Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Death and Sadness Are a Part of Life

For the last 13 months, we have lived with the knowledge that Gerald’s brother Ken had leukemia and would not be expected to live as long as we had previously taken for granted. Their dad lived a long life; and at 75, Ken was working every day and was extremely strong, in spite of suffering from arthritis that no longer allowed him to coon hunt or play softball. Many years ago he had had heart surgery, but you would have never known it.

Doctors advised that chemo would be difficult and might not be worth it at his age--if he even lived through it. Ken and his family took the challenge and went through rounds of treatment first at Barnes and then at John Cochran V.A. He went into remission and looked good and was back on his bulldozer doing work he was good at and loved. Then the leukemia returned.

Again doctors said that to try further treatment with chemo might kill him. Again Ken and his family chose to fight this disease. Just as she had during the months of previous treatments, his wife Opal stayed by his side night and day for the 44 days he underwent yet another round of treatment at John Cochran V.A. Hospital. He was hampered by a heart attack there when doctor’s orders for a transfusion were not followed promptly, but he seem to recover from that blunder rather well. Yet by Christmas Day, the family was concerned that he was not doing well. Still when his brothers went to see him that day, he assured them he had had Christmas there in the hospital room when a son-in-law read the Christmas story to him.

On January 8, he had a bone marrow test, and he and Opal were told that this final treatment had not worked. His sister made her third trip from Wyoming to visit with him. On January 10, he was told to go home and that the doctor had called in Hospice. We were all saddened at the prediction that he would not live until his 76th birthday on January 20. When he did, we all rejoiced, and a stream of people who loved him flooded their house all day long. Then he admitted that he would really like to see his expected great granddaughter. He not only lived to see Josie but to hold her and love on her many times. Again we rejoiced at this and wondered why the doctor had said this still strong man was going to die. Obviously the doctor was wrong about the expected length of time.

Adding to our illusion was a dispute between doctors when one saw the pathologist’s report and found out that person had not discovered leukemia cells. (This local oncologist said, however, that Ken that two infections that could kill him.) Nevertheless, we had an evening of hope—though a false one. The next day, the first oncologist assured the family that he himself had seen the leukemia cells and had been able to make a more accurate report than the pathologist had the tools to do. Still we had to wonder as Ken maintained life and good humor and his family fought for is recovery.

Finally the serious deterioration started. Back in the local hospital, the continued fight against the infections did no good. Ken wanted to go home, and he did. Once more people streamed into his home to show love and concern. Surrounded there in his bedroom by his wife and children, on Monday, he went into a peaceful sleep-like state. Hospice assured the family that Ken could still hear them.

If he could, he heard many vows of love and praise and appreciation. He felt loving arms and kisses. He heard prayers and favorite Bible scriptures read, which were chosen just for him. He heard his daughters singing the hymns he loved. And then after his sister called from Wyoming for a final expression of love with the phone held to his ear, he heard his wife and children's final farewells. And then he heard the angels.

1 comment:

Ernestine said...

This is a wonderful summary of the last 13 months of Kenny's life and a beautiful description of his last days and his death. It is very comforting to me to read. I will give copies of this to my children, and hope they will show it to their children so our descendents can remember Ken and his beautiful legacy of strength, determination, bravery and love. Thank you. Ernestine