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A fruit grower and friend, Thomas W. Felten, was diagnosed with cancer in August 1992. It began in a salivary gland and progressed to most areas of his body. Initially he was treated with surgery and radiation. The condition continued to progress to the point he was considered terminal and no treatment was available to stop the disease.
In November of 1993 I asked Tom if he would be interested in attending the Death Education class when it began. He said he would be very interested in doing so if I felt it would benefit the kids to learn from a dying patient. When informed the class would not start until February 1994, he suggested he might not be around that long. Just in case, we agreed to do a recorded interview to be used in the class. The following is a transcription of that interview:
INTERVIEW WITH TOM FELTEN - 11/11/93
Question: Tom, please give us a history of the cancer from the very beginning so that everybody knows exactly what has is happening.
Tom: Okay. I started out having basically a bump on my salivary gland as a child and throughout my whole life. I went to the doctors and they told me not to worry about it. About a year and a half ago, Dr. Mayle decided that the only time it could become a problem if it affected my lip or my facial nerve. While on vacation it started pulling on my lip. So, I came home and went to the doctor. He sent me up to Albany.
Question: When was this, what time of the year?
Tom: This was July of 92. I went to Albany and had it looked at. They told me it was probably a benign tumor but it should be taken out because it was affecting my facial nerve. I was operated on in August and it turned out to be a malignant tumor; a very high-grade malignant tumor. They were very concerned it would affect my chest area and, perhaps, my lungs. So, I had some radiation done to my face, both sides of my face and my neck as well. In April of 93 I had some back problems. Through testing they found out the cancer had metasticised into my bone in my back. We went and had some radiation done to take care of that. I went on to a chemotherapy program which didn't work. Low and behold now I've got brain tumors. It has gone to my brain as well as my liver and other parts of my spine as well.
Question: Do you feel any of these tumors?
Tom: Yea, I'm feeling them now! I'm certainly feeling them now.
Question: There are so many of them. Which do you feel and what does it feel like?
Tom: Right now what is bothering me the worst are the two that are on my rib cage. I have one on each side of my rib cage and up toward my sternum. That's what is giving me the pain. The brain tumors have no pain whatsoever.
Question: And, there is nothing to the liver tumor?
Tom: Nothing to the liver, right now.
Question: What about your back?
Tom: Well, the back is the spine and the ribs and that stuff. Where I originally had it in the back there is no pain there now.
Question: In your opinion, with these cancers continuing to grow and all that, how much time do you think you have before you are going to die?
Tom: When I originally got the brain tumor they told me it would be probably six months. With everything else, I probably would say, maybe four. Maybe less.
Question: Would you describe how you felt when you first were given... I mean the doctors told you that you had a certain time to live, right? Could you describe exactly what happened then, and how you felt about it?
Tom: Just like totally blown away, I guess. That is the only way I can say it.
Question: How did they tell you that you had a certain time to live?
Tom: Well, I ask them, I said, "So, what does this mean? Do I have like two years?" And, they shook their heads. I said, "Well, maybe a year?" And, he shook his head. And I said, "Well jeez, what do I have?" And he said, "You know, maybe six months; six months to a year, perhaps, depending upon how fast things progress."
Question: When you heard those words, "six months," did you sit silently, or did you say something back.
Tom: No, I pretty much just sat there silently. And, my wife was very upset, obviously. She kind of was crying and everything. But I just, just like disbelief. I guess, I guess that's the way you could put it, you know.
Question: This certainly has changed your life. If you had to describe some of the behavioral changes that you've made, what would they be?
Tom: Finally admitting that I've got something that is a big problem. Because, up until this point, I have been able to set it aside, and have been fairly uncomfortable with it, but could place it out of my mind. Now I think it's just...I've had to deal with it more, and deal with a lot of things, and resigned myself to the fact this is what you are going to have and you had better start doing what you gotta do, and live each day kind of like it is your last day because you don't really know.
Question: How do you live differently?
Tom: I think I just appreciate things more. Like the changing of the leaves I noticed for the first time. This fall, you know, with the foliage and all that. You know, my kids and my wife, and stuff like that. Appreciation, I guess, is more.
Question: So, some of the things you took for granted, now you don't?
Question: You know you have a limited time to live. Providing you are able to function on a normal level, have plenty of money, how would you prefer to spend your time prior to your death?
Tom: With my wife and family.
Question: Would you travel or stay right here?
Tom: No! I have no desire to go anywhere or do anything. Just be with my family.
Question: No desire to spend any money, buy anything?
Tom: There is nothing I really want or don't have. In fact, I am fairly fortunate in that. There is nothing I really want.
Question: There is nothing where you had a goal set, like you wanted to go to a certain place or you wanted to do certain thing?
Question: We are going to talk about how you react or how you act at home here. Do you read more than you did before? Because you are inside now more than you have been.
Tom: Yea, I probably read a lot more than I did when I was working. But I always like to read.
Question: What sort of things do you read?
Tom: I read magazines, the paper, the Bible. People bring in stuff to read and I read it, you know, books. I am reading more but that is just because I am not able to do things.
Question: So you are occupying your time with reading.
Tom: Yes, but it's something I've always done anyway. Even when I did work and was busy I always enjoyed reading. So, I'm just doing more of it, let's put it like that.
Question: You described yourself as a religious man, is that correct? Do you pray more now than you did?
Question: Let's talk about your religion. Can you describe how you function in your religion, and what your religion is?
Tom: Well, I'm a Christian man, a Methodist. For the last 3 years I have been praying every day anyway. I read the Bible everyday before this happened and I'm not reading it any more and I'm not praying anymore. I am just continuing with my faith. Let's put it like that. It's not something that all of a sudden, "Yeah, I'm going to check the Lord out now because I'm heading out of here." It's not that situation at all.
Question: The Bible is this thick (2"), the one you are reading. You would think after reading it for three years, or four years, or five years, or how many years it is, you would have read it and covered it. Do you continue to reread things?
Tom: Sometimes. Sometimes you do. You get favorite scriptures or different Psalms, or different passages that seems to comfort you for certain situations. You'll refer back to them. But, I have not read the Bible from back to back. You know, there's a lot to it and I haven't done it. I'm working my way through it.
Question: How long do you think it would take if you had an unlimited time to read the Bible so you could discover anything you want out of it and don't want to read it anymore?
Tom: I don't really know, I could not tell you. Maybe five years. With the Bible you always find something different. You can read the same passage for one incidence and interpret it one way, and then you will read it again six months later and you will see something else there applying to your life, or people's lives around you different.
Question: Regarding your disease, do you see things in the Bible now that you didn't see before, or do you like to read it?
Tom: No, no. I just don't see anything in there about the disease or anything like that.
Question: Have you finally found you have shifted from your own needs to a concern for others?
Tom: Maybe a little more. I think I have always tried to consider other people's feelings throughout my life. Yeah, I would say in certain instances, more, yes.
Question: Do you have any examples of that?
Tom: I think my brother...
Question: What does that mean?
Tom: I think I have changed my attitude toward him and I think that his attitude has changed, and it's much more. It's a better relationship then it was. It has grown a whole lot. Let's put it like that.
Question: Where does he live?
Tom: He lives in Wappingers (New York).
Question: So, up until the time when you got cancer, it was a strained relationship?
Tom: No, not strained. I always thought he could do more and I underestimated his abilities. He really has been there for me, and he has shown a lot more than what I thought he had.
