My Story About Eric’s Last Days
This is the piece I wrote about Eric for his Memorial on April 29th, that was read so beautifully by Diane Tower-Jones.
At the end of life, things get really simple.
Did I say and do what I wanted to?
Did I become the person I wanted to be?
When Eric went into hospice the first time in 2014, he asked himself those questions and his answers were a resounding “no.” No, I haven’t done what I came here to do.
At hospice, he made it clear to everyone he planned to get well and go home. To everyone’s astonishment, he did just that. He made a miraculous 180 degree turn and went home. He played golf. He built his business. He paid more attention to his true priorities.
But let me back up.
JUST ONE PROBLEM
This journey with Eric has been a long and winding road. Just so you know, Eric was the kind of person who went to the doctor about every 25 years. In 2012 Eric’s pain became a central part of our lives. Despite my pleas to have his pain checked out, he didn’t. So finally, I did the most loving thing I could think of — I took him to the doctor. He was immediately referred to a urologist, who informed Eric that he didn’t have much time to live, and he should get his affairs in order. After spending time over the 2013 holidays in Pardee Hospital, Eric was released to Elizabeth House in early 2014.
There was just one problem.
Eric wasn’t ready to die. He had things yet to do.
Late one evening in hospice, when things were especially gloomy, I reached out to a hospice nurse. I asked her if anyone ever came out of hospice alive.
She paused for a good while. Then she said, “Yes, I have seen it, but it’s rare.”
I asked her to tell me a little more about that.
She said, “It’s like this. If a soul isn’t ready to go, the soul doesn’t go. Something will happen. Something will happen that makes no sense to the doctors. It’s not logical. No one will be able to explain it.”
Then she smiled and said, “This makes the nurses very happy.”
A MIRACLE. FOLLOWED BY A TRIAL RUN.
As people were stopping by to say their goodbyes, Eric continued to inform his visitors that he was getting better and going home. Those of us around him smiled politely because we “knew better.” There seemed to be such clear evidence that he wasn’t going home. It seemed impossible.
Then, we began to witness a miracle.
He seemed to re-enter his body. He woke up. He was more present. He asked to have his nasogastric tube removed. The nurse could hardly speak.
When she found words, she finally said, “Here at hospice, we follow your wishes. If you want it out, we’ll take it out. I just want you to be fully aware that we don’t put nasogastric tubes back in.”
Eric once again assured her that he wanted the tube out.
The nurse nodded. “OK, as a first step, how about if we turn off the pump for a few hours and see how you do with that?”
To everyone’s total astonishment, step one went well. They even did a second trial run which was also successful, and they removed the tube.
With the tube gone, Eric announced that he was hungry and wanted food. The nurse immediately brought him a tray of clear liquids. He drank juice and milk, but declared the broth un-drinkable.
He politely repeated his request for real, solid food.
So, the nurse brought him a complete meal, which he happily consumed. After 11 days total, he graduated from Hospice and prepared to go home.
As I was helping him into the car, a nurse expressed her astonishment about how he was expected to die, but had surprised everyone.
Eric smiled and said with a twinkle, “Good thing I didn’t get the memo!”
A THREE YEAR BONUS
When we got home, Eric and I talked for the rest of the morning. That morning is one of my favorite times I ever spent with him in our 17 years together. We had a “fall-down-funny” conversation about how being in total denial can work to one’s advantage. Eric didn’t remember the talks with the doctors, or the results of x-rays or MRI’s that were presented to him. He never believed in the diagnosis he had been given. Sometimes, not getting the memo can be a fortunate thing.
Eric was able to live a little more than 3 years after that. What a gift that was. He ate his favorite foods, played golf, visited with more friends, and said “I love you” more often. He built his LifeVantage business. That’s what he wanted to do, and that’s what he did.
HONOR – WHAT IS THAT?
I’ve learned a lot living with Eric. For one thing, it is clear to me that Eric had honor. To have honor means that you do the right thing, whether or not you “feel like it.” The personality doesn’t guide you. Instead, higher consciousness leads the way.
During the years that Eric was in severe pain, I cannot begin to tell you how many times he did what he considered to be “the right thing” even though he could easily and rightfully have said, “I don’t feel like it…”
Given the same circumstances, I would have thrown in the towel years ago. Eric is the strongest, most determined person I’ve ever met.
OUR LAST CONVERSATION
At 3:38 am on March 25, the day he passed away, he called to me from his bed. He couldn’t say words, but he could make sounds. I went to his side and said, “Hi sweetheart. It’s me, Terri.”
He lifted his eyebrows as if he was seeing me with his inside eyes. That was his way of telling me he knew I was there. I held his hand to see what he wanted to communicate. I listened. He went on and on in an urgent way.
When he quieted, I took my turn. I reassured him that it was OK with me for him to go, that I would be fine and that I had loved my life with him. I thanked him for everything I could think of, especially for loving me, for being with me, for laughing with me. I went on and on. There was such sweetness between us.
He was silent, but I am sure he heard every word, because his eyebrows told me. I reminded him that big families of people loved me and would look after me. Our Unity family of a few hundred people, for instance. And Womansong (my choir in Asheville) — another 75 women. Then there was his family and my family, and his friends and my friends. I would be well taken care of and well loved, I assured him. I would find my way, with the help of all these generous people. Our conversation lasted 30 beautiful minutes.
WHEN HE LEFT HIS BODY
I went back to my bed and rested, but didn’t sleep. About 8:30 am., my favorite hospice nurse, Heather Beckett and I were helping Eric be more comfortable. After that was finished, Heather and I walked out of the room together, and Eric passed away in the one minute between us leaving and the next nurse coming in.
The nurses asked my daughter MacKenzie and me if we wanted to spend a few minutes with Eric before they cleaned and changed him. We said yes. I will never forget the feeling in the room when we walked in. I would call it boundless joy and tumbling love all wrapped into one. Whatever it was, it was big. The intense joy caused both of us to stop and feel it fully.
MacKenzie’s eyes went on high beam as she turned to me and said, “Mom, do you FEEL that?”
I said, “Yes, I had not expected this…”
But there it was — big, beautiful joy! Free-as- a-bird-joy! We basked in it, we bathed in it, we felt the presence of Divine love. Eric was no longer in a single location, he was everywhere!
After the nurses freshened everything, MacKenzie, her husband John and I spent a luxurious amount of time with Eric. In all my years, I had never done that before. I had never spent time with a person after they had passed.
With Eric, I wanted to do things differently.
Caroline Yongue and Ruth Ostrenga of The Center for End of Life Transitions helped us do things differently. They taught us how to wrap him, similar to how you might swaddle a baby. We wrapped Eric in his favorite blanket and placed beautiful woodland flowers in his hands and on his heart. We also put his favorite slippers on, because Eric had a THING about wearing slippers. He never walked anywhere without his slippers. We told stories, we laughed, we cried, and we thanked Eric for all that we loved most about him. It was beautiful. There was so much peace in the room.
WHAT WOULD ERIC SAY?
What would Eric want me to say to you on his behalf right now?
He would say, “Live your life.”
He would say, “Don’t spend much time on shoulds and musts and have to’s. Do what you want to do and give others the grand chance to get over themselves.”
He would say, “Speak your truth. Say what you mean and mean what you say.”
He would say, “Do what you came here to do. Be who you came here to be.”
Thank you for loving Eric.
Thank you for loving me through this journey, it has meant the world to me.
Nothing is more important than loving each other.