Thursday, February 26, 2009
Although it is impossible to be fully prepared for anyone's death, sudden or not, there are some things you really need to have in place. And I will buy a Starbucks Card to anyone out there who recognizes they are not immortal and have already taken care of these things for the people they love. Everyone has different desires on what happens when they get really sick or die. That is (of course) ok. But if you don't have it in writing in a legally supported manner, someone else can make any decisions they want for you.
Please be sure you have the following in place:
Durable Power of Attorney
Medical Power of Attorney
Do not resuscitate out of hospital (if you are so inclined)
It is also real smart to pre-pay (or at least make detailed decisions) about what happens to your dead body. Tom and I decided to pre-pay the Neptune Society for cremation. It worked out well. Pre-paying saved a couple hundred but most important I was not sitting at the hospice with Tom's body signing papers and giving out credit card information.
I'm going to ramble on about this for a few more minutes to really make the point. For 15 months or so after Tom's diagnosis things were great. Tom was intellectually and physically strong. And then, ever so slowly, things changed.
It was not safe for him to drive, his computer gave him trouble, telling time became hard, directionally he got confused, handwriting suffered then stopped, dialing a phone was no longer possible, buttons and zippers were too hard... I could go on and on and how this disease chipped away at Tom over days and weeks and months.
Tom and I saw it but we never believed that it was irreversible. A bunch of little set backs and if we worked harder we could catch up. News Years Eve Tom used a walker to say good night to Michael and Theresa. News Years Day he could not sit up in bed when John and Penny came to help me take him to the hospital. He never came home again.
Even the last month in the hospital the slipping was so slow and gradual -- all the while he was busting his butt to work so hard at his PT, OT, and speech therapies. Nicole and I saw it but did not know he was dying. But somewhere in that time period he could no longer tell us when he had to go to the bathroom. He could not sit up or roll over, he could not feed himself or use a straw. He slept more and more and rarely opened his eyes.
There was a last conversation but we did not know if was the last conversation. There was a last hug, a last responsive kiss, a last hang squeeze -- but we did not know it was the last.
The point, which I grant is well hidden, is that everyone thinks there will be time to have these "planning" conversations, even if someone is sick. And there is not. I promise.
I had to decide if Tom was going to take pills when he could no longer swallow. I had to decide if he was going to have a feeding tube when he could not eat, if he was going to get IV fluids when he could not drink. I had to decide if he would be resuscitated if he stopped breathing. I had to determine how much morphine he could get balancing pain management and the death it could cause.
Except I did not. Tom and I figured out all the rules beforehand. I was able to do what he wanted. That was one of the best blessings he gave me.
And as I write I am not eligible for my own Starbucks Card. My paperwork is not up to date. It is all done but now needs new names. Mine will be done by the end of March. Do your wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/parent/friends/kids a huge favor. Don't make them decide. Having Tom die was so very hard. Thinking while it was happening would have been impossible.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Just last night I got this great drawing of Tom from my brother Tommy. It is now the official "Big Tom" logo.
I also got a great email from my dad.
"Theresa I shared with all who would listen about my standing ovation in Arizona. To me that was one of the most noteworthy events in my life (My dad got an entire crowd on their feet when he finished his first 5k!). Wanna bet that Tom got one upon arriving in heaven?
Think for a moment of the folks he is visiting with. His father, the Beatles, top guitar players, Mother Theresa, his grand parents and on and on. Bet he is playing golf with his dad.
I hate platitudes but he really IS in a better place."
Now I know there are several Beatles that are not yet dead but I got the biggest grin thinking Tom may be up there hanging out with John Lennon. Tom would be so happy and John would be so much better off. Certainly an improvement over some of John's old buddies. Almost makes me think it is ok Tom is gone. But not quite.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Theresa was kind enough to let me say a few words and share some of Tom's work on this blog. I'm Mikon Haaksman and I had the good fortune to work with Tom at Gotham Image Works. For those of you who attended the memorial, you would have heard our boss David Skalsky give a eulogy. He, like all of us at Gotham, miss him every day.
I got to know Tom several years ago when I was a freelance editor. We hit it off like two long lost friends pretty much immediately. His drive for what he did, his enthusiasm, and his great attitude made being Tom's friend very easy. We shared a deep love of music and spent many hours discussing and listening to every genre you could imagine. In fact one of my last visits with him, I played some Jack Johnson from my portable music player. We didn't talk too much - just listened to the upbeat music.
