I Remember Tommy: Coffee, Cigarettes, Harley Davidson and Hospice

Patsy Piner

Patsy Piner

I remember the first time I saw Tommy. He came for a tour of the Hospice with his aunts. He sat on the couch in the first floor family room where he nodded off several times while I answered the many questions his aunts asked. When we walked down the hall of the first floor, Tommy made comments and had questions too, “Don’t put me in no pink girly room. Do you have an orange and black room? Those are Harley Davidson colors. Manly colors – loved and revered by bikers.” Tommy was a biker, had a Harley and loved to talk about it. He had plans to ride again – just as soon as he felt better. He was here to get his medicines regulated so he could get on with his life. This hospice stuff was an inconvenience he was dealing with begrudgingly.

Tommy was young, in his early forties, and had pretty much lived life on his own terms until brain cancer stopped him in his tracks. He had dealt with the treatments and surgeries the best he knew how, with blend of humor, reality, anger and denial. A kind of cocktail that he partook of each day just to keep going. Little doses of each when needed so he could hear what he had to hear, see what he needed to see and do what must be done.  After his initial visit, Tommy was in the inpatient care center several times and we always knew when he was here. He had been a large man with an outgoing personality before cancer and treatments had taken their toll; his body had changed but his personality remained intact. He made his presence known.

Tommy was blessed by his loving family who took turns caring for him at home and being with him while he was here. The few times he was alone here, he had the volunteers and/or the staff jumping. We all knew Tommy. Ask anyone who met him while he was here what his two favorite things were and I am sure the response will be, “Coffee and cigarettes.” Tommy loved good coffee, particularly Blue Mountain from Central Market and his smokes. I could see Tommy from my desk, sitting outside drinking coffee, smoking, and visiting with his friends, old and new. A few times he managed to sneak out alone. He would sit on the bench, smoke a little and doze a little. On those occasions, I would walk over, gently wake him up, sit and chat for a moment so he could finish his cigarette safely. We would amble back to his room and he usually had me making fresh coffee before I went back to work. Old coffee was a no-no according to Tommy, so the Volunteer department bought a little coffee machine that made just enough to fill a travel cup. That was Tommy’s pot, Tommy’s cup and Tommy’s coffee.

When the last days of Tommy’s life were approaching, his family brought him back here for the end. I saw very little of Tommy that last time; he wasn’t going outside for a smoke and his coffee dispenser was idle. He was in his room on the 2nd floor quietly preparing to die. His mother held his hand and sang “Hush little baby, don’t you cry.” She wanted to be as close to him as she could get, so a nurse found a small plain wooden stool for her. She pulled it close to his bed and stayed there holding his hand and singing for hours. When the time came for Tommy to take his final breath, he did so while being cradled in his mother’s arms – one last time. After Tommy was gone, his mother wanted to do something meaningful in his memory. A simple wooden stool had made such a difference in her last hours with her son that she and her family and friends acted on a suggestion made by the nurse who was with Tommy when he died — every room should have a stool. Now, we have stools in every room and they are there because of Tommy, and his mom, and his family and his friends. Even though they are small plain wooden stools, there is nothing little or ordinary about what they will be used for. We will think of Tommy and his mom each time we see someone sitting on a plain wooden stool close to a bed, saying goodbye. —Patsy Piner is the Houston Hospice Volunteer Coordinator 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

If you enjoyed this post, please consider to leave a comment or subscribe to the feed and get future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Leave Comment