April 12, 2005
On April 12, 2005 Phil was scheduled to have a CT scan to see the extent of his cancer, however, upon awaking that morning, Phil was distressed and said to me that he did not feel he could make this appointment. I knew for Phil to cancel this he was feeling very bad and that he had sur- rendered even more.
Phil was not well, he had taken a turn for the worse during the night, so I phoned his doctor Rhona and she arrived within the hour at approximately eight o’clock. Phil had a fever. His skin was clammy, and Rhona informed us that he would need to go to hospital for antibiotics as it was her suspicion that he was now suffering from an infection, which subsequently proved to be correct.
Rhona stayed with Phil and myself awhile once she had organized the hospital and ambulance. I quickly began moving around the house and packing overnight gear for us both. I once again returned to the robotic state––a state that I had now mastered and seemed somewhat comfort- able in.
During this time Rhona sat with Phil and asked him how the hospice visit went for him. He replied, “not very good actually Rhona, those hospice nurses aren’t very experienced are they!” Bless him, both Rhona and I looked at one another with a gentle smile. We both found this rather funny actually, but Phil was pretty serious when making this statement. To him the only nurse who knew how to look after him properly was his wife Tanya.
April 12, a Tuesday, was the day that Phil was to close his final act, and on that morning he showered himself and as usual I towelled him down. How remarkably strong he was, both physically and in spirit. This too was the final time that this ritual of ours would take place.
The ambulance arrived on time at 9.45 A.M., and I could tell by the look on the faces of the ambulance attendants that they felt this was going to be one large ask to get Phil onto the stretcher. Not only was Phil a tall man, at this stage his body was very swollen so he would have been extremely heavy.
Phil was a man of such dignity, to surrender himself and allow others to lift him onto this stretcher was telling me that he no longer had it in him to manage with his own body in spite of the fact that he had showered himself earlier that morning. The body that he took so much pride in and worked so hard at keeping in shape, the body he loved so much was now taking control of him and he was now surrendering to it.
Again I was functioning on pure adrenalin. The tiredness from the night before was gone as I gathered all of the items that we needed for the hospital visit, not really knowing for how long. Once this was done, and standing at the entrance of our lounge with bag in hand, I distinctly recall seeing the beauty of the sun streaming through our stain glassed window and onto Phil as he was being placed on the stretcher.
That little voice inside, the one I grew to know and at times despise, told me that this would be the last time that I would have Phil in our home alive. I did not dismiss the voice at this time. I knew that he was now being taken away for the absolute final stage of his journey and that someday soon, this journey of Phil’s would be complete.
For a moment the part of me that remained in denial wanted to scream to the ambulance officers not to take him from his cream lazy boy chair, thinking that somehow if Phil remained at home he would not die, that he would remain with me forever and no matter what state he was in it was fine with me. There was however the part of me that had completely surrendered and had no voice left to scream, no tears to cry, just a knowing that my act was not quite complete. For how long I was not sure. What I did know was to continue to stay strong for Phil, and soon it would be my time to fall apart.
Phil was being carried from our home on a stretcher, carried out onto the main road where the ambulance was parked. He did not have the energy to walk out there on his own, as he did only five days earlier from the hospice.
I rode with Phil in the ambulance answering all of the questions asked by the attendant, being incredibly precise about his condition, the medication he was on, times and test results. You name it; I answered it. I was in my fight mode, no flight for me at this time as clearly the adrenalin was fully operating.
Phil lay there now with an oxygen mask on to assist his breathing, totally trusting in nurse Tanya as I sat slightly behind him, gently caressing his head to let him know that I was there.
There was such a vast difference to the man whom I recall merely six weeks earlier wanted to remain independent and do as much for himself as he could. Upon my return from overseas, within hours in fact, I noticed that Phil had let go and in his own way said, Tarn, I need you to take care of me now.
Once we arrived at the acute assessment ward at Auckland Hospital there was urgency in my voice as I said, “Please, take care of him for me and help me.” There was a feeling of relief for me as I handed over the physical task of taking care of Phil to someone else. It was too much for me––both physically and emotionally I could do no more.