Tom loved to shoot video. Many of you know that - but I have to say it again - because he REALLY loved to shoot video. I enjoy it too, but not to the extent he did. When, in our weekly meetings, we would learn of an upcoming shoot, Tom would perk up. It didn't matter if it was a small shoot with a couple interviews or a week long trip to Midland for an oil company. Tom was always up for it. As an editor, a great videographer is worth his weight in gold. You want to get as much material as possible so that you have a lot of choices. Most of us going on a shoot might come back with one or two hours of video from a full day shoot. Tom could shoot 4 or 5 hours easily. Nothing would stop him except a dead battery or bad weather - both of which he always came prepared for. He always liked to tell us, "It's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it." A simple statement perhaps, but so true - especially in our line of work.
Our clients, and people Tom did work for on the side, all seemed to like him. His friendly demeanor could put a nervous executive at ease for an on-camera interview, or a small child would open up and smile for the camera with Tom's coaxing. It is a gift that comes in very handy. We meet all types of people with all sorts of personalities in our business and our job is to make them look great on video. With Tom around, it always worked out that way. And this is still evident by the outpouring of condolences to our office in the last several weeks. Some of our clients, who we hadn't worked with in a while, called to say just how special Tom was. One of them was a woman who works for a beer distributor in Galveston. She and I spoke after the service and after hearing from her how much she liked Tom and working with her, I had to tell her that I wanted to thank her too - for selfish reasons: she allowed me many opportunities to work with Tom while he was doing what he loved to do. I can't count the hours we spent traveling around the state in his or my car, listening to music, talking about life, and then shooting video of any and every thing you can imagine. Those days on the road with Tom will live with me forever. And I was with him one of the last times he got to go out and shoot.
Our beer client was sponsoring the Galveston Biker Rally. Tom, Robert (from our office) and I were to shoot some of the events of the rally for two days. We had so much fun out there - shooting loads of footage, enjoying the sights, the sounds, and the crazy atmosphere. Please see the linked web gallery of pictures of Tom working.
But Tom liked to do other work as well. As you all know, he was very socially conscious and he tried to create projects "that mattered." One of these projects would turn out to be a documentary about Hurricane Katrina's devastating effects on New Orleans. A couple months after the storm during the holidays, I was returning from New Orleans for another documentary. I had spent two days looking at the total devastation of some of the city's neighborhoods. I had never seen anything like it. All of us on the crew cried as we worked. The raw emotion of seeing people's lives turned upside down was difficult to take. Naturally I called Tom right away. I told him we needed to put something together that would show people what it was really like there. A few weeks later, Tom, Theresa, my wife Misty, and I went to New Orleans. They all reacted just as I had. Tom grabbed his camera and began shooting everything he saw. We spent a full day documenting the devastation.
We had an opportunity to interview a few people - one of whom was my own step father - Charles Borne. Charlie had been diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and was working through it as best he could. He was not too keen on being interviewed, but agreed to play some music for us on his piano - in his storm damaged home. He and Tom took a liking to each other and we got some of our best material from those hours with Charlie.
About a month later, Tom and I returned to New Orleans to finish up the documentary. Once again, we met up with Charlie for a nice night on the town in the French Quarter. Charlie loved music as much as Tom and I and was also an accomplished and gifted musician. So naturally, we went to listen to some great live music. It became a memorable night for all of us.
But here is where the irony sets in: Charlie was a retired neurosurgeon. And when I learned of Tom's condition, I immediately called Charlie. He told me to be sure to give his number to Tom if he had any questions or concerns. I later learned that Tom's neurosurgeon was an old friend of Charlie's. Sadly, Charlie lost his own battle with cancer this past December. He'd had a good and fortunate life that was rich and storied.
And it now means that much more to me to have been a part of this Katrina documentary. It has become very personal on so many levels and I thought the best thing I could do is to share it with you. And remember: when you watch something Tom shot, you are seeing what he saw - what he wanted you to experience as well.
Tom, I miss you each and every day. I miss your friendship, the fun we had on the road, and your love for your craft.
Click here for the documentary.
Click here for the web gallery. My favorite is the last one. Robert took the picture while they were in Cancun.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Through donations and the silent auction Tom's Medical Fund has exceeded $35,000! I am overwhelmed by your love and generosity!
This money will be used ONLY to cover the costs of the fundraiser (estimated at less than $1500) and Tom's medical expenses. The money will not be spent on Tom's cremation, the Memorial Service, the Tom Celebration, household bills, or any other expenses of daily living (or dying). I triple promise.