Question: So he is doing a lot more with you now then he did before?
Tom: Oh, yeah! We've shared more in a month and a half then we shared in the last five years. It's a great relationship.
Question: It's too bad the impending death had to bring that out. The disease did this right?
Tom: I guess, but I really don't know. It just got to the point where I told him, "You know you cannot run from this. You've got to be there for me." And, boy he has really been there!. It wasn't strained to begin with. It was a good relationship, but it is much better.
People have been around. You know, people are real good. A lot of friends and stuff have stopped by. So, I think I've reached out more. Maybe they have reached out more. So, I guess in answer I can say, "Yes." I am more concerned for other people.
Question: Have you found yourself trying to tie up loose ends and complete projects? What are some of the things you have done there?
Tom: Just making sure all my - well, I am in business with my father-in-law - making sure the business is straightened away in terms of when I do pass, and getting my wills and my real estate, my state planning in order, you know, trying to get all the stuff done for my wife so it's easier on her. I am making my own funeral arrangements and stuff like that, so it makes it as easy on her and the family as possible.
Question: Have you ever tried to do one very important thing. Is there any one particular thing that you recall that...
Tom: No, no.
Question: Well now, general description: If you had to describe what your concept is of "death" what would you say?
Tom: My concept of death? I cease to exist. I mean one day I am here and the next day I'm gone. I am on my way to somewhere else.
Question: Okay, that's important. In other words, it's not just oblivion?
Tom: No, it's not oblivion. Definitely not!
Question: You believe you are going somewhere else?
Tom: Yeah, I'm going to heaven. I know it! I don't even doubt that. There is no doubt in my mind.
Question: How often do you think of your own death?
Tom: Not often.
Question: So, right now, in the midst of all these tumors and everything, you don't sit here and think, "Hey, wow!" You don't do that?
Tom: Not often at all.
Question: How many times a day?
Tom: Sometimes maybe once. No, I don't dwell on it at all.
Question: You watch TV. You watch films on TV. Have you noticed any changes in what films you like?
Question: Are there any films you don't like?
Tom: I tend to see the violence on TV more, I think. And the stupidity of the fires in California and people cutting penises off, and stuff like that. It's ludicrous! The world is out of control sometimes. I see that more as being garbage. Maybe I was too busy before to notice that. It's stuff like that. It's ridiculous! Some people are out of control. It doesn't offend me, but I won't tolerate watching it either.
Question: How about movies of people with cancer, or people dying. Does that have any influence?
Question: Whether you watch it or not it's no different than it was before?
Tom: No, I don't think so.
Question: Not related to this major problem you have, how close have you come to dying in your life time?
Tom: I had a collapsed lung in 1978, and I walked around for 24 hours. So I was pretty - I wasn't on my death bed, but if I had gone much more I guess I would have been in some trouble. I would guess that would have been the closest I was, that I know about.
Question: How long ago was that?
Tom: In 1978.
Question: You say you don't think about this (death) very often, but when you do think about it do you get emotional? Do you cry?
Question: Do you cry by yourself?
Tom: No, it's pretty much with my wife.
Question: Are you ever alone?
Tom: Alone with myself? Oh yeah.
Question: Because when I've come here there have been a lot of people here most of the time. There are times when your sitting here alone.
Tom: Oh, definitely! I spend a good share of the day alone, sometimes.
Question: When you are alone do you ever break out in tears?
Question: So most of the crying is done with somebody else?
Question: And most of it is done with your wife?
Question: Would you say you are afraid of death at all?
Tom: Not at all.
Question: So it would be like a non-existent fear, if you had to describe it?
Tom: It's not a fear, no.
Question: In general people are afraid of death. This is a general trait in our society. Just as a matter of curiosity, what age do you think people are the most afraid of death?
Tom: I would say when they get older, perhaps, maybe like fifty.
Question: Why do you think people - and this is a very powerful thing: People really do fear death - why do you think they fear death? What is it about it that causes this fear?
Tom: Well, their faith isn't as strong as mine. They don't know where they're going. They don't know whether there is some place to go. And they may think they're going to Hell or whatever. I truly think the lack of religion is why people fear it. Because nobody has gotten out of here without dying yet! So, everybody is going to die. That's a fact. To have the consolation to know where you're going is a better place then where you are at makes me not even fear it.
Question: Over the past years I have kept a list everytime I think of one, or have come across a reason why people fear death. I want to go down that list and see if you would discuss any of them as far as how you regard it. The one thing you have already discussed is that people don't know what death is. Death is an unknown and anything that is unknown is scary and you might be fearful of it. Loneliness, some people fear death because they feel they are going to get lonely. They are not going to be able to go to work. People are not going to come to visit them, and that sort of thing. Do you have any comments on that?
Tom: I guess that would be a valid fear, if you were afraid. It isn't a consideration for me. Let's put it like that.
Question: How about being isolated, along the loneliness line, being isolated in a hospital?
Tom: I think that would make people afraid.
Question: But, you don't think you are going to be isolated in a hospital?
Question: The third one was there may be great sorrow. You may not be able to tolerate the death experience, the actual coming upon it. There is a lot of sorrow connected with it. People do not like sorrow. How about that?
Tom: I think sorrow from my family's standpoint hurts me. That is the biggest, not even a fear, it's just a - that's the part of it that people feel the most, I think. That I am not going to be here or whatever. They fear that sorrow. It's not a big one, I guess.
Question: Okay. In other words, you are going to suffer great losses: Your family and your friends.
Tom: Yeah, I feel bad about that, believe me!
Question: It's not making you fearful but is making you concerned?
Tom: That's a concern, definitely.
Question: You don't like to use that word, "fear"?
Tom: No, because I am not fearful.
Question: Suffering body loss?
Tom: What I got right now ain't worth a whole hell of a lot anyway, so. I'm not downtrodden or all goofed up yet.
Question: Are you fearful of the fact - and I don't want to stick that word in your head but - are you worried about the fact...
Tom: I am worried about the fact that I could become a burden to others. That bothers me more than anything. It's something that is out of my control. You know I've got a great wife who is very intelligent and keeps telling me the right things. I'm stupid sometimes, and pig-headed. You know, "Why don't you get a cane to walk with?" "No, I don't need a cane!" Well, I've got a cane, you know. And, she's right. So, there is a lot of things that she is helping me through that I don't want to do. Whether it's a macho-type image or whatever. But I'm needing them so. And they work. You know, they help out. I'm learning not to be quite as macho, I guess. That's a corny-type phrase. I'm learning to take my medication. Let's put it like that. I'll do things that are going to help me out rather than the image I might present.
Question: Okay. Another thing that contributes to this fear of death is that there could be suffering and pain. Are you concerned about that?
Tom: Somewhat. You know I've got some pain right now that can pain pretty good. I am just hoping that I don't, you know.
Question: But you take stuff, don't you?
Question: How does that help you?
Tom: Well, it does get rid of the pain. So, I'm hoping they can get rid of my pain and I can be comfortable as I can be until the time comes when I am not going to be.
Question: Along those same lines, you probably can't get rid of the pain totally but you may become a zombie on narcotics. Are you concerned about that?
Tom: No, I guess I'll be a zombie because you can't take the pain. There is no sense being in pain in this day and age. It would be a concern of mine to be a zombie for a long period. Once again, not for myself but just being a burden to others. Drugs are good. They're going to do what they got to do as long as I didn't become a long-term type, bed-ridden, just zorked up with drugs. I don't want that.
