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Uncle Keith

Karen, FL, USA
January 2004

I have been a surgical nurse for many years. As such I've stood and watched helplessly when there was nothing that could be done to save a person. Young or old, it is always tragic when someone draws their last breath. But this story isn't about one of my patients. It's about my dear uncle.

I cannot remember a time in my life when I didn't know or love my Uncle Keith. His daughter (my cousin) and I were very close in age, and while growing up we spent most of our holidays and vacations together.

Uncle Keith was my second father. Someone who never lied to me (or anyone to my knowledge). He was the kind of person you just wanted to get to know. Always seeing the good in a tough situation. And definitely always looking past the bad in a person and finding something positive in them.

When in his early 60's Uncle Keith was diagnosed with lung cancer, I was devastated. Working in surgery I know there are types of cancer which can be overcome and types which cannot. I knew his cancer would not be overcome.

As days drew shorter I spent a great deal of time helping my aunt and cousin take care of Uncle Keith. When he reached the point of not leaving his bed, we took turns sleeping in the room with him. We wanted so very much for him to know that he was not alone. He was unable to communicate very well by this time. Only responding to pain.

On the last night that I spent in the room with him I was awakened by his voice. At first it was barely above a whisper. But it grew stronger as I strained to hear him. I went to turn on the light and when I did my heart stopped. My dear uncle who had been silently slipping away from us had his eyes wide open. He was smiling from ear to ear and singing Amazing Grace. As I started to leave his bedside to call my aunt into the room his feeble hand reached over and took mine. "Can you hear it Kay-ro" (the nickname he had always called me). When I asked what he heard he smiled again and said "Hundreds of thousands of people singing Amazing Grace." With tears in my eyes I told him that it was wonderful. "Kay-ro" he said feebly "I'm going to go and sing with them pretty soon".

A couple of days later Uncle Keith passed away. And as often as I have seen someone lose their battle with cancer, or aids, nothing could prepare me for the loss that I felt when he drew his last breath. I was angry with the medical field, and angry with God. Even angry with myself for not being able to do more for him.

After the service I went home and cried myself to sleep. I awoke (or thought I did) to the sound of Amazing Grace being sung. When I opened my eyes there stood Uncle Keith smiling from ear to ear. "Kay-ro" he said with a voice that was strong. "Don't be angry,..I can breath again and I can sing again. And every time you hear the song Amazing Grace you remember that I'm singing it loud and clear."

Now my mind tells me that I was dreaming. But my heart will always tell me that I wasn't. I will always believe that my dear Uncle Keith came to tell me that he was ok. And I know without a doubt that I will never hear the song Amazing Grace without seeing his dear face smiling ear to ear.

Karen, FL, USA
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