‘Who knew dying could be so much fun?’
I am waiting here
to start my life,
I have been waiting
for a long time,
for my life to begin.
Then I found
it was such a waste
to be waiting
to start my life
I could begin it
anytime I wanted
since the permission
for the asking.
I took that permission
and haven’t looked back
there is no time
for waiting any longer.
–W.A. Rump, 1987
The circumstances couldn’t quash the smiles as a small crowd gathered in a little house outside Glenwood Springs on Thursday to grant William Rump’s last wish.
Rump, 72 — though he identifies as ageless — suffers from lung cancer that metastasized to his brain. On Monday, he and his daughter Angela Coulter will fly to Fort Wayne, Indiana, the hometown Rump hasn’t seen in more than 30 years, and visit the sister he’s seen only once in almost as long.
The trip is made possible by the Dream Foundation, a national nonprofit that grants wishes to the terminally ill, and Hospice of the Valley, a local organization dedicated to end-of-life care.
“This process can be more beautiful than you think,” explained hospice social worker Alison Bloom. “There are services there to maximize quality of life, not only for the patient, but for family, friends and the community as well.”
Hospice of the Valley has worked to grant dying wishes before, but this is the organization’s first time working with the Dream Foundation, which will cover plane tickets, accommodations and more. Bloom, along with cancer center social worker Diane Carnoali, helped put the application together, and had the honor of presenting the tickets to Rump and Coulter.
Known to many by his pen name W.A. Rump, the former writer for the Fort Wayne News Sentinel, Oklahoma radio personality and Vietnam veteran came to Colorado in 2006 when his daughter got a job in the area. He took up painting with everything but paintbrushes, penned two as-yet unpublished novels, and continued writing poetry on an old Underwood typewriter.
Although he has a passion for family history, Rump said he never really felt close to his family. His mother died during a family vacation when he was 8 — too young to visit her in the hospital in those days. He didn’t see his sister, Beverly, for almost 20 years. When she tried to come up to visit earlier this year, her heart started bothering her at the Denver airport and the visit turned into a short reunion in a Denver hospital.
“That was the first time I really felt close to my sister,” Rump recalled. “It made me really want to go see her again.”
He also plans to visit the hospital where he was born, the house where he grew up and the diner where he met Angela’s mother. Perhaps most importantly, he wants to show his daughter his mother’s grave.
“I want to know some of the places so I can carry on the family tree,” Coulter said.
There are probably more dead people to visit than live ones, Rump joked, but that’s nothing new. Coulter remembers visiting as many cemeteries as parks as a little girl, and can recite family history back to the Mayflower.
Perhaps it’s that exposure that allows the family to get through such hard times.
“When you first hear the word ‘cancer’, you know it’s a big deal,” Coulter said. “It wasn’t supposed to do anything, but before we know it he was going through brain surgery.”
The brain tumor left Rump occasionally searching for the right word, or filling in the wrong word in common phrases. The family has turned it into a sort of game — challenging him to tongue twisters and cracking up at some of his more outlandish spoonerisms.
“We’ve had our share of tears, but there’s been a lot of laughter,” Coulter said. “I’ve had the opportunity to create memories to look back on when he’s gone and fill that void.”
“Who knew dying could be so much fun?” she added later.
Rump gives a lot of the credit to his caregivers, both at the hospital and at hospice.
“Everyone just goes out of their way to help you,” he said. “I’ve never experienced such compassion.”
That’s exactly what Bloom is hoping to achieve.
“We’re not good at talking about death,” she said. “Things become less scary the more open you are about them. We get these things out on the table beforehand so that, when the time comes, you can be present in the moment.”
Hospice chaplain Sean Jueng agreed.
“We’re all born with a terminal diagnosis, but we tend to forget it. When you know your time is limited, your dreams become more acute and feel less attainable,” she said. “You can do a lot of living before the dying part.”
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