A Tribute To A Great Man

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Our family lost a great man this weekend. After nearly 4 years of battling ALS, my Uncle Tommy took his walk into Heaven.

Uncle Tommy was a kind and happy individual. He was always smiling and when he laughed, you couldn’t help but laugh with him. He was always one to be doing something – fixing or constructing; quad riding on the weekends; playing volleyball and just enjoying life. 

He loved his family – Aunt Denise, Shawn and Brit. His brothers and sisters. He loved his nephews and nieces like they were his own and he was always excited to hear what was happening in our lives, even as we grew older.

Tom was a Steamfitter and was proud of the work that he did and who he worked with. We used to talk about construction projects in and around Pittsburgh. When I told him something our team was working on he’d always say “No way? You guys are working on that?” while he grinned and shook his head. Happy for me.

Uncle Tom loved the beach. Cape May was a special spot for him and we spent many summers there growing up with our extended family. He loved to be out in the sand playing Frisbee or even throwing bags with the guys. Soaking in all the sun and time with his family. I am glad that my husband Dan and brother-in-law Kyle got to experience that special place with him, too. 

When he was diagnosed with ALS no one could believe it. Tommy, the one who was always on the go; always active; always instigating someone to make the group laugh – diagnosed with a disease that literally stops people in their tracks. We all had to know that he wouldn’t go down without a fight or a smile. 

That’s exactly how he was. Every time he had a setback, he and Aunt Denise always found a way to make it work; make him comfortable; and keep him at home.

On the visits when it was warm, you could find him on the deck. “Yeah, Denise moved me outside so I could enjoy this sunshine and warm weather” he’d say with a smile. What an example he set for all of us, that even on the bad days, there’s a way to find sunshine.

The last time I was there to visit him, I brought Zeke. Aunt Denise was so happy to see him and brought him into Uncle Tommy and he laughed and said “Look at all that hair! He’s beautiful!” I cried standing next to them, watching as Aunt Denise held him on Uncle Tommy’s chest so he could talk to him and give him a kiss.

We talked that visit about life and grief, heaven and God. I asked him how he felt and how he managed to be so upbeat and what he said to me, is something I’ve replayed in my head nearly every day since.

I talk to God and pray. I have a lot of time to sit here and think and look out the window. There’s a lot we won’t ever have answers for Kate, but we have to have serenity and be thankful for what we do have.

What a way to look at life and what a strong faith in God and a plan not visible to us.

His daughter Brittany got married, in their home, nearly a month ago. Shawn, her brother, married them. Looking at photos, Uncle Tommy looked happy and brighter than he had seemed in months. I smiled looking at pictures from that day, seeing the happiness and pride on his face and seeing how happy Aunt Denise looked to have everyone home and all together.

Uncle Tommy, Mom, Aunt Jamie, Uncle Ron, & Uncle Jeff at my cousin Shawn’s wedding in August 2014

These last few weeks he was tired, but still “with it” when it came to talking with everyone. My mom and Aunt Jamie told me how he talked about “seeing Daddy” with him, as well as others, on certain occasions. When he started to tell my mom about his experience, she said “I know” and he said, “Did I tell you? How do you know?” “No, Denise told me when I came in,” she said.

Denise! Denise, what are you doing telling everyone? What are you, like, the internet?” Everyone laughed, including him.

I was amazed and proud of how open he was about what he experienced and what he saw. As he spoke about having – he was given serenity in his final days.

I am very proud of Uncle Tommy, in ways words can never express. We all are.

We were downtown for a race Dan was running with his students on Saturday morning when Mom called. I was with the boys and we were about to cross the Clemente Bridge. I had checked the weather before we left home and while rain wasn’t in the forecast, the skies were filled with grey clouds. I talked with Mom for a few moments and then started to walk towards town. I stopped on the bridge to look at the City of Pittsburgh skyline and the ballpark and as I stood there, the sun started to come through the clouds. I was thinking, how fitting that the Pittsburgh Marathon was happening this weekend. Uncle Tommy had run his marathon and crossed the finish line, with Pup (his dad) holding his hand and taking him home.

I just keep wondering what Uncle Tommy, Pup, and Toby are doing now? My son now gets to share his days with two of the best men I was blessed to have beside me as I grew. I really hope they’re all sitting with their toes in the sand now, laughing.

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