“Thank you for… and thank you for… and thank you….” That’s how the letter progressed. A thank you for a life spent together. A eulogy left to be discovered.
In 1959, before cell phones and the internet, Ed Kouri socialized the way most young Peorians did – cruising Peoria’s Main Street, stopping at Steak ‘n Shake before making the loop again. But on this particular evening Ed saw a young girl, a pretty dance instructor who recently transferred from Wisconsin, having coffee at a shop along the way. He pulled in.
That night, Ed met Shirley and they talked over a cup of coffee. That coffee led to a phone number that led to a date that led to a vow that led to four children and 50 years of love.
They had businesses together, traveled the world and took care of grandchildren. Shirley even made sure Ed started making it to church on time.
But in 2010, a threat entered the Kouris’ lives, and a battle with an aggressive thyroid cancer that metastasized in the lungs and spinal cord ensued. Numerous surgeries and radiation treatments robbed speech and threatened the future.
At times, thoughts of quitting or giving up would surface. Each time, the couple would find the strength to search for answers, neither wanting their story to end. They traveled to some of the top cancer facilities in the country, staying in borrowed condos, living on the road.
Despite all their best efforts, the cancer spread. The Kouris were running out of time. The pain and discomfort were taking their toll and hospice became the dominant topic of conversation.
They knew that hospice is not about giving up, but making the most of the time they had left, and that death is a fate we all share despite our best efforts to cheat it. But still, rationality aside, it can be a difficult decision.
You don’t want to see your loved one suffer. You want to make their pain go away – would even trade places if possible – but you can’t. However, hospice can provide comfort and quality of life so you can make the most of the remaining time.
The Kouris chose the OSF Richard L. Owens Hospice Home not only for the comfort, but for the respite they provide for the caregivers. Being a caregiver can be a difficult and demanding labor of love. You can become fatigued and emotional. The additional help allows you focus on enjoying those moments together.
But even then there can be guilt: “Did I do everything I could?” “Is there one more type of treatment?” “Did I care for them well enough?”
Be gentle with yourself and don’t feel guilty about feeling guilty. You have love and hope and dreams – a lifetime of memories. But no one wants to die in pain or at a hospital. We want to be alert and in a place where we are comfortable, surrounded by our family and friends. The goal of hospice is to make that happen.
Their stay at the OSF Hospice Home lasted for 10 days. On Friday, October 16, 2015, after a “good” night, death came. The Kouri family gathered and said their goodbyes.
A final goodbye
Months later, while looking for a fresh checkbook to pay the bills, Ed discovered an envelope with letters addressed to him, their four children and their spouses and their eight grandchildren. Even though cancer had robbed her ability to speak and caused great suffering, it couldn’t take her voice.
“Throughout our years of marriage you have done so much for me, but I have never thanked you. Thank you for your faith. Thank you for stopping at Pere Marquette that first night we met. Thank you for asking me to go bowling on our first date. Thank you…. Thank you for a wonderful life. Be happy and enjoy life. Always keep your Glady’s [big] laugh. You are the Best!!! Love you forever, S”
Every moment is precious, and there are times that demand tough decisions. After a five-year struggle, Ed was happy for the final days at the OSF Hospice Home where they were able to spend them together as a family.
“They relieved her pain and made her comfortable. She always had a smile on her face.”