Nine months after his initial diagnosis (stage IV with brain mets at that time) my brother passed away peacefully under hospice care yesterday.
I posted before about our "last visit" 3 weeks ago (see:http://www.melanoma.org/community/off-topic-forum/update-re-last-visit ). Even though he couldn't talk at that time other than to say "yes" or "no", we had a very good visit, we had some fun, and we communicated what needed to be communicated. A week or 10 days ago, he could no longer say even "yes" and"no", he could not get out of bed without assistance, and he started to have trouble swallowing. He still claimed to have no pain (he could nod his head "yes" or "no") but his medical team decided it was time for hospice inpatient care. He was moved from the nursing home to the hospice house last Wednesday.
On Friday morning, I got a call from the hospice nurse that "it was time"-- hospice felt that my brother was near the end. So I threw my clothes in a suticase, jumped in the car, and drove 8 hours from Atlanta to Tampa. I arrived at hospice house at about 9 PM. My brother was semi-comatose, but resting peacefully, not in pain or struggling to breathe. No tubes, no beeping monitors, no glaring lights. Just apparently sleeping. I sat with him for quite a while. I talked to him and reminded him about some crazy St. Patrick's Day stunts he had pulled in the past. I put a cool washcloth on his brow, and cried a little. He woke up a couple of times and seemed to recognize me. At one point, he raised one hand and moved it toward me, which I interpreted as him wanting to give me a hug. So I sat on the edge of the bed an we had a long hug. When it was time for me to leave, I told him to go back to sleep and that I would be back in the morning. At 8 the next morning, hospice called to tell us Mike had just passed.
It seems strange to say it, and I could never prove it, but I can't help but think that he was waiting for me to get there before he let go. I have been the closest person to him throughout his life (other than his dear, departed Margaret) and I can well imagine him using his incredible will to hang in there long enough for me to see for myself that he was not in distress and for us to both have a loving good-bye.
His gentle, fiercely independent life, his long valiant struggle, and his final passsing are over. I was able to arrange for his favorite priest to say Mass for my brother that same day, and our 91-year-old mother and I were able to attend. This evening, I am hosting an Irish wake (on Saint Patrick's Day, no less!) at his favorite local bar. It's a "Friends" type place where everybody knows Mike's name. I promised to buy a drink for anyone who can tell a funny story about Mike-- gross exaggerations will be encouraged. My brother was very cooperative in the last few months about settling his affairs, so there really won't be much left for me to do as his executor-- just some forms to fill out and a final interment/memorial service in June.
Farewell, dear big brother. From now on, I will imagine that you and Margeret are happily and forever sailing away to fascinating new harbors in Heaven.