By the end of 2009 I expect I will have completed all hospital and insurance arguments and payments and will donate the remaining money to a 'registered charity' researching brain cancer.
My heart breaks with gratitude. Thank you, thank you.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Thanks Michael for the love and air time!
If you get a chance, download or listen to the podcast.
Monday, February 9, 2009
Hi, My name is Marshall, and I’m guest-posting this evening. I used to work with Theresa at Knowledgewire/EduNeering, and I knew Tom through her. I play in a rock band, and I’m also one of seven writers at a music blog called Nonalignment Pact, where I write one music-related post each Saturday.
Well, this past Saturday, along with many of you, I attended Tom’s memorial service and reception. When I got back home, I decided I would dedicate that day’s post to Tom. Theresa has asked me to re-post what I wrote here, on Tom’s blog.
I should preface this by admitting that I only got to hang out with Tom a handful of times. But as I told Theresa, I left Saturday's service and reception inspired by Tom's love of music and what he had to say about its importance in our lives. So that's what I wrote about. I wouldn't and couldn't pretend to write a proper story that captured everything Tom means to so many people. But I'm grateful for what he meant to me. What I learned at the memorial service was that he affected a lot of other people in the same way.
So with Theresa’s permission, I am honored to share this with you.
At work, I am the guy with the band. No matter which job I’ve had, that’s been part of my identity. I’m never sure how my coworkers feel about it, and I generally don’t push my music hobby on anyone. Sure, I’ll invite people out with via email, but I don’t get offended if no one comes. And if somebody makes it out I’m grateful for the gesture. Still, I don’t expect to convert anyone into a fan.
But several years ago, I did get a fan when my coworker Theresa Strong brought her husband Tom Lawrence to a show of ours. He was in his mid-40s and huge classic rock fan, and he said we were his kind of music. I suppose we must have been, because over the years my friends Theresa and Tom came to a number of our shows, and have always been enthusiastic and willing evangelists, to the point of buying our CD for out-of-town relatives. Tom, a professional filmmaker and photographer, even shot some publicity stills for us, charging us only for the materials.
Once, we played a show at Super Happy Fun Land, and there were only about 10 or 12 people in the pews, including Theresa and Tom. Naturally, since hardly anyone was there, it turned into one of the best shows we’d ever played. Maybe the best. We were playing our sleepy, humble Wilco imitations with guts and loose energy. Even our fuck-ups felt right. It sounded good, and I could tell that all 12 people in the pews agreed.
After the show, Tom came up and he said it was the best he’d ever seen us, and the he was really happy to be there for it. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but the point is he knew from what he’d seen and heard that we felt special about our show, and he wanted to acknowledge the feeling was mutual. He was excited and stoked about it. That meant a hell of a lot to me then.
It means more now.
Early this week, Tom died of brain cancer. He was diagnosed in June of 2007, and he passed away just a few days after moving into hospice care. We went to his memorial service and reception this morning. What struck me about the service was how music-centered it was. Interspersed between the sermons and the speakers, Tom played us some of his favorite songs. Songs he chose for this service, and we just listened as they played. It wasn’t background music. It was silent time for memories and reflection. Made me think I’d like my own memorial to go like that. A lot of music, and not too many speeches.
I won’t go through the playlist, but the last song was “Baby I’m Amazed”. I didn’t expect to cry, cuz I never do (not even at funerals). But I did when that song started. I love that song, and I could feel it overcoming my heart immediately. Usually, I’m alone when songs and circumstances combine to hit me that hard. But today I was with a hundred other people mourning man who had picked that one song to be one of our final memories of him, and a final message to Theresa, who had helped him through the most difficult time of his life.
For today’s post, with the service still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share a wry quote from Tom’s journal. Everyone who attended got a copy of it as we were leaving, so I can show it to you in his handwriting:
The idea that Keith Richards could survive me in death is so ironic to me—a bit twisted yes—but so sublime in the perfection of it all.
People have been making the Keith Richards joke for ages, but in this context, it serves to remind us that Death is unprincipled and unpredictable. For some, Death is merciful and protective. Willing to preserve us into banal old age, no matter what horrible things we’ve done to our wicked earthly vessels.
But for some Death is capricious and wonton. It doesn’t matter that you ran marathons and climbed Kilimanjaro, as Tom Lawrence did. Some are nevertheless pushed too soon from the train carrying the rest of us. They breathe the last hard breaths and maybe laugh a bit to themselves as they imagine the rail car that will usher all the aging rock stars into their golden years.
