Seven years ago today, 17 days after he turned 54, our dear friend Tom died of pancreatic cancer. He was a good-looking guy, but his short horrible time of dying was about as ugly as they get.
But through most of it, except for times of extreme pain, he maintained his chipper disposition and continued to appreciate and be grateful for every little good thing that happened.
That was one of his favorite mottos, one John likes to quote with each baby step we take in home improvement – “As my good buddy, Tom, would say,” John says, “it’s the little things that matter.”
How I wish he were here to see how all the little things have added up. Tom would totally appreciate my excitement at having a toilet paper holder attached to the wall, after 10 1/2 years of not having one. He would totally dig our fancy new Toto toilet in the downstairs bathroom (already have one in the fancy upstairs bath).
And things would’ve added up a lot faster if he were still here. Tom was as perfectionistic as John and I are – and since he had his own key to our house and knew our vision, he could come and go as he pleased. Though he spent long spells just at our house, we were also his fallback position in between big gigs and got the friends and family rate for his excellent work.
Sometimes we’d come home and find something finished, changed.
Tom stored things in our house – with or without our knowledge. Fed our dogs if we weren’t home. Would yell, “Laura? You decent?” Or, “Honey, I’m home,” before coming to the back of the house where I was.
Tom was a master remodeler – specializing in historic homes – but he also remodeled his life. Once a hard-partying, highly successful hair dresser and salon owner, the Tom we knew and loved had thrown that kind of artistry aside for resurrecting old houses, another form of artistry, one that he loved.
He needed peace, he said, and less stress. His health had been suffering in the fast lane.
Cancer got him anyway. Self-employed before the Affordable Care Act, Tom was also uninsured – as the custodial parent of a teen in private school, private health insurance was not in his budget. When he finally went to the doctor, as an uninsured patient, the doctor merely treated his symptoms, instead of doing any tests – despite knowing Tom’s father had died of pancreatic cancer.
That was during the summer. I was worried sick about him and told John repeatedly that Tom had cancer – I’d seen it before, and the sicker he got, the more he bore an eerie resemblance to Daddy. When he rushed to the emergency room in severe pain on Thanksgiving, he was finally diagnosed and it was too late.
Tom and John made a pact that IF Tom encountered something on the other side, he’d do his damnedest to communicate – to give some kind of sign. If anyone had a big enough personality to do it, it was Tom.
We waited and listened. No sign that we could detect. Then one day more than a year after he was gone, we suddenly noticed a bag of peanuts in the shell, partially gone, in an area where he’d been working and often left his tools. We still wonder.
Late last week, as I was getting ready for work in the upstairs bathroom (the downstairs remodel is still in process), I heard a man’s cough in John’s office. I thought he’d come back home, but when I went to see, no one was there. Hmmm. Honey, you home?