Question: Another reason why people tend to fear death is because they realize that they are going to be grieving. You are going to be grieving, because you are loosing a lot of people. I feel badly because I am loosing one person. Do you have any comments on that?
Tom: No, I guess not. Maybe I don't understand what you mean.
Question: You are going to leave the Earth and every relationship you have, your wife, your son, your daughter, everything. Everything must go for you. For me, one person is going and that is you. Some people get very fearful when they realize they are terminating all these relationships.
Tom: Yeah, but there are a lot of relationships that I am going to be seeing again, too. There are people that have died before me that I believe I am going to be in company with. I've lost a daughter, and maybe that's why I don't fear it so much because I just feel I am going to be with her too, as well as my parents and other people that I know that have passed.
Question: We have already addressed the prevalent attitude there may not be an afterlife. People are afraid of death in case, as you are saying, if it is not true. But you said before, "If it isn't true, so what?"
Tom: So What! Then it just, that will be it. When it's over, it's over and it is done.
Question: And the last one is that you are not able to accomplish some of the tasks and goals you had in your lifetime.
Tom: I feel bad about that. I feel bad about not being able to probably raise my kids as far as I would like to. That's what bothers me the most, and being short-changed with the relationship with my wife. We have been married seventeen years, but we definitely looked forward to being married a lot more than that. The kids, I think, are still terribly young. Stephanie is thirteen and Thomas is ten. There are a lot of baseball games that I won't be able to go to.
Question: Are you still able to laugh and joke around?
Tom: Oh, yeah.
Question: When people come to visit do they try to treat you like you were a long time ago, or do they treat you now because you finally have a terminal disease?
Tom: Some do, some don't. Some people, it's funny, some people will handle it like there is nothing wrong. They will just come up and talk about, you know, whatever is going on. And there are some people that are genuinely concerned and let their feeling be known. For the most part everybody is real good. They keep it upbeat, you know, no pity parties.
Question: You know Elizabeth Kubler Ross came out with her famous five stages of dying> What is your opinion on that?
Tom: I don't really know.
Question: Okay, then I will get specific with that. Do you remember at any time did you deny you had this illness?
Tom: Maybe when I first got it and they operated on me. I may have tried to deny it the severity of it. Because, really, the job that they did in two weeks I was back going full bore., like nothing had happened. I was able to get that out of my mind pretty easily. Yes, and maybe that was denial. I don't think denial. I just underestimated it, let's put it like that.
Question: Do you remember an examples of being angry?
Tom: Not other than normal.
Question: Have you ever, like for an instance, when this was happening and the doctor said something, did you ever get ticked off at the doctor's opinion or mad at any of the doctors?
Tom: I just felt that I couldn't catch a break. It just seemed that every time I went back to the doctor something else was wrong, or I just couldn't catch a break. You know, I had done everything that I could do to make it correct and it just wasn't happening. Everything just went the wrong way, let's put it like that. There were short periods of anger but not really big time anger. I just don't think that's something I can influence anyway. I am not happy about it. But, that is the way it goes.
Question: The bargaining stage...
Tom: It didn't exist.
Question: You never said to God, "Please, help me out of disease." or anything like that?
Tom: It didn't exist.
Question: And how about depression?
Tom: Once and a while, but not bad at all.
Question: What do you do to overcome it?
Tom: Just don't do anything. Just try to get through it. It passes. Hopefully my wife is around. She can get me out of it real easy.
Question: The last stage is acceptance, where you just go along with everything.
Tom: That's probably where I'm at.
Question: Of all those which do you think you have been in the most, even if you have moved back and forth from one to another?
Tom: Certainly not denial. Certainly not depression. And certainly not bargaining. I don't know what else there is. Acceptance, I guess. Not anger.
Question: You gave me the idea before that you would like to die here in the house rather than not at home. Why is that?
Tom: Just because this is where I want to be. This is my home, you know, where my family is.
Question: Is there a chance that won't happen?
Question: Would you say it is a good chance?
Tom: I don't really know. I don't really know.
Question: The option is what?
Tom: Probably a hospital. If that happens, then it happens.
Question: What do you know about Hospice, Ulster County Hospice?
Tom: Not a lot. I'm going to find out tomorrow, or Monday they are coming out.
Question: Oh, did you just call them? Explain why you did?
Tom: I didn't, Lynnie did. I didn't really speak to them. They have death programs available and people available, and I thought I would probably try them. But, I did not talk with them.
Question: I would be interested in finding out what your opinion is after you have been with them for a while. I mean I don't even say that they are do anything like that. I would be interested to hear what you have to say. Are they coming once a week?
Tom: They are coming out Monday to talk with me, and then I guess we will go from there.
Question: Okay, about euthanasia, what do you think about that?
Tom: I think, I guess I don't really believe in that.
Tom: No, no.
Question: Do you think the people that have practiced euthanasia, like the ones that have dealt with Dr. Kevorkian, have that privilege, that it is okay for them to have been messing around with their own lives?
Tom: I don't think they should have been messing with their own lives, but that is up to them, I guess. It certainly not something that I would do and I don't think it's correct.
Question: Okay, let's talk along the lines of suicide. Give me your philosophy on that.
Tom: I would never do it.
Question: Why not?
Tom: It is not for me to decide. I am here for a purpose and for a time and I can't control that. That's out of my control. You know, I could do it. I guess anybody could do it, but I think it would be a stupid move. And they have asked me, the doctors have asked me if you consider suicide. "What are you crazy?"
Question: Why did they ask you then, to help you or to stop you?
Tom: I think they asked me just from the fact that they know that I am terminal, and they know there are people that probably do it. But, why ask me? I don't know why. I think it is something they ask with, giving you medication so that they know that you are not going to O.D. on medication or something.
Question: Do you mean they are asking you what your feelings are on suicide to determine whether they should give you medication?
Tom: I am only guessing that, George. What I am saying is that I have been asked if I have considered suicide, or if I have had suicidal thoughts, to which I answered them, "No!" But, I think they need to know that so that, I don't know why. I don't really know why they would ask it but I have been asked it.
Question: Is it possible that they wanted to help you commit suicide if you had said yes?
Tom: No, I don't think so. No, I doubt that. I doubt that. No. I think it was more or less a general-type question which may have been influenced by people being down and out or realizing, you know, when you are told you are going to die, people may go off. I think it's more of a general-type question.
Question: What if things got so bad for you would you ever consider it then?
Question: In other words, you are so strong going against that no matter what came along...
Tom: I couldn't do it. I couldn't do it. It is not for me to take my life.
Question: Would you say that suicide should be prevented in all cases than?
Tom: Because of my religion I would say yes.
Question: If someone were to come in this house with a loaded revolver and aim it at your wife, to save her life you jumped in front of her and got shot, that is a form of suicide.
Tom: I would do that. I think of suicide as being me taking a gun to my head, or me taking an overdose, or jumping out in front of a Mack truck at ninety miles per hour, or going scuba diving without a tank, or something. Me, trying to save somebody else's life and giving my life is not suicide. I think right now, if I was driving down the road I would be more apt to put my life in danger to help somebody out more than I would have in the past. Because I feel if I could save somebody's life I would do it. I mean I've done it before. I have pulled people out of cars and trucks. I have put my life on the line more than once. I think I would be more apt to do it now.
Question: Because your life is shortened?