For Tom, there was no bitterness in that last laugh. “Humor me with this one,” he wrote. “It’s really funny.”
Bruce, Jen's husband went to Huntsville to get her started then came back to Houston for the Memorial and then back to help Jennifer finish in sub 24 hours. A woman after my own heart (though much much faster than I am).
Here is a portion of the race notes Jennifer put together...
I have so much to say and so many people to thank. For those who do not know- I finished in the sub-24 hour time of: 23 hours and 17 minutes. It was more than I could have asked for.....
Personal Angel- Tom
I was so uplifted and encouraged by my own personal angel. I dedicated this race to Tom- He crewed for my first 50, so I knew that he would want to be there for my first 100. I was not able to attend the memorial service, so this was my way to honor him. I had my dedication sign on my back and other runners would run up (I would hear them reading the sign) then they would ask me who Tom was. I got the chance to share Tom and his wonderfulness with a lot of other runners. It was so great, so may of them would say something like "wow- he sounds like a great guy/ runner" - I was just happy that more people were able to share in his wonderful memory.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Tom's Memorial Service and Celebration after went great. I know he was smiling the entire time.
Thank you for all you did. My apologies for not speaking with each and every one of you. Honest to goodness I tried like crazy.
Tom and I had friends come from all over the state. He had clients he worked with arrive and people he had never met. It was a very very special day.
I have a had a few requests to post the collage of pictures of Tom Penny put together, and the final video Hugh and Robbie helped create. I'll post the links to both when done.
Please check back from time to time. Tom and the love he represents is not going away.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Here is the obituary that will run tomorrow.
Thomas James Lawrence – Big Tom to his friends – 52 years old, a madly-in-love husband, son, brother, and friend died on February 2, 2009 of brain cancer.
In 1999, Tom married his best friend and soul mate Theresa Strong. Never a brother-in-law or son-in-law, Tom was a brother and a son in at least two families.
Tom’s passion for photography and video was apparent both personally and professionally. Involved in many projects, he was particularly proud of his efforts documenting the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the last days of death row inmates, with a compassionate yet honest eye.
Big Tom ran ten marathons and climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Tom loved music. He played the sweetest acoustical guitar you have ever heard; he loved the Blues but never sang them; he celebrated classic rock and was a Beatles scholar. He was a master of technology and loved all things Apple. Despite his credentials, Tom's real strength was never external. His power came from within, very deep within. Big Tom knew about balance: he valued a good movie on a Friday night with Theresa as much as running 26.2 miles or editing a documentary. Truly unflappable, Tom was sage to his friends; knowledgeable, kind, and revered for his wisdom and good judgment.
Tom impressed everyone he met with his quiet strength, and we all will continue to be inspired by the way he lived his life. Thank you Big Tom. Namaste our dear friend. We will see you again soon.
Tom’s Memorial Service will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, February 7, 2009 at Second Christian Church, 4801 Edison St. , (Corner of Edison and Cavalcade) Houston, TX 77009. 713.692.3503. A celebration will follow at Tom and Theresa’s home. At Tom’s request, donations can be made in his honor to Cal Farley's Boys Ranch (www.calfarley.com) ; or Habitat for Humanity (www.houstonhabitat.org).
The price quote was about $800. As that was certainly not in the budget (and Tom would so agree) I did not respond.
This morning I get an emergency email from the Chronicle (the only way they had to reach me). The Obituary ran without approval...and without key information. Check out page B6.
I do think this is Tom's way of telling me to relax and not sweat the small stuff. He is reminding me how little control I actually have in spite of my illusions. Tom is probably cracking up. At any rate, a correct one with a photo will run tomorrow.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Tom is hanging in there but moving closer to Heaven with each breath. I have been assured he is very comfortable. We are just waiting for his body to stop fighting. That is a heck of a trick since he has been involved in this battle for so many months.
I'm sure several of you know what it is like to be in a place and know the most important person in your world is not going home again. You don't get any more laughs, or cuddles, or hugs, or winks from sparkling baby blues. You don't get to get mad about the toilet seat any more and would trade all your tomorrows to see him leave his underwear on the floor just once again. If you know what this is like you have my respect because somehow you lived through it.
For the rest of you just know this really really sucks. My faith is shaken and I have no pithy words about Tom going to a better place. He would be very sad and disappointed in me.
Tonight I need your prayers.