When Tim Suckow’s brother spotted an eagle soaring above the family’s homestead on the day of Tim’s funeral, it gave his loved ones a sense of peace.
“Tim loved to go eagle watching and it gave us comfort to know that he’s free and he’s in heaven,” his wife, Kathryn, said. “The eagle actually landed in the field right by the house. It was a beautiful day.”
Tim fought long and hard for nearly four years to beat esophageal cancer. He was cancer-free for some time after undergoing an aggressive treatment regimen including chemotherapy and radiation therapy followed by a difficult surgery to remove a quarter of his stomach and three-fourths of his esophagus. Unfortunately, the cancer returned with a vengeance in 2017.
Determined to defy the odds, Tim tried several kinds of chemotherapy before exhausting all options and reluctantly agreeing to accept hospice care. “His doctor convinced him it was time, but he wasn’t ready to give up,” Kathryn said. While the family still hoped for a miracle, it credits Lincolnland Hospice of Sarah Bush Lincoln for helping Tim make the most of his final weeks with loved ones.
“Tim’s hospice nurses were amazing. Anytime we called, they were right there and they helped us so much emotionally and spiritually. They are just wonderful people,” Kathryn said.
The couple was surprised to learn about Lincolnland Hospice’s Grant-A-Wish program, which offers end-of-life requests for all its patients. Knowing the end was near, Tim wanted to take one last trip to Pere Marquette State Park in Grafton to go eagle watching with his family. “It’s a beautiful place that we found by accident, and we’ve gone there every year since,” Kathryn said.
Tim originally hoped to have his three brothers and his sister join him on the trip, but plans changed when their father, Melvin Suckow, passed away a few days before they were scheduled to go. Making the best of things, hospice caregivers helped the couple reschedule the travel package, which included a three-day stay with meals. Tim was thrilled that one of his long-time friends was able to join them at Pere Marquette Lodge.
“We took scenic drives to see the eagles, went to the casino one night and spent time in the hot tub and the pool,” Kathryn said. “We didn’t do as much as we usually do because Tim wasn’t up to it, but it was a good trip and a really good memory for Tim and Eddie, one of his best friends. The people at the lodge just catered to us that weekend. They told us they were honored that was where Tim wanted to go for his last trip.”
Back home, the couple was also in the process of finding a new home as Tim’s health declined during that difficult time. During the transition, Tim’s mother, Linda, didn’t hesitate to welcome them into her home in Altamont just days after she lost her husband of 57 years to ALS, a progressive neurological disorder. Looking back, Linda recalls that Melvin was diagnosed with the dreadful disease on the same day as Tim’s big surgery. “It’s been a nightmare, but our family is very close and we support each other,” she said. “Tim is the oldest of four sons and a daughter.”
Lincolnland Hospice caregivers were welcomed back into the home where they had just cared for Tim’s father. “I honestly don’t know if I could have survived it without hospice,” Linda said, grateful for the support. “We also had Lincolnland Home Care, and they were fabulous too. It helped so much just to know that they were coming. I had all these questions and problems, and I knew they would be there to answer them and help. I could depend on them to come when they said they were coming. I didn’t feel quite so alone.”
Kathryn agrees, “They are always willing to listen, and they will do anything they can for you. They made us feel like they would give us the entire day if that is what we needed.” She especially appreciated how Tim’s nurses let him make his own decisions. “He started refusing his pain medication because he was having nightmares. He decided he’d rather fight the pain and I liked that hospice let him make that choice,” she said. “They didn’t try to force anything on him.”
Kathryn and Linda credit their strong faith, along with the unwavering support of family and friends, for helping them through that difficult time. They especially appreciated the daily visits from their church minister, who sang to Tim and provided much comfort.
Thankfully, Tim was alert most days and his brothers and his sister and other family members enjoyed gathering and spending time together at the house. “Tim and I were married later in life. This year would have been our 10th anniversary,” Kathryn said. “He tried to be Mr. Tough Guy, but he had a heart of gold. I loved watching him adapt to my family and my kids and grandkids.” Tim was a truck driver and farmer, but he was especially proud of helping start the Hilltop Maple Syrup and Honey Company in Altamont. “He loved making homemade maple syrup,” Kathryn said.
Though he could barely speak, Tim still managed to tell his loved ones he loved them until he died peacefully on March 2, Kathryn said. He was 55 years old. Kathryn and Linda are both thankful that Tim and his father are now together in heaven. “That’s what helps. Dad didn’t go alone and Tim didn’t go alone,” Linda said.
For more information about Lincolnland Hospice, call 1-800-454-4055 or go to www.sarahbush.org.