Elder Care

Beautiful Goodbyes

Families need not be alone when loved ones are ready to pass on.

By John F. Tomczak

Death can be beautiful.

Collette Tomczak’s death was quiet and respectful as she lay in the arms of her husband and partner of some forty five years. In the couple’s bedroom their five children stood silently with their spouses. Collette knew they were all there: knew she was loved.

In her last week she was never alone. The house was busy with her sons, daughters and grandchildren. They reminisced about holidays and pranks that filled their younger years.
The night before her parting, John, Collette and their son Kim, shared a midnight cocktail, carefully served to Collette through an eye dropper. By noon the next day, the family gathered to say a final goodbye. John knew it was time – they all did.

“The greatest gift Collette ever gave was when she said she didn’t mind dying because she couldn’t live as she was,” John says.

And so Collette’s journey ended peacefully and with dignity.

John Holmes’s death was much the same. He and his wife, Claire, of 14 years moved to Victoria from Ottawa with the knowledge that his time was limited. The cancer that started in John’s liver was crippling his body. Regardless, the couple had long intended to retire in the B.C. capital and not even death would stop them.

“We shared the most intimate moments throughout that period,” Claire says. “It was absolutely marvelous.” They spent a final Christmas together – a neighbor brought over a complete Christmas dinner as Claire was busy looking after John.

A few days before his death, John requested that Claire’s brother, Aurele come out from Montreal. The end was near and John didn’t want Claire to be alone when he was gone. Like Collette Tomczak, John Holmes died in peace with his loved ones by his side.

Their surviving spouses agree the involvement of Victoria Hospice helped make both deaths beautiful, allowing both partners to die at home in comfortable and familiar surroundings. This non-profit also served an important relief role for the caregivers.

“One day I realized that I was at the end of my rope,” John recalls. “So I walked up to Hospice and asked for help. “Not only was Hospice’s role in preparing the families for death invaluable, the after-care support brought their families closer together and allowed them to move forward with fond memories at heart.

Twenty 20 years later, one of Tomczak’s grandchildren still speaks of the nice counselor, from Hospice who came to the house to answer any questions the children might have about Collette’s death. Nothing was left hidden or unsaid.

The Hospice experience later led John and Claire to each other. “We met at a skating rink and started to talk,” Claire says. “We talked about Hospice and we felt so connected I thought maybe we could have lunch one day.” The two met one year after Claire’s husband died and four years after Collette’s death. Ten months later they were married.

That was 18 years ago.

Both volunteer in the Walking Group Program at Victoria Hospice for bereaved people. “It’s amazing the connection that people make,” John says. Going for walk is a safe place to be able to talk about the issues around losing a loved one, he adds.

John and Claire will never forget their former partners yet in each other they are lucky enough to have found love a second time. As Claire never had children of her own John gave her one of his sons as a wedding present.

Canada has been blessed with many very good hospices from coast to coast. It is the hope of John and Claire that all those who have a loved one in a terminally illness situation will ask their local Hospice for help.

Copyright John F. Tomczak. All rights reserved