As we waited a few moments for Phil to be admitted, once again he was asked a familiar question by the nurse admitting him, “You remind me of someone, but I cannot think of whom.” To put her out of her misery I rather promptly replied as I knew that they were referring to Christopher Reeve, the Superman actor who was crippled in a horse riding accident and had recently died himself. I know her intentions were kind, but I did not want precious moments wasted when all I really wanted them to do was ease the load upon us both at this time. Phil did look very much like Christopher Reeve, and in fact a friend of my mother’s once asked why she had a photo of Superman on her mantle piece. Phil was my super- man, and, even as he lay there helpless, he still was.
News had travelled very fast about Phil now being in the hospital, and for so many it was a shock as they were not aware how close he actually was to the end of his time. Many family members were still unaware that he had cancer, and this was how Phil wanted it.
For the first few hours it was just the two of us as doctors and nurses attended to Phil, asked more questions, took x-rays, looked for veins in which to place the IV drip for his antibiotics and attached monitors to him. These monitors confirmed my reality that my husband Philip was slipping away, and it baffled me that this man was still fighting to the degree that he was, considering what those numbers read.
As I sat there listening to the doctors, trying to understand them, it was clear that Phil did have a severe infection which they would attempt to fight with antibiotics. However all of his major organs were now slowly closing down. The simple fact was that Phil’s body was barely alive; how- ever his fighting spirit was still very much with us and this was the only reason that he was still with us.
One of the many reasons that Phil was so loved by everyone was because he placed no human ahead of another. He gave as much time to the trolley boy at the supermarket as he did to his superiors. Phil always made an effort to know people by their first names and refer to them as so, no matter how little he knew them. Yes on the final day of his life he continued with this same respect, and for every nurse or doctor that tended to him that day he asked for their first name and respectfully used it.
Phil was in fact rather comical on this day and made some rather funny comments. I am not sure if it was simply his usual dry sense of humour or whether he was in some euphoric state due to his condition. He certainly was very lucid and not pumped up with pain killers at this point, so I believe it was simply Phil acting out.
One young doctor came in and asked Phil how he was feeling and with a wide smile his response was, “great, it is the best day of my life!”
At approximately midday a senior doctor came in followed by his group of young colleagues. I do not remember his name but surely Phil would have. He had greying hair, a grey beard and glasses, and at that instant he reminded me of the movie director Steven Spielberg. Very directly he asked Phil what his understanding of his condition was. Phil replied in the most positive way that he could, inferring that he was hoping to make it out of there rather soon.
My chest tightened as instinctively I knew that the words about to be spoken from this man would be earth shattering for us both, and they were. For the first time since Phil’s diagnosis five months earlier we were told that Phil was going to die and very soon in fact.
No one had ever used the d word before with us; it was as if every doctor and specialist with whom we had contact somehow knew not to. In fact it took me many months after Phil’s death before I could utter this word myself.
This was perfect for Phil’s journey as never did he want to be told that this cancer would eventually take him from this life. He needed to hear only positive things to assist him in his recovery. Upon hearing these words once again the nausea and trembling began in my body. The horror, the truth, this fact was voiced; my husband was dying. This doctor’s exact words were that “You will not be leaving this hospital.”
Phil’s body was now being ravaged by an infection that was spreading through his body, and it was doubtful that any antibiotic would stop it. All of his major organs were failing, his blood pressure was barely registering and soon my husband of only eight years would leave me.
Upon hearing these words Phil looked at me like a frightened young boy needing comfort that perhaps what he heard was not correct. No words were spoken, however his big blue eyes said to me, “Did you hear what he said Tarn? I am actually going to die.”
We were left alone to assimilate the avalanche we had just been hit with. I moved closer to Phil to sit on his bed to his right. I held his hand. There were no tears. I just wanted to be with him to comfort him. He wanted reassurance that the decisions he had made were right, and I told him that everything he had done was perfect, and there was now nothing for him to fear. All we needed to do was to continue to trust in our God and His will for us both. What I recall was an unbearable sadness that I felt for Phil as he lay there now helpless and on some level hopeless. My heart bled for Phil and whatever it was that he may have been feeling at that time. I feel this same pain now as I write.
