A father’s farewell
By Craig Dresang, CEO of YoloCares
Death is always a surprise. Rarely, is someone fully prepared for it, and few people expect it when it finally comes for them.
It was no different for Sammy Vana, a man who loved the water, being around people, and telling corny jokes. The day before he died, he told his hospice nurse that he might be one of those people who graduates out of hospice and gets better for a while. Neither he nor his wife would have guessed that he would be gone by dinnertime the following day.
After all, for a man who was terminally ill, he was remarkably joyful. He had just spent the last few months reconnecting with his enormous circle of friends and family, including old high school classmates, army buddies, former co-workers, fishing pals, and his five children and 13 grandchildren. His reunion with the past and present provided him with a lingering rich warm glow that was at once deeply meaningful and healing.
Even though Vana did not expect to die on that Tuesday afternoon, he did prepare for his eventual departure. He wrote a letter to those who were in his tribe of friends and family. That letter eventually made his passing easier for him and for those who loved him. It reads:
My dear family and loved ones:
I’m almost dead. Anyway, that’s what my doctor tells me. I’ve not been sure how much I should share with you about my never-ending illness. But now my illness is ending and it’s taking me with it, so I have a few things to say and to request.
After 75 years on Planet Earth, this lousy body has decided to turn against me and poop out. I’m not sure how much time I have left and I’m not sure it matters too much. What does matter to me is what I’m leaving behind and what I do with each minute I’m given from this moment forward.
My doctor told me that I might qualify for a clinical trial. I know, however, that a phase one clinical trial means they are likely testing the toxicity of a drug that will do more harm than good. I told my doctor that I am not interested in being a Guinea pig. I also don’t want to put up a prolonged fight when I’m not sure what I would be fighting for. It’s not in me to fight to the bitter end because I don’t believe the end has to be bitter. I don’t want to fight for a few more breaths if it means prolonging my suffering or my family’s anguish. Death is inevitable — for all of us.
Even if an experimental drug or another invasive surgery would extend my life by a little, I am certain that it would also extend my suffering by a lot. At this tender time in my life, quality is much more important than quantity. I’ve had a fair portion of quantity and up until recently the quality of my life has been remarkable. My family and friends — and even my foes — have intentionally and unintentionally made my life richer. A life that is filled with a trail of love, friendship, lessons, joys, heartbreaks, stretch marks, challenges overcome, struggles lost, and mystery is a life worth living. It is also a life that deserves gratitude from me, especially now.
I want you to know that I have made a decision to transition into hospice care by next week. It is not a decision I made lightly. I’ve come to this conclusion with a clear mind that is functioning much better than the rest of my body. This has not been an easy decision, but I want you to be assured that it is the best decision for me.
There are no words to describe how much I will miss you all. I am so very grateful for your presence in my life and for the innumerable ways you have supported me, laughed with me, been present with me, been patient with me, and loved me. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! You have made a difference in my life. You have made my life special and worthwhile.
Now, I want you — my friends and family — to come see me while you can. I want to say goodbye. I want to thank you. I want to laugh with you again. I want to reminisce about the crazy old days or the special memories we share. I want to hear how I made a difference in your life, what I meant to you, or how I pissed you off. This will be the best medicine for me. It might not cure my disease, but it will help me feel better and be better too.
Life is a wild and fragile adventure … and I’ve made it through as far as I am supposed to go. I don’t know what’s on the other side, but I have a strong feeling this adventure will continue. As sad as I am to leave you, there is a part of me that is looking forward to whatever is next. If I could come back to tell you what happens you know I would, but I’m pretty sure you will have to take this same journey to meet me on the other side.
Whatever I brought or added to your life will still be here. It doesn’t go away. My body is failing me but any light that I carried into this world will remain. I am certain of that. Love each other. Forgive each other. Celebrate and appreciate each other. See you soon.