Donna and Richard Wallmach August, 2006
Donna Walmach, widow of Richard Walmach, grapples with the challenge of
expressing how well loved Richard was by her and the children. Merely
talking about it does not do justice to the constant ache in their heart
left behind after Richard passed. Richard died in his bed surrounded by
his family, all holding hands on June 11, 2006. Richard's family never
left his side throughout his battle with mesothelioma.
Richard and Donna Walmach were a true American couple. They were hardworking,
thrifty and above all honest. They lived in a house they built in 1975
located on approximately six acres in a watershed in Bremerton, Washington.
The family took numerous trips together every year, and spent their one
"big" vacation sleeping together in tents.
Before his mesothelioma, Richard was able to walk up to six miles to visit
friends atop a hill in his neighborhood. He enjoyed working in his yard
and completing various projects around the house. Richard also had a passion
for sailing and he enjoyed frequent sailing trips. He even participated
in a thirteen-day sailboat race from Canada to Hawaii! Their lives were
rich with family and friends.
Donna still misses the little things about Richard. After his retirement
from working as a Marine machinist at the Puget Shipyard, Richard started
cooking gourmet meals for Donna. She looked forward to savoring a home-cooked
after a long day together with the comfort of Richard's presence.
Donna has since returned to her job as a caregiver for the elderly and
handicapped. Her job keeps her busy and gives her satisfaction in caring
for the people who need it most. The Walmach children have also gradually
gone on with their lives after grieving over their loss. Their family
does weekly check-ins and gets together often to stay connected.
Richard's surgical scars.
Family Support after Diagnosis
Richard's family was devastated by the diagnosis of malignant pleural
mesothelioma in January of 2005. The children immediately began to research
Richard's condition to help him learn about treatment options. They
played a key role in his treatment by advising him of mesothelioma specialists
and by helping him get to and from his appointments. Richard and his tightly
knit family understood and believed that being together and mutual reliance
were crucial to the healing process.
When Dr. Vallieres at the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle recommended
Richard as a candidate for surgery, the decision to go ahead was made
by his whole family, whose attitude was purely oriented towards getting
as much life for their father as possible. As Richard said, "It wasn't
my decision." The details of the surgery were studied and discussed
by his wife and children; they knew more about the procedure than Richard.
Family Help During Consultations, Surgery, and Recovery
During his extra-pleural pneumonectomy surgery and recovery, Richard's
family stayed with Richard in shifts at the hospital, never leaving him
alone. Before his surgery, at least one family member would always accompany
Richard to his appointments with Dr. Vallieres. The family's commitment
made quite an impression. Dr. Vallieres got to know Richard's family
including his then pregnant daughter Jennifer. Dr. Vallieres would affectionately
pat her stomach and ask about her condition. The day finally came when
Dr. Vallieres saw the baby accompany Jennifer when she came with Richard
for one of his appointments.
Richard seemed to recover well after his surgery in June, 2005. He stayed
active and planned to attend antique car shows, until his health took
a downturn in March, 2006. After exploratory surgery and chemotherapy,
the family decided to focus on pain management rather than additional
Home Care by his Family
Richard received care from his family at home. Richard's family remained
vigilant in their constant efforts to keep him as comfortable as possible.
Jennifer read him antique car stories to help pass the time and to take
his mind off the pain. The children would play their father's favorite
music in order to divert his attention from the progression of the disease.
Donna and the children would take turns leading the others in camping
songs from their past trips and from Richard's Boy Scout days. They
took turns by his bedside, attending to his physical needs and to his
need for having his loved ones nearby.
Dr. Eric Vallieres and Richard
Hospice and friends at home
During the last three months, the family could no longer handle the enormity
of the home care, even with the three children, in-laws, and Donna. Hospice
care began. The family was happy to see Richard's co-workers, church
members, and boating club friends who came by to visit, yet these visits
were exceptionally hard because they reminded the family on a daily basis
that the disease's progress was inexorable. Richard's extraordinary
will to live continually gave them hope-at one point he managed to roll
over in bed despite not having eaten in days and despite being terribly
weak. The hope, however, invariably turned to anxiety and fear at losing
their father and husband.
Richard lived about a year after his surgery but within that year he got
to see two new grandchildren. Donna sees this as a wonderful "blessing"
for any grandfather. For the Walmach family, mesothelioma may have claimed
the life of their beloved husband and father but it has helped them realize
their strength and unity in helping each other overcome difficult times.
*** POSTED MARCH 26, 2007 ***
Mr. Richard Walmach passed away on June 11, 2006