It was at this moment that Phil said to me “Tarn, don’t forget to bring in my journal tomorrow, because this will be good for my book.” This was how passionate Phil felt about needing to tell about his journey and why I feel deeply in my heart that I have Phil’s blessing in sharing our story–– the one though which we both wanted to have a far different ending.
Upon leaving our home that morning as usual I packed our statue of the Virgin Mary and the picture of the Jesus which Phil so loved. I placed this picture at the end of Phil’s bed where he could clearly see it. Together we looked at these treasures of ours during the remainder of that day sim- ply letting go, surrendering to what was now imminent.
Whilst Phil was being attended to by the doctors I found a bathroom and phoned his sister Marie, my brother Zel and my parents informing them the best I could of what we had just been told. Without speaking too loudly I was trying to tell my mother that Phil was dying, but she did not comprehend what I was trying to tell her, so I repeated it to her in Croatian. It was when I heard her erupt with tears and anguish did I know she had finally understood. In spite of her outburst of grief this still did not bring on my own tears. I did not allow them to come as I had a job to do here, and so I thought not to disturb what I have to do for my husband right now.
Zel arrived soon after and sat at the other side of Phil’s bed. He barely spoke. The look of despair on his face said it all, and this vision is still imprinted in my memory. Still I had not cried. I could not, and I would not.
One clear recollection of those moments was Phil saying to me, “The doctor said that I only had a few months to live.” Gently I held his hand and responded back to him, “Honey that is not what the doctor said,” I could not say much more as we were not informed of exactly how long he had, but I knew that it was not a matter of months.
When this beautiful young female doctor returned, and once again Phil knew her by name, I asked her how much time Phil actually had and what we were to expect over the next few days or weeks. In her quiet voice she said that the infection could not be stopped, that it was too aggressive, that his organs would slowly begin to completely shut down, that Phil would eventually fall into a coma and within two or three days he would be gone. “Two or three days,” I panicked inside yet appeared calm. I have so little time with him, I thought, yet still there were no tears. Immediately I saw horror in Phil’s face as he looked at me once again needing reassurance from me. He even repeated the word, coma, as if to say, like hell am I going into a coma.
At one point whilst we were in this ward Phil and I were alone together, and as I was sitting on the end of his bed, he was talking to me about us going on a cruise again. He was “going to eat Birscha Muesli for breakfast and sit on the beach and love his wife”! Once again he was rather humorous as he told me in detail of this adventure.
Later that afternoon Phil was moved into a room on his own and soon immediate family began arriving to see him and provide support to us both but mainly to say goodbye to their brother, son-in-law and friend.
Delwyn was the first to arrive, and my most vivid memory of our time together was that Phil wanted the four of us to hold hands which we did– Zel was to Phil’s right, I was on Phil’s left, and Delwyn was next to me. It was at this moment when my gentle tears came. In fact only Phil had dry eyes.
The three of us wept as Phil very lucidly spoke to Zel and Delwyn and asked them to look after his girl. I allowed my tears to come as Phil voiced and accepted his fate in the presence of someone else. Through his words to Zel and Delwyn he was in fact saying to me, Tarn, I know that I am dying. Not wanting ever to lose my love, I asked Phil to wait for me when he arrived in heaven, and he said that he would. I hoped that I would be there with him soon.
Soon Monsignor Cronin arrived. He must have known the urgency as it was peak hour traffic, and the rain was pouring down outside. He gave us all communion and gave Phil his final blessing. Phil responded to Mons with a “Thank you,” and “God bless you Father,” and Father replied to him, “And God bless you also.”
My brother Nick had arrived and sat on the bed with Phil for some time holding his hand. Even this sad time did not stop the humour which often occurred between them both as Phil once again asked Nick to stop smoking!
My parents arrived and Phil said special words to them both, telling them how much he loved them. He treated them like his parents, and “Philipi” as dad often affectionately called him was their fourth son. Mom asked Phil if he had eaten any dinner, and Phil’s response was, “Not tonight
mom, but if I am feeling better in the morning then I will have some break- fast.” This was Phil’s way of letting mom know that he would be fine, and it was these words my mother held onto. To her this meant that Phil would make it through the night and perhaps even get better soon.
