My brother, Tom, was a passionate person, a learner. He threw himself into everything that he did. My brother’s list of achievements was impressive – wine maker, hotelier, businessman, community leader, artist. I believe he achieved what he did, not so much because of his ability but because of his passionate approach to life. Tom’s passionate nature served him well when he got sick. He studied cancer treatments and found the one that held the most promise. He fervently held hope for a cure.
Although raised in a strict Catholic family, Tom was a spiritual man so involved living life he had not spent much time worrying about life beyond this world. He didn’t go to church often as an adult, but he led a good life, and was good to the people around him. He felt that if he treated others well, was kind and honest, he had little to worry about. But when Tom got sick, his focus changed. He passionately began to consider all things spiritual. And he, once again, had amazing results. I’d like to share with you an experience he had when I was with him towards the end, for I believe you will take great comfort from it too.
It was Thursday of Holy Week, ten days before Tom died. He had come home from the hospital the day before. He honestly was very low, almost silent, sleeping fitfully most of the afternoon. I joined him in his ocean-side room, a small and cozy place he had designed himself. Through the large glass windows the view was stunning, and we’d raised the bed so that he could still see the waves. Sitting by him, I asked, “Would you like to pray with me?”
Shaking his head, he answered, “I am.” So I prayed silently next to my brother who dozed and prayed silently.
Later that afternoon my husband John and I were standing by his bed when Tom awoke suddenly. He lifted his head from the pillow and stared straight ahead, his eyes bulging, locked on the far wall. I looked at the wall too, wondering what he saw. It was just a plain wall, adorned with pictures of his children. Was that what he was focusing on? After about 30 seconds, he flopped his head back on the pillow and said, “It was fantastic! Fantastic!”
At that very moment, his wife, Noreen, came in with the phone. It was the family priest, Father Spitzer, calling to share the news that Gonzaga University had given Tom their highest award for all that he had done as an alum. Everyone in the family gathered round his bed to hear the news. It felt good to see Tom so happy! After things had settled down a bit, I asked, “Tom, what was so fantastic? What were you looking at before? ” With tears in his eyes, my brother looked at John and me, “I saw heaven, Annie. I saw God!” He put his head back on the pillow, exhausted, and slept soundly for many hours.
When my brother awoke again, he was somehow different. Now don’t misunderstand me, he was still incredibly sick, close to death, honestly. But for the next few days, until Easter Sunday, Tom had amazing moments of energy, leaving his bed for the first time in days. Off and on his pain seemed almost to disappear. He thanked the people who were gathered in his house. He told them that he loved them. He told jokes. He offered each of us bits of advice. He said words that each of us will remember always.
On Good Friday, John and I needed to head home. Tom rushed out to say goodbye to John and me. Standing there, he hugged me, then slapped my check lightly, and with a twinkle in his eye, he said laughingly, "I'm going to beat you there!" It took me a moment to realize where he meant he was going, and to know how to respond. Heaven, he was saying he planned to beat me to heaven. But finally I looked him right in the eye, shook his hand and said, "Well, I'm going to meet you there." Shaking my hand, he sealed our agreement, saying, “Alright then." Ever the honest businessman, I am quite certain Tom has already met his end of the deal.
Tom died just a few days later. I know that fine care he received in his home surrounded by loved ones is a partial explanation for his energy. But I believe Tom’s experience gave him the grace to be able to live his last days in the way that he had lived his life. Confident of what lay ahead, Tom was truly able to be present there with us. Though I will miss my brother always, I will ever be grateful for having been a part of his amazing moments of grace.
~Ann Martin Bowler
Granite Bay, California