After years of serious health struggles related to diabetes, Dan Laramie left this world on his own terms, to the sound of cheers and applause celebrating a wonderful life.
|Dan Laramie playing guitar in Lulu and The Lazy Boys at the Wrong Turn Tavern. (Facebook)|
The 68-year-old well-known local musician (K-Town/Corner Turtles/Lulu and The Lazy Boys) passed away Saturday night at home, in Keremeos, at about 9:30 p.m. by medically assisted death. His wife Stef Laramie, his children, grandchildren and other family members and friends were by his side.
The end came after an unforgettable party. Dubbed Dan’s Day it was an event worthy of a man who spent his last years pursuing his passions of playing music, embracing teaching and learning.
“I figured I got to go out with something. I can’t just fade away in a hospital which is what was going on. I can’t just disappear one day in a hospital room. So, I thought, ‘screw it,’ I’m going to have a bash. I’m going to do something, have some fun and hopefully while I’m having some fun, it’s teaching people a little bit. I don’t know what it’s teaching them, but I’m sure it’s going to teach them something. I’m sure people are going to leave there with a whole new set of ideas and thoughts that they didn’t have when they came,” he said, shortly before his death.
An eclectic crowd gathered while Dan lay in bed talking, laughing and smoking a cigar. Conversations spanned from just catching up, to reflections on the reason for the celebration at hand. Many noted Dan’s bravery. Others found hope in the idea death can be on one’s own terms. Some said it was the first party of this kind they’d attended, but they expect to see more as assisted death becomes increasingly common.
|Dan Laramie with his buddy Jack. (Facebook)|
The journey to Dan’s last party gained unstoppable momentum almost a year ago in May 2018. One day, after a shower, Dan found a blister on his toe. As a diabetic he knew it was serious, and he sought treatment from the wound care team the same day.
“Three days later I was down to the doctor and they were going to amputate, and I thought, ‘wow, that was pretty quick.’ Gangrene had set in. I’m diabetic and blood supply is lousy down there and that’s what happens,” he said.
First, it was just a couple of toes on his right foot, then the rest of his toes and half the foot. He and his medical team hoped it would heal. Then his leg was amputated halfway up his shin, and then finally above the knee.
Gangrene spread to other parts of his body and other amputations were necessary, leaving open wounds susceptible to infection. His left leg became worse than his right before amputation, but because his organs were starting to fail an operation was not possible.
His kidney was working at between 3 to 5 per cent and his heart was failing just before death. He could no longer play guitar. Several of his fingers had gangrene and would bleed profusely if they hit a string.
He discussed the possibility of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAid) with Stef. Still the couple clung to hope that Dan’s health would improve.
Stef said doctors talked to them about getting Dan’s affairs in order, but the couple didn’t fully grasp what that meant until about three weeks ago.
“They pretty much said these are your choices:‘You can stay. It is going to get really bad. You are basically going to suffer and here are your choices.’He could have either just stopped taking dialysis, and it would have probably taken a week-and-a-half or two weeks or something. Dan said maybe May (for doctor assisted death) and then they checked his blood regularly and another doctor came in and said ‘you don’t have that much time.’So it went from three months to three weeks,” she said.
The couple talked about everything during his sickness. Honesty with themselves and each other was a guiding principle.
|Dan Laramie in hospital working on the remote control airplane he was building for his son and grandchildren. His hope was that his son would complete the plane and fly his ashes over the valley. (Facebook)|
They had hard conversations about what the future held, the options on the table, and what life would be like for Stef after Dan was gone.
“A lot of people have been telling me I’m brave and courageous and all this stuff. Really to be honest with you, I think I’m taking the easy way out. You know, not that I would change that for anybody because I am taking the easy way out. It’s the only way I can live with it for now,” he said. “The nice thing is I get to choose. The other way I never know when it will come. I never know what will be the cause. I don’t know how sick I will be.”
Once they decided on Medical Assistance in Dying things got better, Dan said. And the ideas of how Dan wanted to spend his last days, hours and minutes started pouring in.
“Now, it’s like talking about dinner coming up in a couple of weeks with a bunch of the folks coming over and it’s not much more than that. People go out with fear and worry, and there’s none of that with this,” he said.
In the weeks leading up to his death, he started to build a remote control plane in the hospital. He gifted to his son and grandkids in hopes someday it would be finished and they could spread his ashes over the valley.
|Dan Laramie at his “farewell to this life” party smoking a cigar and enjoying a drink surrounded by family and friends. (Tara Bowie photo)|
In his last hours Dan smoked cigars, drank beer, and at the end enjoyed a drink of whiskey.
“I loved it,” were three of the last words the gentle man spoke when asked what he thought of his ‘farewell to this’ life party.
A friend he worked with at Portage, a youth addiction rehabilitation centre outside of Keremeos, played Stairway to Heaven as the first of the needles entered Dan’s body to put him to sleep. As a homage to the years, he spent as a musician he requested those present applaud.
As the last needles were inserted to shut down his organs Dan got his wish.
The crowd of about 50 people clapped and called out, many while crying. But they all knew this death was as their friend had wanted.
Dan left some words of wisdom for everyone left behind.
“My best advice is if you want to do something in life get on with it. Tomorrow you may be in here with a little blister on your toe and there goes all your life – all your plans. All your stuff, everything you thought you were going to do – out the window. And there’s nothing you can do about it. So my best advice is do it now. Just get out there and do it. You’ve got nothing to lose and if you wait to do it later you have everything to lose.”