Tom: Yes, most definitely. Which I don't think is strange, but...
Question: Well, let's say you had your choice and you were going back a year or two, how would you prefer to die?
Tom: I guess just a heart attack, or just boom and you are gone. I don't know! I really don't know, George. This has been hard and it is hard, but it has given me an opportunity to get things straight, hopefully before I do go, so in that respect I feel lucky. And, I think it is much more devastating to somebody to be here today and tomorrow be gone. But I don't have a preference now.
Question: So, you're saying basically that there is some good in this whole thing.
Tom: I can find some good in it. It's consolation, I guess. It's not good. It's given me an opportunity to get some stuff straightened away, and make sure certain things are done. In that respect it is good. The fact that I am dying is not good.
Question: Another thing you said before it that it is slowly letting you really see what life is all about.
Tom: Oh, definitely.
Question: Which you may never have done?
Tom: No, probably not. I've never really have stopped to smell the roses, quote, or whatever, or smell the coffee, or whatever. I think as you get older you do that but it has been different, that's for sure. But, it hasn't been easy because you know you have missed out on some stuff, you know, in that respect.
Question: Now I notice you have shifted in your seat and you are now sitting up and using your cane to hold your torso up. Why? Is there a lot of pain?
Tom: I am in some pain, not a lot, just being uncomfortable and, you know.
Question: There is no position you can find that is better than sitting in a chair?
Tom: Not right now.
Question: Laying down is worse?
Tom: I can't lay down!
Question: What do your kids know about your condition?
Tom: Pretty much all of it. My daughter knows everything. My son knows everything except the time frame.
Question: You have kept that from him for what reason?
Tom: I don't think he is old enough to deal with it.
Question: So what would happen if he found out?
Tom: He would have to deal with it and I would have to explain it in a way that he could. I am hoping that he doesn't.
Question: And, of course, your wife knows everything, she has been included in all sides?
Tom: She has been excellent.
Question: Can you describe any death that has bothered you other than your own?
Tom: My daughter's.
Question: Can you explain and go through that a little bit?
Tom: Basically, she was a, she was our second child and everything was fine until the sixth or seventh month, or eighth month, I can't remember now. They thought Lynnie was having twins and they sent us to the hospital for a sonogram. They never came in to get me to look at the pictures, but I just guess they had maybe forgotten. So we went home and the next day we had an appointment with the baby doctor-type guys, the pediatrician. Then he basically told Lynnie and I the baby was going to die from anecephaly. And he blew us right away. He just came out with it and, boom, Lynnie had to walk around, I think, a month and a half, maybe two months with that baby, knowing when that baby was born it was going to die, because the part of the brain that controls bodily functions, like the heart and the basic stuff, didn't ever form. Other than that the baby was fine. She was born. She went into labor and she lived about forty to forty-five minutes and than passed away. It certainly deeply affected both of us, and I think more me than her, although she didn't have an easy time with it. I just had a real hard time with it.
Question: Where was the baby when it died?
Tom: In the hospital, with me.
Question: Were you there too? Were you with the baby?
Question: You mentioned before that you believe when you die and go to Heaven you will see the baby. This may be a hard question to answer but, will the baby be like you saw it when it died?
Tom: No, I don't think the baby will have any pain, it will just be a baby. It won't have any pain like me. I will have a new body, or maybe I won't have a body, but I am not sure what I'll have. But, I won't have pain. My being will be there and her being will be there, and I think we will be able to reunite. Sometimes I even wonder if she needs me and this is why this is all happening to me. I really don't know. There is only one person that knows. We will all find out sooner or later.
Question: So, what would you say the worst memory of your daughter's death was?
Tom: Probably watching her expire. And just the pain and suffering in my wife's eyes.
Question: You are sitting in a place and observing people come in to talk and interact with you more then ever before. Normally you are out on the farm working and now you are sitting here. You have a parade of relatives and friends. Can you describe some of the different reactions they have had?
Tom: Everything from total emotional breakdown, I guess. Or just babbling, crying which I think I cannot deal with that. Pity parties, I don't want a pity party. To someone that comes in with humor and that can talk to you intelligently about it and realize you've got feelings. There are things you want to talk about, and there are funny things that go on. To the guys I hunt with and play ball with that were totally goofing on you, like, "Well, you're going to be out of here soon anyway." It all helps. There are other people that will come in like there is nothing wrong. I think you run the gamut from A to Z.
Question: Can you give me some concrete examples, not mentioning any names?
Tom: The electrician we have that did a lot of work on the farm, he will just come in and chat like there is nothing going on in New Paltz, what's going on with this one or that one and then he is out of here. And, you will get people that will come in and you can tell they are here for like three minutes, or four minutes, or ten minutes, and they are trying to deal with it but won't mention it. And, then they are out of here. To the guy that will come up and, I got a friend that will come up and was up last night. He's has been on some hard luck. He probably drank ten beers while he was here, you know. He smoked two packs of cigarettes and talked about old times. That's how he deals with it. Other people might come up and bring me ten dirty jokes to read. To people that will come and say they can't handle it and they start crying. That really turns me off.
Question: How do you react to all these different people?
Tom: I don't react adversely, only to the ones that babble like the babbling idiots that tell me that they can't deal with this, and it's so bad. Well, I'm the one that is dealing with it, guy! You know you have got to deal with it. You have no choice!
Question: What do you say to them?
Tom: I tell them, "I don't want any pity parties!"
Question: And what happens, do they usually shut up then?
Tom: They usually do. They usually do. I find myself counseling them more then them counseling me. But it is an adverse group, let's put it like that.
Question: Many people facing you are forced to look at their own death, and that is why they are bothered.
Tom: Is that right? I don't know. I guess.
Question: We go along as if we are immortal. You and I go along as if we are totally immortal. All of a sudden a friend of mine is not immortal. I have to look at that in myself. That is why people do not like to go to funerals.
Tom: Yea, I would guess that's it.
Question: Do you find people that have avoided you, people that you expected to come here but haven't?
Tom: Yes. Yes!
Question: Do you have any examples, again not mentioning any names?
Tom: I've got some fairly close colleagues and people that I have been in the business with for a good number of years that I know that are just so. Well, I am told they are so devastated by this news that they can't bear to face me. I believe that honestly they can't. But I think in time they will. The initial shock, maybe not. There have been people dribbling in and out, that it has taken then longer than others. There are certainly some people that can't deal with it, or deal with me, or deal with this whole situation. It's much easier to avoid it then to confront it.
Question: Except that it builds guilt in those people.
Tom: Exactly. Guilt in them and it builds, not anger in me, which is - I think it's a wimpy way. Sooner or later they are going to have to deal with it, and why not sooner? Besides the fact, if they came to see me I think they would feel better themselves.
Question: In what ways have you prepared for your death?
Tom: I don't really know, George. I have made certain contacts with people that I trust, and that I admire, and I have always tried to emulate my life after to help my wife make decisions that she may need to make, or help my kids. That's where I focused my attention.
Question: So, after you are gone you have a trusted group of soldiers that will take over and make sure that things will be as smooth as possible? So that is one way you have prepared, right? Financially how have you prepared?
Tom: Financially for some reason, and luckily, I have always tried to stick a little more than usual away. Insurance and stuff like that is all set. The wills have been made out before - just rehashing some stuff and getting some numbers together and dealing with some lawyers and with estate planning. There's enough to move around. In that respect I've done some stuff.
