I don’t usually do this, but because of the sensitivity of this post (discussion of my uncle’s death), I’m putting a content warning for my family in case this is triggering.
Technically my uncle Steve lost his battle with ALS – he died from the disease.
Because we don’t live in a die with dignity state (shame on you Minnesota) we have what’s called palliative sedation.
The dying person is given the option to choose a day to die. In my uncle’s case it was to be sedated and then have his respirator removed and he would die from his disease.
I was welcome to be with Steve his last few days. He was uncle Steve. Stoic. Positive. Cracking jokes. Sipping on his gin and tonic (diet Schweppes was preferred).
Things got extremely difficult for Steve over the past few months. Matt and I were doing everything we could. Bringing meals, dropping off groceries, I helped plan Steve’s last birthday party.
He wanted to see our pictures from our New York trip so we went over one evening in May and showed him our pictures. We asked his advice about buying our first home. Caran grilled a pork loin and Steve ‘back seat grilled’ constantly asking if it needed to be turned or checked while simultaneously telling Caran to ‘just keep the lid closed – you’re letting the heat out’. He shared how much he loved Stove Top stuffing. We talked about TV shows.
I had to remind myself he was dying because he just didn’t act like it. He was still uncle Steve.
Since we moved to Woodbury and lived literally down the street from Steve and Caran we ended up spending a ton of time together in the years we have been in our house.
My parents would come down for an occasion and we would invite Steve and Caran for dinner and a bon fire, we dyed Easter eggs, the six of us hunched over several dozen eggs writing dirty words with the clear crayon.
Steve particularly loved my ‘qweef’ egg one year.
We would sit around the fire and he would puff on his cigar.
Then he needed his bi-pap and the fires stopped but we would still sit in the living room and he would puff when he needed some extra air.
We shoveled their driveway the last winter in their house. We set up a Christmas tree and lights with Steve’s kids and grandkids when they were out of town so it would still feel like Christmas.
Then he needed his cane, they moved just across the freeway to Oakdale or as Steve called it ‘North Woodbury’ – he was quickly in his power wheelchair, which he stayed in until he died.
I had built a really close relationship with Steve and Caran and watching what was happening to my big, burly, Real Estate mogul uncle didn’t seem real.
I have always been particularly close to Steve’s daughters – especially Heather because of how close we are in age. I tried to think of how I would handle it if it was my dad. It’s like my brain refused to even let me think of losing my dad this way.
On one of Steve’s last days I had some quiet time with him alone and I asked if he would do two things when he got to where he was going:
- Say hi to grandma for me
- Find my babies
He promised he would.
He told me to keep trying and we would have our baby. We exchanged I love yous and just a few days later he died.
I was invited to be present during Steve’s death. It was a mix of emotions. I wanted to be there to support my dad, my mom, my cousins, Caran, my cousins, my uncles – I also didn’t want to be in the way or take up sacred space.
I tried to be aware of where I was in space and time and anticipate the needs of my family.
I’ve never been present when someone takes their last breath and transitions from Earth to their next act.
Music was playing softly. He was surrounded by the people who loved him the most.
The bulletin from his service is still sitting on our living room table. His obituary is hanging on my fridge.
He was larger than life.
His death has had a devastating impact on my dad – who like Steve, always tries to be the stoic one. Protecting my mom and I. I see him hurting and vulnerable and it makes my stomach hurt.
You can’t throw a stone in Woodbury without hitting someone who knows Steve Mollner. On my typical Walgreens route there is a house for sale. The Mollner-Brown sign hangs at the end of the driveway and I can’t drive past it without crying.
To everyone who has stayed around to read the end of this – here is my advice. Stop what you’re doing and find someone you care about and hug the ever loving shit out of them. Hug your kids. Hug your spouse.
Love you Steve. Keep my baby safe until a suitable body is ready for them Earthside.