was a college music student and my incredibly supportive and encouraging uncle wanted me to share my gift with his closest family and friends.  It was an honor to play my part.

As our time together grew shorter, the family stood vigil together.  We were nothing if not good in a crisis.  Our family was all too familiar with loss and we stood together through the difficult times giving each other the power we needed to move forward.  It was less than a year earlier that we lost my Uncle Dave and it seemed so cruel that we were here in this situation again; so much heartache in such a short period of time.

We gathered together in my Uncle Donald’s hospice room as he started to slip away.  He was sleeping, non-responsive.  His pulse-ox was falling slowly. We sat in the room quietly surrounding him with love and peace.

My Dad and my Uncle Paul, needing something to do, were constantly checking his pulse-ox numbers.  Feeling helpless is definitely not a place they are comfortable and knowledge is power, even if there is little we can do with the knowledge.  I remember clearly sitting on the floor and watching them whisper to each other with puzzled looks. I heard one of them say, “I think we broke it.” My Uncle’s pulse-ox numbers were rising and they had been steadily going down for hours. The consensus between them was “We broke the machine.”

My Aunt Betty, who had lost her husband Dave in this tumultuous year and was now losing her brother, walked over to Uncle Donald and whispered in his ear; “Say hello to Dave for me.” In that moment, Uncle Donald responded “I will.” As you can imagine the entire room electrified with emotional energy.  He was awake.  How is this possible?  My Aunt Sue had left the room for a moment and not knowing if we had a minute or an hour, people rushed off to find her.  We were all given the chance for one final goodbye.

We gathered in that room as a family.  We each took a moment to say I love you, I will miss you, and I will see you again. We laughed together. We prayed together. We gave him and he gave us a place of peace and permission to acknowledge that life was moving forward and we were all exactly where we needed to be.

I remember this evening clearly, every detail set in stone in my memories.  I do not think words can truly express the miraculous nature. We were together waiting patiently for the end and instead were given the gift of more time. It was the first time in my young life that I felt the hand of God touch my life with such raw, emotional power.

The details after that night are a little fuzzy.  I cannot tell you exactly how many hours passed before my Uncle Donald left this world to be with our Heavenly Father. I was in the room and I was filled with deep sadness, but also filled with great joy that all decisions were made and all that remained was peace. He made his decision. He followed the path. He was home with God.

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