My brother Antoni had only just that day been released from hospital after the serious motorbike accident he had the week before, so he did not get the chance to say goodbye to Phil in person.
What we can all remember about Phil during the early evening of April 12 were his blue eyes. They seemed even brighter than usual somehow as he gazed at me constantly as I nervously moved across the room, his blue eyes following my every move. Mom noticed how he was watching me and mentioned to me that I should stand at the end of his bed so that he could see me and not have to turn his head as I moved around him, which I did.
On this day Phil radiated love. He radiated perfection, just as we all are when we are born into this life. This was who Phil had become just before he was to leave this life. He was in a state of pure love, and we all noticed this about him as he lay watching.
During the final weeks of his life Phil began telling everybody that he loved them, and on this his final night he was doing the same with those big blue radiating eyes.
Soon everyone had left, and, for a short time between approximately five thirty and six o’clock that evening, Phil and I were alone in this room. As I was sitting over him on the bed gently stroking his head and looking into his eyes, he said something to me that we would always remind each other of often during his illness, “Tarn, if you truly believe then miracles do happen.” Phil did not want to leave me, and by saying these words to me only five hours before he passed away I realized that he was still trying to protect me, to instil in me some hope and to somehow ease my pain. “Yes they do honey,” I responded to him with a very quiet voice.
During this brief time Phil was very lucid, and we shared beautiful words together, no tears, just love. I told him that the ten years we had together were the best in my life and that I would not have changed any- thing.
Phil’s big sister Marie, her husband Neil and daughter Jessica arrived soon after and spent time with their brother Phil. Jessica, but a teenager, was very brave to be with her Uncle Phil during this time but had to leave the room. Together we sat on the floor outside as she wept. I knew that Phil would have been proud of her strength.
Soon after Phil was then moved onto the seventh floor of the hospital, and he was happy about this. To us seven was God’s number and he commented to me about this as I walked alongside the bed as he was being taken there. For Phil any sign that God was present was a good sign, and for him this was a sign.
The only recollection I have of the next two hours was of Phil’s brother Paul arriving, and once again Zel arrived with his young son Xavier who also bravely wanted to say goodbye to his Uncle Phil. Phil had time alone with his family and they had left by about eight o’clock. He was tired, and it was now time for us to be alone again.
My bed for the night was to be a mattress in the corner of his room on the seventh floor by the window. I placed the statue of Our Lady on a shelf on a wall so that it was visible to him, and I placed his favourite image of Jesus at the end of his bed so that Phil could also see this clearly. The lights in the room were dimmed. Phil was lying down with his upper body slightly elevated. He had an oxygen mask on to assist him with his breathing, which at this point was becoming more difficult for him.
My friend Catherine was to come in and get keys to our home to stay the night and look after the three cats. She arrived at around eight thirty that evening, and when she walked into the room Phil smiled and said to her, “Look, here is my other angel.” Catherine did not stay long. I remembered her strength and composure as she walked in. She was aware that Phil was feeling anxious and assisted him to calm down his breathing somewhat. She took the keys, reassured Phil, kissed him and waltzed out as graciously as she had waltzed in but a few minutes earlier.
The next two and a half hours, one hundred and fifty minutes, were the final moments that I would spend with my husband Phil, and, apart from the occasional visit from the nurses, it was just the two of us. I sat myself down next to his bed and placed my hands on his very thin right arm. Breathing was becoming difficult for him at this point. It pained me as I felt so powerless––just as powerless I had been during this entire five month journey which, for Phil, was soon to end.
We spoke a lot during those one hundred and fifty minutes. I wanted to reassure him that he would be alright, that there was nothing for him to fear. Once again Phil spoke of our cruise and where we would go on our next one. Whilst he spoke I remember thinking to myself how perfect it was that we went on our Caribbean cruise back in November. I realized then how much it meant to him and how those memories were so deeply embedded into his soul. He seemed to be in some euphoric state, once again funny at times. He understood everything that I said to him and responded to me as only Phil knew how.