Question: Describe what you do in the business. What is your function?
Tom: I am a fifty percent partner in a fruit farm. Basically I have been buying the business from my in-laws, my father-in-law up until it got to this point. Obviously I am not buying any more this year. What we have to do now is we will have to reverse that cycle, and he will have to satisfy my family because of my immanent death or whatever.
Question: Have you been in communication with him? His feeling is that he will definitely buy the business back?
Tom: He has to. Yes, we are family anyway so it's not even a business-type thing. There is so much trust, and there always has been so much trust that I am not really worried about it. We do have to get some things done because Lynnie doesn't really want any part of it. She will get whatever I have and I don't want to hurt the business as well. The business still has to function.
Question: Who will run it if you're not here?
Tom: He will run it until he decides to get rid of it, I guess.
Question: And this property that you are living on here is your own property and Lynn will continue to live on the farm?
Tom: No, this is ours. This does not belong to the farm.
Question: Oh, but you will continue to live in this house?
Tom: Of course.
Question: Did you mention before about planning your funeral?
Tom: We will do that tomorrow.
Question: What do you expect to do?
Tom: What do I expect to do?
Question: In other words, you are going to have choices to make. So, what choices do you expect to make?
Tom: I am just going to realize that picking out, I guess, the casket right? And, tell them my wishes, what I want done.
Question: Which are what?
Tom: Just whatever, I mean you know, keep me closed and have people come visit or whatever. Take me to Modena and put me in the ground.
Question: Okay, so you want to be buried in Modena Rural Cemetery?
Question: Before you go on this venture tomorrow, what is your opinion on the costs of funerals?
Tom: I have no idea on what it is going to cost.
Question: Overall do you think funerals are a bargain? Do you think they are overpriced? Do you think they are underpriced?
Tom: I don't know, George. I couldn't tell you. What does a funeral cost, three or four thousand dollars I would assume.
Question: The biggest item is the casket. You can get caskets for less than $100 to many thousands of dollars. What do you shoot for?
Tom: Probably the middle of the road I would say. Definitely not in a suit and a tie. That's not my style.
Question: As a last thing, I would like you to leave a few words for some of the kids that will be in future Death Ed. classes. And, possibly you could include in those words something about how you would live your life again if you had to do it all over or anything along those lines.
Tom: I would say not to be afraid to try anything because I have never feared trying something even though people may say it didn't work, or this was not smart or whatever. If you feel strong about it, try it. Go through with it and then make intelligent decisions. And, stop and maybe smell the roses more. If your happy, do what makes you feel happy. Don't be afraid to try anything. Or, if you can find somebody like I found, a woman like I have, or a man, you would just be so happy. Happiness is out there. You have just got to find it. But you have to have a commitment. You cannot give up easily. I guess that would be my main thing to tell them is not to give up. Be dedicated to something and when you say you are going to do something stick with it. Don't give up after six months. And if you're going to get married, get married but try to work through your differences. Just don't blow it off and get a divorce. Just make a commitment and do it. Yeah, stop and look at the flowers once and a while.
The disease progressed and tumors developed in most parts of his body. The list included the brain (multiple), liver, spine, ribs, sternum, knees, and possibly, the pelvis. The treatment was aimed at preventing pain and reducing swelling. Morphine was administered and the dosage steadily increased. I conducted a follow-up interview using the same format as before:
Question: It is now 12/7/93, and maybe you could give us a short synopsis of what has happened to you since the last time I was here, as far as the cancer is concerned.
Tom: Well, I would say that the pain level has increased. They have upped my medication and the use of my legs is less than it was the last time we talked.
Question: At this point, how much time do you think you have before you are going to die?
Tom: I don't know.
Question: You still have no idea?
Tom: (Shakes head no.)
Question: What about appreciating things more now? Do you still maintain the same ideas that you said...
Tom: Yes, those same thoughts are with me and appreciation, sure.
Question: After all this pain, do you still have the same faith in God and the Methodist religion?
Tom: I sure do.
Question: Has your fear of death changed at all?
Question: No, not a fear at all?
Tom: Nope, not yet anyway.
Question: How about the fear of dying alone?
Tom: I have not really thought about that.
Question: What I'm getting at is: If the disease gets to the point where you have to be hospitalized, is the fear of being in a hospital the fact that someone may not be there when you die?
Tom: That does not bother me.
Question: Are you planning on saying good-bye to your family?
Tom: I don't know if I am going to know when to say good-bye. If I knew that it's time then, I guess, I would.
Question: And, would you call all of them in individually?
Tom: I would probably do it individually, if I knew when that time was coming.
Question: What would you think about leaving a tape - your own tape that has noting to do with this tape...
Tom: I've thought about it.
Question: For each member of the family?
Question: Are you going to do that?
Tom: I am still undecided.
Question: In getting rid of the pain, there seems to be a battle going on between how much medication you want to take and how much pain you are willing to tolerate. Why don't you just take the medication that you are supposed to take to get the pain gone?
Tom: Probably because it makes me too drowsy and not as sharp as I want to be. But, I am learning from my wife to take it. When I take it correctly it does work out better. I don't feel like being high twenty hours out of the day.
Question: How has Hospice worked out?
Tom: Very well, very well.
Question: So, do they come frequently?
Tom: The nurse will come anytime I want. She comes out once a week. They sent out a social worker to just introduce herself. She will come out anytime. They are really doing a good job.
Question: When you have been in excruciating pain, and you have been at times in very great pain, correct?
Question: What are your thoughts on suicide then?
Tom: They don't change.
Question: Okay, of the people that did not show up that you were talking about, you said that one...
Tom: One showed up this week!
Question: What was that experience like?
Tom: The disease was not talked about at all. It was what we have done in the past, what was going on now. It was an apple grower that showed up and we talked about the apple market, and the kids, and stuff like that. But, nothing was mentioned about the disease.
Question: Could you go over planning your funeral when you went to the funeral home?
Tom: Basically, what they did was like the obituary that you will see in the paper, or whatever. They wanted to get the spelling of the names correct, and your sisters and brothers, and how many kids, and stuff like that, what kind of service you would like, the visiting hours, and then they took you to the other room, or the garage. Then you looked at the caskets and choose one of them and then looked at the vault.
Question: What was your feeling on choosing a casket for yourself?
Tom: I was not impressed about that! That bothered me more than I thought it would. I can't tell you why. It was kind of like eerie.
Question: What about the price of the funeral?
Tom: I thought it was a lot more than I expected. We are talking, probably, around five-thousand dollars. That's pretty much middle-of-the-road type stuff, I guess.
Question: Why are you choosing to have a closed casket?
Tom: I have yet to see somebody look good dead! And, I don't want people standing over me and coming out and saying, "Oh! He looked good, he looked bad." Dead is dead. I don't want people gawking at me.
Question: The last question for today would be: Would you want your kids to have a copy of this tape and that transcript?
Tom: I would like to have it available to them through my wife, maybe. But not to give it to them right now. Maybe later on in life. Yes. but not right now.
On one of my visits Tom was asked if he could predict the day he would die. He could not. However, when asked if he would like to die on Christmas day he said he definitely would not, and if it looked like he would he would hold out. However, he did say his birthday was on December 26th! (There was some family concern about him dying on Christmas. Lynn did not want it to happen because it would destroy that holiday for years to come. Other family members pointed out the mother died on Christmas and that would be some sort of "sign from Heaven.")
