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My 54-year-old brother-in-law died Tuesday morning shortly after 5:40.  He didn't have to die right at that moment.  He made the choice.  Rather beautifully so.

We'll call him Tom.  Tom has had cancer for about the last ten years.  It started in his jaw.  I'll make the intervening years mercifully short by saying that at the end, after about 1/2 a dozen surgeries, much of his lower-left face was gone.  Voice box removed.  He could no longer talk or eat.  Consumed liquid supplements through a feeding tube for calories.  Texted and wrote notes to communicate.  He was still active, though.  Lived in his own house.  Still had his sly sense of humor.  He was feeling okay about things, having just recently moved back to the town where his parents and two of his siblings live.

Then, a few weeks ago, they found out that the cancer was back.  He had several options, none of them good.  He was contemplating his choices.  Putting off the decision.  Then, on Monday, he was given the chance to make the biggest decision of all.

The last realtime communication anyone had with him was at 2:30 on Monday afternoon.  My father-in-law texted him: "I'll pick you up at 8:30 tomorrow for the docs appt."  Tom texted back, "I'll be ready."

But when my father-in-law got there the next morning, Tom wasn't ready.  He didn't answer when his dad called out to him.   My father-in-law found him curled up on his bedroom floor "as though he was taking a nap."  And on the floor next to Tom was a pen and sheets of paper filled with writing.

I don't know what happened in that exact moment.  I can only imagine the reaction of the man who bent to touch his son, to see whether life remained.  But it did not.  So, after making a few necessary calls, my father-in-law sat down, and while he waited for the people who would verify the death and transport the body, he read the pages written by a son as he was dying.

His first entry was at 8pm.  He had begun to bleed internally.  But rather than calling anyone, he wrote that he was done with the fight.  He didn't want to go to the hospital.  He chose this time to die.

Over the next several hours, he wrote to his 3 children, grown now in their late 20s and early 30s - his personal regrets as a parent, his love for them, his pride in the people they've become.

He wrote to the broader family, expressing gratitude and affection.

He wrote to his friends, sharing memories.

He wrote to his co-workers with thanks and humor.

He wrote about his finances.

He wrote about life and his medical ordeal.

Each entry was timed throughout the night.

As the early morning progressed, he continued to write.

Finally, towards 3am, the entries became fewer.  And shorter.

3:23:  "Feeling tired, now.  But, no pain."

4:09:  "Still no pain.  Feeling a bit light-headed."

At 4:30, he wrote, "You know, it would be nice if I could just pass out."

At 5:05: "Well, that last one didn't happen."

And at 5:41:  "Just re-read the last entry.  Made myself laugh."

That was the last thing he wrote.


He couldn't take us with him into the mystery of "there," but in his sweet, quiet way, Tom did his best to let us know what it was like for him at the end of "here."  

What an amazing gift it is to all of those who knew him - to know what those last hours contained, and to be able to read the final thoughts of our gentle loved one.

I will miss him so.

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