Soon I came to realize that I was to remain at Phil’s bedside for the night. The mattress that I had made for myself in the corner of the room would not be used. There was a deep knowing to stay up and remain awake by Phil’s side on this night.
Holding his right arm, I prayed the Rosary so that he could hear, and he listened and breathed. Then I prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet again so that he could hear, and he listened and breathed. No matter what, I knew to keep praying. This gave Phil great comfort and calmed him as it did also for me.
My peace and strength was unexplainable at that time, and there was this deep knowing within of what I had to do during Phil’s final act. The most meaningful task that I would ever accomplish in my life was soon to be completed.
Every now and then Phil would raise his head and look up to see the picture of Jesus that was upright at the end of his bed. He was alert, and I would ask him if he could see the image to which Phil replied, “Yeah, He is my mate.” His reply was in the funny way that Phil often joked around; it was perfect.
Suddenly I developed an even deeper sense that Phil would soon leave me, that evening in fact. He would not wait for that two or three days as the young doctor predicted. He would be gone sooner. Like I said, blow the coma. I just knew.
The other thing I knew was that I was alone with Phil and this was how I wanted it to remain––he in my arms, just the two of us, until he left. I would remain awake with him, I would not sleep, and I would simply
be with him one last time. Whilst this time would be the most traumatic that I would ever experience in my life, somehow the trauma was minimized by the incredible peace that was surrounding me.
During Phil’s final forty five minutes, I told him that I would pray for him every day for the rest of my life. He responded by saying to me that he would now be myangel. He said that he would always take care of me and that when I looked up to the stars that he would always be there.
My heart was at peace when at one point during this final hour of Phil’s life I felt that he had accepted his fate, that he was now ready to sur- render. It was when he raised his head and looked up again at this image of Jesus at the end of the bed. He then softly laid his head back onto the pillow, turned his head towards me and after a few seconds quietly and calmly said to me, “Tarn, whatever He wants.”
“Yes honey, whatever He wants,” was my response. This was when Phil and I, together, accepted that soon he would leave me and go into his heavenly Father’s arms.
Phil continued to have assistance with his breathing for most of our time together, and at one point I removed the oxygen mask and kissed his lips three times, and he responded by kissing me back. For many months after his death, when I would kiss his photo goodnight, I could still feel those three kisses, our final kisses, which I remembered as clearly as on that night. He enjoyed those kisses.
This time was just for Phil and me. It was for us and us alone, and I did not want anyone else present. As the end drew closer I knew that he was ready and a part of me was too. The pain of watching his breathing was just tearing my heart out, yet there was no way I could relieve him of this discomfort. All I knew was to sit and pray. This trial was too much for me. “Please Lord, help me,” I continued to ask.
Whilst I did not want to part with Phil, I wanted this discomfort for him to end––to let him go so that he could be in paradise with his mate Jesus whom I knew was waiting for him. I did not want Phil to fear. I kept telling him that Jesus was with us and that he would be all right. Whilst it was difficult to utter these words I knew that I had to for him, so I said, “Honey you go now; it is alright. I will be alright.” I held him in my arms, and I continued to tell him that I loved him and that I would be alright and
so would he. After looking at me continuously my dearly beloved turned his head slightly away to the left and closed those luminous blue eyes that radiated perfect love. As soon as he released his final breath, there were still no tears for me. I prayed the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be as one final assurance that Phil was making his way into His Father’s arms.
At approximately 11.10 P.M. on April 12, 2005 Philip Joseph Morrow passed away in my arms. I am not sure how much time passed. My Philip was safely on his way to greater things. His journey was over now; mine had just begun.
I held onto him in stunned silence, continuing to stare at him and surprisingly calm. It felt like a nightmare and that in the morning when I awoke Phil would still be with me. I made phone calls to Phil’s sister Marie and Zel. I clearly recall Zel’s surprise as he quietly said, “He died?” Marie and Neil, as most people, were very surprised that Phil had passed away so quickly, and she told me that they both sat up in bed in total shock. It was not surprising for me that Phil chose to leave so soon. He was a proud man and lying helpless in that hospital would not be what he wanted. He had completed his final act with dignity.