Near the end Tom's wife informed me he had developed an intense fear of dying. He was afraid of being left alone. He did not want to leave life and fought dying to the end.
My last visit with Tom was on January 21,1994 the day before he died. He recognized me with a pointed finger and a, "Hello, George!" He said he was not doing too well. He admitted fearing death to me. He had lost weight and his face was drawn. His morphine was at a level of 150 mg. every 4 hours. My visit was at the end of the 4 hours. Even so, there was some pain and periodically his eyes would roll up, his lids would almost close, and his mouth was wide open. (After the each dose of morphine he would sleep for a considerable time.) The kids were in and out of the room but he still had not talked to them about his dying.
The next day Tom Felten died. Mucus built up in his throat and his breathing became labored. Finally, according to his wife, there was a rattle in the breathing, then a gasp. And then he stopped living forever. The funeral was huge!
In April 7, 1994, slightly more than two months after her husband died, Lynn Felten volunteered to talk to the Death Education class. She was in bereavement and displayed signs of grief. Her performance was magnificent. The kids were spellbound!
Q. Please describe the scene, with your reactions, feelings, etc., when you first learned that Tom had cancer in August of 92. That involved the cancer located in the neck area.
Lynn: The initial cancer did not have the full affect as when we found out he had the terminal cancer. The cancer was treatable. He was operated on and it was all done up in Albany (New York). We kept going back for check-ups and the results kept coming back suggesting everything was fine. It was not until April of last year (93) that he started having problems with his back. That was when they found the original cancer had spread to his back. After that they found it had gone to the brain and was throughout his body. We truly had hope for the initial cancer. It was when they said it was terminal that the truth took effect.
Q. You've read the transcript Tom made with me. He said quite a few things about you. What was your feeling about that?
Lynn: Well, Tommy was not a man who gave his feelings really openly and often. So, basically, some of the very nice things he said were truly a surprise. It was the things he did, things that he never expressed, like his caring for the children, and his outpouring of love; where some people are very affectionate and can show it, he was not one who always hugged and kissed or anything like that. A lot of the things that he said in the transcript, when he was talking to George, were things we may never have known had he not done that.
Q. During the interview I asked Tom, "When you heard those words, "six months," did you sit silently or did you say something back?" He replied, "No, I pretty much just sat there silently. And, my wife was very upset, obviously. She kind of was crying and everything. But I just, just like disbelief, I guess. I guess that's the way you could put it, you know." Is this really the way it happened?
Lynn: That's exactly what happened. The doctor was saying that to him. He just sat there and was like, "Wow! That's all I have is six months." I was the one who was so upset that I had to get up and actually walk out of the room in order to control myself.
Q. Would you tell us what it's like to have someone die at home? It was a long ordeal and you went through a lot of stages. Some of these kids may have to face what you went through. They may have to decide whether they should allow their love one to die at home or elsewhere. What is your feeling on that?
Lynn: I would definitely do it again. If I had the choice, besides being something Tommy definitely wanted (to die at home and not in the hospital with strangers around him), it's the thing I felt I could give him, the one thing he would hopefully remember. I gave him his last wish which was for me to stay home with him. It wasn't always easy. It was sometimes very, very hard.
Q. What were some of the difficult things you had to do?
Lynn: In the beginning it was not as bad because he was not in much pain. As the pain increased, and as he went through the different feelings such as denial and whatnot, there were times when he was just outright nasty and really obnoxious to everybody around him. He took it out on not only me, but he also took it out on the kids.
Q. Could you give us an example of that?
Lynn: He just had no patience, and the kids would come in and make a lot of noise. For no real reason at all he would go up one side of them and down the other. He would yell and scream, and carry on, and throw things. He made it very hard to live in the house until he actually got very bad. When he got bad he became complacent.
Q. So you could see the progression through the various stages of death such as the denial, anger, and through to acceptance?
Lynn: If you can call it, "acceptance." I think he talked a braver then he actually felt. In the end he was very, very afraid to die.
Q. Let's talk about that for a moment. Throughout the interviews I constantly asked him about the fear he had of dying. He claimed he had no fear of death even when we examined it point by point. How does that fit into what you just said?
Lynn: He was very afraid of death. He was afraid of being alone, so toward the end there was somebody with him 24 hours of the day. His brother, my sister-in-law and I were being care-givers. We took six-hour shifts so someone was with him all the time. He was afraid to be alone because he thought when he was alone that would be the time when he would die. He was afraid to die alone, and in the end he was afraid of dying of itself. When he said he got a lot of comfort out of reading the Bible, toward the end I really think he definitely questioned his religious beliefs and where he would be going.
Q. I asked him the following question: "Over the past years I have kept a list every time I think of one, or have come across a reason why people fear death. I want to go down that list and see if you would discuss any of them as far as how you regard it. The one thing you have already discussed is that people don't know what death is. Death is an unknown and anything that is unknown is scary and you might be fearful of it. Loneliness, some people fear death because they feel they are going to get lonely. They are not going to be able to go to work. People are not going to come to visit them, and that sort of thing. Do you have any comments on that?" He responded with the answer, "I guess that would be a valid fear, if you were afraid. It isn't a consideration for me. Let's put it like that." How do those comments fit into what you were saying?
Lynn: He was in definite denial at that time. In the beginning he felt he would possibly fight this and cure it with his belief and his strong feelings.
Q. Another question asked of Tom was, "The third one was there may be great sorrow. You may not be able to tolerate the death experience, the actual coming upon it. There is a lot of sorrow connected with it. People do not like sorrow. How about that?" He replied, "I think sorrow from my family's standpoint hurts me. That is the biggest, not even a fear, it's just a - that's the part of it that people feel the most, I think. That I am not going to be here or whatever. They fear that sorrow. It's not a big one, I guess." Now I am asking you, "Do you have sorrow and fear?"
Lynn: I think he went through a period where he was very sorrowful.
Q. Do you have any examples of that?
Lynn: When he would talk, not to the kids, to me he would talk about being very sorry about not being there to see the kids graduate and see the kids married. He had these big hopes for Thomas, my son who is ten, who he coached through Little League from T-Ball on up. He is now in the Minors. Tommy always thought he was very capable as if he would possibly make it into the big leagues. He was very sorrowful that he would never get to see that.
Q. Another question I asked was about body loss and he responded with, "What I got right now ain't worth a whole hell of a lot anyway..."
Lynn: That's true. His body totally.... Even though in his mind he kept up the facade. He always thought he was this macho guy. So, he never let on that a lot of those faculties had basically dropped off long ago. He kept that myth kind of going. I think that was for his ego more than anything else. He went from being a very strong young man to where he couldn't even get up. We had to pick him up to put in on a commode and then take him off to put him back in the chair. He had absolutely no function whatsoever.
Q. I said to him, "Another thing that contributes to this fear of death is that there could be suffering and pain. Are you concerned about that?" He said, "Somewhat. You know I've got some pain right now that can pain pretty good. I am just hoping that I don't, you know."
Lynn: He had a lot of pain. The morphine in the end did not even touch the pain. But, in the end the cancer was so far gone and throughout him that, I think, it had deadened a lot of his senses. In the very end I don't think he was in the pain that his body should have been in. Just because of all the deadening of the nerves and the senses, and the tumors in the brain, I don't think the body senses were triggering and saying, "Yes, you should be in great pain!" At the very end I don't think it was the morphine that was deadening the pain. It was the body shutting down. In the earlier phase when he was in a lot of pain it would have been much worse if there was nothing to help that along. The pain was really excruciating.
