Archive for October, 2013

Tom’s big heart

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 21, 2013 by cgeary

Tom Lore passed away in May of this year (2013) but I found out about it in September. I realized, as I was grazing through Facebook at work one day, that I had not seen anything from Tom for a while. I went to his home page to find posts from grieving friends from all over the country and barely anyone I knew.

(And here is the bizarre thing about Facebook. At the beginning of this week, I got an email reminding me that Tom’s birthday is October 16 and asking me to post something on his home page. I imagine all his other FB friends got the email too.)

 Everyone was stunned and torn apart by his sudden death, but no cause of death was mentioned. I also was stunned and worried about the cause of death. I also thought, “How could I have not known this until now?” Tom was 47 years old. There was a time probably two decades ago when I saw Tom quite often and then a time a bit later when I saw him, not quite as often but with the possibility of seeing each other frequently. I met him in the mid-90s when he was working as a caregiver and I was a volunteer at an AIDS hospice in Carrboro, NC. I was in awe of the caregivers I met there. It was about the time that anti-retrovirals were first being used to treat AIDS, but there was still a lot to learn about how to use them. The hospice went from a place where people went to die to a place where they learned to live on their meds. Residents often had some difficulties with the side effects and care could be challenging. Tom was patient and approached every situation with a sense of humor. He called everyone “sweetheart” and did whatever it took to make things better. As a volunteer I cooked dinner for the residents and caregivers a couple of times a month. Over the years I worked there I was going through a difficult personal transition, and the time I spent with people living and working there was a gift to me, a balm to ease the sting of other splintering relationships.

 I got to know Tom and his partner Todd outside of the hospice. I can remember vividly several dinners at his house and mine – hysterical laughter a common occurrence. Tom reminded me always of Jonathan Winters, but with a Southern flair. He had a sharp, quick wit, a great voice and a completely wonderful laugh. He was self-deprecating, often laughing at himself while he was making others laugh. There were other parts of Tom I was aware of but did not know so well, that balanced out the funny man I hung out with. Hyperactivity, heavy smoking, anxiety calling requiring prescription meds–I never probed, never thinking it was my business if he did not want it to be.

 At some point, but I cannot remember exactly when, we both left our work at the hospice. Tom went to nursing school and then to Texas where Todd had a job opportunity. I quit after the deaths of three residents I had known there left me heartbroken. Some years later Tom was back from Texas, to my surprise, having gotten a job working where I worked but in a different department; we talked and had lunch occasionally. Then he left the job to take care of his ailing parents. 

Tom excelled at taking care of people. He did not finish nursing school, but the job he found most satisfying was that of super administrative assistant. He knew how to anticipate what people wanted even before they knew what they wanted. He spent many years taking care of his parents until their deaths. After his mother’s death but before his father’s, one of us found the other on Facebook. It was such a joy to be in contact, even if was online. At one point after his father’s death when he was ready to find a job again – I think summer before last – we talked on the phone for a long time about job possibilities in the area. The call was great. It made me realize how much I liked Tom’s engagement with life, his ability to face the difficult things head on, his gratitude and his edgy sense of humor.

I was hoping I could help find him the job he wanted and that it would be in close proximity to me so I could see him sometimes. Before anything worked out though, I gleaned from Facebook posts that he had moved to Chicago and then he was back in Greensboro and I have no idea why he went or why he came back. Early this year I got a call from a woman in the HR department where he had applied for a job near High Point. He had given me as a reference and it was easy for me to truthfully answer her questions in a way that helped him get the job. When I saw on Facebook that he was starting a new job, I sent him a message asking if that was the job I had given him the reference for and he said yes and thank you.

My winter and spring went by in a blur — I do not remember much that was different about Tom’s posts. He was always kind of thoughtful and soulful and thankful for family and friends in his posts. He had remembered his mother on Mother’s Day and then that was the last thing he posted.

 When I stumbled onto the fact of his death, I was thinking how strange a life it is that I can feel close to someone I had not seen in person in years and in fact had few real time interactions with and that life could be so busy I didn’t notice his absence right away. A two-edged sword is this technology that mediates our relationships. If it were not for Facebook, I might not have re-connected with him at all. I read a lot of posthumous posts on his wall by people that mentioned they had met Tom through FB and never in person and that his friendship had been meaningful and dear to them. Through FB though, I was able to contact Todd who had kept up with Tom through the years and he told me that Tom died because of an accidental drug overdose.

Tom’s death is tragic and heartbreaking in so many ways, but the life he did have was a gift to those who knew him. Death is a mystery but I believe that the reality of who we are – our beings, our souls – never really go away. Whatever the bumps and bruises of Tom’s life were, it is the big, tender heart he opened to those around him that is the reality of who he is and that lives on for those who cared about him. Thanks, buddy.