I made a couple of phone calls to appropriate people knowing that by the time the sun had arisen the following morning the word of Phil’s passing would have already been sent around Auckland, as it had. There would have been many a tear shed that night.
In silence I continued to simply sit with Phil looking at his face. My next memory was glancing up as Zel and Delwyn arrived and hearing Delwyn’s soft voice as she said “Oh Phil.” Still surprisingly calm I continued to hold him not wanting to let him go. Phil’s brother Paul also came to the hospital for a short while that night to see his brother that one last time.
To leave Phil’s side was not an option for me. The nurses came in to prepare his body to be taken away, but my task still did not feel complete, and I needed to do this. It was me who had to bathe Phil’s body one last time and prepare him before they took him away. For how many months had I watched his body, watched it change, washed him, dried him and wiped him down including that evening when he was burning up with a temperature. To bathe Phil one final time was as natural as bathing myself,
and I would not have wanted it any other way. I know that Phil would have wanted this. Such a proud man, only his nurse Tanya would have been able to do it as well as he wanted.
Eventually we enclosed Phil’s body into something white. I do not recall what it was. Now I felt that for me all was completed, and, as much as I wanted to remain, Phil would be gone, and there would be an empty room. There was now nothing for me to stay for.
It was close to three o’clock in the morning and time for me to leave the hospital with Zel and Delwyn and without my husband Philip. The walk out of the hospital building seemed to go on for eternity. It felt very claustrophobic for me whilst Zel led the way, and Delwyn held me as we made our way out. It was not until I started to leave the building and walk out onto the street in the cool early morning air did the realization come to me of what had happened. I had just witnessed Phil take his final breath. He was gone.
As the cool morning autumn air hit my face, the grief hit me as sharply; I collapsed into a physical grief that I had never experienced in my life. I was leaving now without Phil, just as I knew that I eventually would. This was now real, and I was leaving his body behind.
What I wanted to do was go back to that room on the seventh floor in the hope that Phil would still be there, alive, that this did not in fact hap- pen to me that evening. It could not have.
Delwyn called Zel to help her as she could not keep me upright. My wailing was loud, and in the early hours of the morning it echoed through the quiet Auckland streets, but this did not matter. I knew now that Phil could not hear me, and I had nothing in me to stop this pain and anguish from literally exploding from my heart.
Zel slept in the bed with me that night. He sat upright and read awhile, and I did sleep awhile. The darkness that surrounded me when I did awake at around six o’clock was horrific, and I had wished that I did not awaken at all.
Delwyn came into the room and sat on my bed. I needed her then. I needed her to hold me. I needed to be hugged, and I needed to be mothered. I was exhausted and in pain, and it was Delwyn who provided me with what I needed at that time.
I want to conclude this story of Phil’s journey with a final farewell which was written for him from the staff at one of the stores when he was transferred from the role of Store Manager to Area Manager in the Waikato district.
Phil would often write a poem for staff members if ever there was a significant occasion to celebrate, so his staff this time wrote him a poem and had it beautifully framed.
They commented on so many of the things that made Phil so unique, his bad spelling, his driving at the speed limit, his dislike of the computer and, of course, his integrity and the level of respect that he so rightly deserved.
It’s the end of an era
We’re losing the Boss
With most Store Managers
It’s no great loss
But it’s different with you
Phil Everyone cares
With cries of “we’ll miss him”
Even Pat shed some tears
Such an imposing figure
With that deep manly voice
Why leave us at Westgate
When we’re the “Right Choice”
You’ve always inspired us
With your “Thought of the Day”
But where is the pay raise
Questions Pam Hay
You’ve shouted us feasts
And dinners so swell
We were just coming to terms
With the odd way you spell
We’ve gone where you’ve led us
Your direction was right
But when it comes to the Waikato
Your direction is shite
Your flash new car
Comes with air con
But without G.P.S.
You won’t know where you’ve gone
Now an Area Manager
With your own PC
You’ll have to learn how to use it
Or what use will it be?
Good luck with your new role
We wish you every success
And thanks for the party invite
But what’s the bloody address
It’s now time to say goodbye
To Mr. Philip Morrow
We bid you good luck and farewell
With our hearts full of sorrow