Q. The next one is grieving. A person that is dying may be grieving for everyone. I, as a personal friend, am grieving for only one. Was this of concern?
Lynn: He cared about a very small group. He cared about my family that he was leaving behind. Obviously, he cared about his family. There was the immediate family and some close friends that he definitely felt very badly for.
Q. I asked him if he was going to talk to the kids about his death, his dying. Did he ever do that?
Lynn: No. I went against his wishes because we had talked and he had said that is one thing he definitely did not want. He did not want the kids to know that he was dying. I went against his wishes. At times, when I thought it was appropriate, both of them were in totally separate situations, the time seemed right at two different times, and I told them both separately how sick their father actually was, and that he was going to die. But I never told Tommy that.
Q. I asked him what the kids knew about his condition. He said they knew almost all of it. The daughter knows everything. My son knows everything except the time frame.
Lynn: That is not really true. All that Tommy wanted them to know was that he was obviously very sick and that he could never get any better. When I told my son, he thought that Daddy was going to be in the state that he was right now: Wheelchair-bound. He could see him coaching Little League with people pushing him on to the field in a wheelchair. He did not take it that one-step further to where he would actually picture his father dead. He did not have a clue.
Q. What reaction did he have when you told him.
Lynn: We were driving in the car going to pick up Capri pizza for supper. He got very upset. I pulled the car over and we talked for about fifteen minutes. He was very concerned about being the only child that didn't have a father. He was very concerned that I would ever meet anybody else, and that I would try to have somebody else...uhm...I'm sorry but (Lynn was crying at this point). He was very concerned which I thought was surprising because he did not want me to ever meet anyone else to take his father's place.
Q. That was a typical reaction! Do you think the kids knew Tom was to die but did not want to let anyone know?
Lynn: I don't think Thomas did. I think Stephanie did, because Stephanie is into hearing all that is going on. Thomas is very happy and carefree, and I don't really think he took it that one step further.
Q. I said to Tom, "Would you want your kids to have a copy of this tape and that transcript?" He replied, "I would like to have it available to them through my wife, maybe. But not to give it to them right now. Maybe later on in life. Yes. but not right now." What is your opinion, and do you want to listen to the tape?
Lynn: I don't think I could listen to it now. Hearing him right now would be very eerie for me. So, I couldn't do that now. In time I think I could listen to it and I think the kids could listen to it too. He says very nice things in there about the kids and the family. So, I would like them to hear it, and I would like to hear it. But I just can't do it now.
Q. As you were reading the transcript did you get upset?
Lynn: I didn't get upset when I read it. I felt good about some of the things he said, and they were things he never would say. It's not something like you would go home and say, "Gee, you are such a wonderful wife, and I just love my house, and I love the family." It's something he never did. It gave me a good feeling and I didn't get upset by it.
Q. Did the kids ever read the transcript and, if not, are you going to let them do so? Also, do they know about you speaking in the Death Education class?
Lynn: I told them that I was coming to talk today. They did not have any problem with that at all. If I can find the transcript at home I will give it to them. I don't have a problem with them reading it at all.
Q. Do the kids have any noticeable reaction to the loss of their father?
Lynn: I think the kids are doing very well with this. Stephanie wrote a poem last week for her English class about her father, which I couldn't get a copy of either. It was the first time she expressed any type of feeling or emotion for her father. She wrote it in a poem. And, Thomas, even though I keep asking him if everything is okay, he seems to be doing fine. His schoolwork hasn't dropped, and his grades haven't dropped. They have had very good support. I was actually surprised at the support they had from kids of the same age. At the funeral parlor there were about ten to twelve kids, and we are talking about fifth graders for my son and eighth graders for my daughter. There were eight parents who realized it was important enough for the kids to have support that they came and brought their own children to the visitation. I really marveled at that.
Q. Do you think Tom was ever suicidal?
Lynn: Earlier in his illness, yes.
Q. If he had attempted suicide what method would he have used?
Lynn: He would have done it using a "chicken" way out. He could never have taken a gun or anything like that. It would have been done with pills or with carbon monoxide. That was a period of time that I definitely worried. He was suicidal and we spoke about it. He assured me that he never would, but I didn't have a lot of assurance for that.
Q. At one time he told me he would never consider suicide because it would eliminate insurance settlement for the family.
Lynn: That was one of his big concerns. He wanted to leave the family with enough money to survive.
Q. Did you ever fear "catching" cancer from Tom?
Lynn: No. My mother has cancer and I believe cancer is hereditary and passed on through genes. I didn't fear that because I was caring for Tommy that I was going to get it from him. The doctors say, but then I don't know what I feel about doctors right now either, the type of cancer Tommy had was not hereditary, so it was not a cancer that could be passed down in the genes to the kids. I don't know if I firmly believe that.
Q. In grief a person faces emotions that are similar to those in the stages of death. The comment you just made about the doctors seemed to show some anger. Is that the case?
Lynn: Well, I don't think it's anger directed toward the doctors. I think they are very valuable people. It was just in Tommy's situation there was nothing they could do, nor anybody could do. I sometimes wonder just exactly how much doctors do know. And, in a case like this they really didn't know. It was kind of a guessing game.
Q. Let me ask you another question: Do you have anger toward anyone or anything?
Lynn: When I'm riding in a car and I see couples that are very happy, or if I see couples walking in the mall, or if I see an older couple of senior citizen age that are still together, I feel anger toward that because it is something I will never have. It is not like I would go up and say anything, and it is not anger that I would ever express to anybody. But, it is an anger that I feel inside.
Q. In a column written by Ann Landers on March 14, 1988 she had a letter from a reader in Moody, Texas who wrote, "Our son was born four months premature and died shortly after birth. He was the second child we had lost in this way, and my husband and I were devastated. I found it very comforting to sleep with a little kimono we received as a baby gift. When my arms ached with emptiness, I would cradle that precious garment, and it made me feel as if I still had a little part of him. I sometimes slept with it next to me on my pillow, and it absorbed a lot of tears those first few weeks. Eventually, I was able to fold it up and put it away with a little kiss." Did you ever encounter anything like that?
Lynn: In the end there were three shirts that were comfortable for him. Toward the end he was catheterized, so from the waist down he had nothing on. He had three shirts that he constantly wore. One of those is an Elton John shirt from a concert we went to years ago. It is all holy and whatnot. That was the shirt that was very comfortable and very big on him. Yes, I have definitely tucked that under the pillow on more than one night. Yes.
Q. Some people think they are totally ill when they are in grief. This is a new experience for them. This is now a large part of your life. Have you ever gotten the idea you were going crazy?
Lynn: There were times, not so much now, when I was going through the hardest time in Tommy's illness when he was really nasty at home. I would make the dinner and nothing would be right. Everything that could possibly go wrong would go wrong and he had to let you know that. At that point in time I was starting to wonder if I was loosing my mind. There were times when I was literally saying that I wished something would happen to him because my life was a living hell. There was nothing I could do that was right. Just before he died he became very complacent. Then I thought there was something wrong with me because I couldn't imagine how I could be feeling this. This was my husband, who you should want to keep here forever, and here I am saying, "Oh, I wish somebody would take him." because it was just getting too much for me. And then I saw that sign and realized I needed help in the house. That's when Hospice got involved as well as his brother and my sister-in-law. They came and helped and that was definitely a relief.
Q. Looking at the sheet showing the symptoms of grief, would you describe your feelings as you vacillate in and out of this grief process?
Lynn: It's basically a wave of emotions and you never know when they are going to hit, or why they are going to hit. I can't say you first have denial, and then you have anger, and then you have guilt. It depends upon what happens in your everyday life. It is not something where I can say that you first go through denial. Actually in the very beginning, I didn't deny it because I knew that he died because I was with him when he died. In the very beginning I had a lot of sorrow. Loneliness is a very strong thing I feel. I just lack for adult conversation. Because as much as I love my kids, my kids are talking about eighth grade romances, and my son is talking about Little League constantly. It doesn't do a lot for my mind. Hearing so-in-so is going out with so-in-so in the Wallkill Middle School doesn't really fulfill my life.
Q. Okay, but let's look at it in another way: For a while you were seeing so many people you wanted to get rid of them, and you've gone from one extreme to another. Do you mean to tell me that most of those people that had come to visit you have now abandoned you?
Lynn: I would say for the most part, yes. There are a few that have stuck by me. What I have found, and I do not know if this is a typical case or not, all those people who promised they would be there, and that I could call on them no matter what, they are the ones that I don't see anymore. It's basically friends that we were acquaintances with and I knew that are there for me more than the people that I thought were steadfast and knew the best.
Q. Why do you think those people have more or less abandoned you?
Lynn: I have had people tell me that I am unapproachable, but I don't really believe that. I think it is their problem in dealing with death and coming into the house knowing that Tommy is not going to be there. They can't deal with that so they kind of pin it on to me and say, "You are grieving and therefore, I don't know whether I should or shouldn't, so we will just stay away." I think it is their inability to handle the situation.
Q. Your husband had the same complaint. He said some of his friends would come over and talk about the apple business or whatever. Do you want people to come to your house and talk about your husband?
Lynn: I mean, it happens and when we lost the baby we had the same problem. I carried the child for nine months, delivered her, and she lived for twenty minutes. You go from being nine months pregnant to having nothing. You have no baby to carry or anything. People just denied the fact that it even happened because they thought it would hurt me too much to talk about it. I really wanted to talk about it because it is something that happened. It was real. People just avoided the whole topic. They never mentioned her name. My father to this day, and it will be eleven years in July, still calls it, "that incident." He never says, "Linsy" which was her name. She was Baptized and it was a real thing that happened. It was like Tommy's death. It was something that happened. You cannot take eighteen years of being together and all of a sudden, because he has died, you cannot just erase eighteen years out of my life, or out of the kids lives, or out of anybody's life. I think a lot of people try to do that because they don't want to hurt, or bring up any feelings, or God forbid that you may shed a tear or two. People just cannot handle that. They get very nervous around that.
Q. This situation is hard to get around because you can't call people on the phone and say, "Please come over here."
Lynn: No, but I have started calling people and saying, "Hi, how are you? Do you want to come over for supper?" And that seems to break the ice. In the beginning it's awkward. I did what I think was best for me by coming back to work, and I think I'm handling it okay. Yes, I have my times when I get very lonely and cry. That's usually when I am alone. Life has to go on and that is something Tommy always said too, "No matter how much hurt there is, life has to go on." I have the two kids that I definitely have to go on for, and I would like to think I have a life out there waiting for me. I hope to find happiness again someday.
Q. Let us take just one example. When a person comes over for dinner do you think they are nervous about engaging in a conversation about Tommy and his death? Would it better to ignore it and have a happy family dinner?
Lynn: Well, it is usually ignored unless I bring it up. As long as I bring something up and say....The thing is, when you are talking to a friend there is very little that has happened in my life that didn't include Tommy. So it is very easy to hear a song on the radio and say, "Do you remember when we went to this concert with Tommy and you, etc." So if I mention it like that it will be the basis to draw people out enough so they will at least mention his name.
Q. But then do you get into a conversation about how much you loved him and how much you miss him?
Lynn: To some close friends, yes. Most people don't want that much detail. I think it would make some people very uncomfortable, so they would just say, "Let's drop the subject." right away and go on with something happier.
Q. You are able to read that in them so you know when to stop or whatever?
Lynn: You can read it. You can tell when people get nervous and tense.
Q. If you will notice that denial, anger, guilt, despair, and anxiety are part of grief.
Lynn: I should be so lucky.
Q. You will notice a large part of grief may include insomnia. Have you had trouble sleeping?
Lynn: More so in the very beginning. I think my sleep pattern had changed so much because we were on six-hour shifts. There were nights when I was on the two to eight shift. It was a very crazy cycle there for three months. I got use to being awakened at odd hours of the night. So, when it first happened I wasn't sleeping well, but I don't think it was insomnia as much as I had to get back into an actual pattern where I went to bed at a normal time and slept through the night. I did not sleep in my bed until about October of last year until January. I was on a cot out in the living room, which did not make for real terrific sleeping either. But, he wanted somebody there and I was the one he wanted. My sleeping pattern for quite a while was not normal, because when he was not that sick, when he would wake up in the night and be lonely, he would wake me up. I was into the habit of waking up at any little sound to get him a drink or get whatever he needed. I think that was what I had to work through rather than insomnia.
Q. In the category of depression there is fugue. That is the desire to run away, drink away, drug away, take a trip away, just do something to get out of this area so you can "forget it." Have you encountered those feelings?
Lynn: There are times when it would be very easy and very nice to get in the car and go away. Also, I live very close to a lot of my family and they now think I am this thirty-eight-year-old cripple who cannot do anything. People drive into my driveway and my aunt, who lives above my house, will call and say, "Whoever is in your driveway, is it okay that they are here to visit?" I feel I am back into a childhood state. For those reasons I would like to pick up and go away. If the kids weren't in school and happy in their surroundings, or if it were just me, I think I would pick up and move. Not so much for trying to get away from the memories and the talks about Tommy, but actually for starting a new life, and starting a life where everybody doesn't know the whole story.
Q. There are suicidal tendencies involved here. What about with you?
Lynn: That never crossed my mind. I have never thought of taking my life.
Q. If you look over all the symptoms I have listed for grief, do you think you have the majority of those symptoms?
Lynn: No, I think I have a minority of those symptoms. Take crying for an example. For me crying is a release and always has been. Sometimes I cry when I am happy and sometimes I cry when I am sad. I cry when I am worried. Definitely I do a lot of crying. It is a relief for me. I can be fine for a while, a week or two, and all of a sudden I will have one or two bad days and I am like a basket case that night. I do a lot of crying. The kids say, "Hi Mom." and I cry. When I sometimes talk on the phone I cry. I will cry and get it out, and then seem to be okay again for another stretch of time. That is only me. I am not saying that is normal. It probably isn't. It seems to be working, I think.
Q. So you think your method of grieving is normal?
Lynn: That actually is hard too because there is no right and wrong way to do any of this. There is not a textbook that says, "What you should do for the first six weeks is this, and then there is this, and then there is that." So, there are no guidelines and it is a very personal thing. Everybody handles it differently, and some people look at me and think I should be dressing all in black. It's been only a little over two months and I should be dressed all in black. I should be mourning. I shouldn't be laughing or anything like that. There are people I know who feel that way.
Q. The period has come to an end. You are very brave and we all appreciate what you have done for us.
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