Updated on 12.06.11


Trent Hamm

A few days ago, my wife’s aunt passed away.

She was a wonderful woman. She possessed an incredibly positive spirit, even though her life had brought her unbelievable hardship through no fault of her own. She overcame more challenges in her life than anyone else I’ve ever known, and it was a privilege to have known her.

I only ever had the opportunity to know this woman during her final years when her health was in serious decline. She required a mobile ventilator to breathe and was constantly confined to a wheelchair. She would get worn out from even small events. She took an incredible array of medications just to maintain things.

Yet, through it all, she had an amazing positive spirit. She was one of those people that always brought a smile to the table. She managed to always find a kind thing to say about everyone and about every situation.

My fondest memory of her took place a few summers ago. The two of us were watching a parade together. Without fail, she found something positive to say about each of the floats and bands and other parade elements that went by.

As often happens at a parade, the people in the parade would toss candy and other small treats to the crowd. I helped my son and daughter retrieve a few pieces and ate a piece or two myself.

At one point, a float went by tossing out miniature pieces of string cheese – it was a local dairy that was advertising their wares. As this went by, I felt a tug at my shirt. She asked me if I could pick up a piece of string cheese for her. I checked with her nurse, who gave a small nod, so I grabbed a piece that had been tossed out.

I helped her open a piece of the string cheese and got the peeling of it started for her. She took a small bite of it, closed her eyes, and sighed as she chewed on it. She opened her eyes, looked up at me with a smile, and said, “It’s the little things, Trent.”

It is really easy to get caught up in the business in our lives. We have work to do, household tasks to take care of, Christmas presents to wrap. The list goes on and on – at least it does for me.

It is so easy to lose sight of the simple pleasures in life in all of that hustle and bustle. Simple things, like the feeling of my daughter holding my hand as she watches her big brother sing at a Christmas play, or the feeling of a snowflake or two on your tongue, or the noise of the shared laughter of your mother and your toddler-aged child.

For her, these little pleasures meant so much, and that moment with her reminded me of how wonderful the little things really are. They’re worth savoring, and if you can enjoy them, then you don’t need to spend your time and energy and money on chasing ever-bigger pleasures.

It is the little things. I’ll miss her.

A final note: if you are a parent, please vaccinate your children. The medical issues that caused this wonderful woman to have difficult medical issues throughout her adult life and to eventually pass away were issues that could have been prevented had the appropriate vaccine been available just a year or two earlier. I have borne witness to the incredible challenges that she has had to take on because they didn’t have a vaccine, and my wife’s aunt has been an inspiration to me to make sure that my children have received their vaccinations exactly on schedule.

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  1. Sassy says:

    May I second your urging to get vaccinated? My Dad passed away a couple of years ago from post polio syndrome and it’s a miserable way to end your life.

  2. Sassy says:

    And my condolences to you and your wife.

  3. kristine says:

    Very sorry for your loss.

  4. AndreaS says:

    I had an aunt who had polio as a teenager. She was in an iron lung for a long time, and there were a few times when my grandparents got the call to come to the hospital because she was dying. She survived, though was disabled, having some function in her hands. She died in her 40s of breast cancer. She was a very lovely person, like Trent’s aunt. So yes to vaccines. We take it for granted that all of our children will almost certainly live to adulthood.

  5. lurker carl says:

    Disease prevention and elimination is a major player in our increased life span over the past 100 years. Life before vaccines and antibiotics was not pretty.

    I remember when the Sabin polio vaccine came out, we had a mass immunization at school. Everyone recieved a small paper cup containing a sugar cube with the vaccine droplet and a nurse watched you take it. A spoon full of sugar helped the medicine go down.

  6. Sun says:

    Some parents are still on this anti-vaccination campaign over autism concerns. It just seems like a huge risk to forego vaccinating your children.

  7. mary says:

    So sorry about the loss of your beloved Aunt..We are living in the greatest country in the world immunizations are given for free at the county health dept. to all who cannot afford them, why would someone not get vaccination for their babies and tiny children? they are at a big risk because here in washington state many don’t immunize their infants and toddlers due to some stupid thinking thus risking many in public schools, now if a person has their children in public schools they have to get vaccinations..most like to homeschool in the rural areas..why risk exposing many to many bugs when one doesn’t think enough of their own sweet babies and toddlers to get the FREE vaccinations..oh, my I cold go on and on, but I will not..get the vanccination done asap..So sorry about your aunt, it is difficult to lose those we love and who are wonderful in our lives, but I think you being related has enhanced your life immeasurable, again, condolences!

  8. Catherine says:

    Trent, my condolences to you and your family. I have a feeling that this amazing woman touched many people! And she has touched me and many others through this article.

    I hope that people realize that vaccinations are not just for infants – everyone over 50 should be vaccinated for Shingles. My aunt is currently suffering from shingles pain which has been with her for over 5 years now.

  9. Riki says:

    There is nothing that makes me angrier than the anti-vaccination movement. Talk about first world problems at their worst; it has been shown over and over that there is ZERO connection between autism and vaccination and all of the other so-called reasons for not vaccinating are ridiculous fabrications of concern. As a society we are very lucky to live lives sheltered from the horrific impact of vaccine-preventable diseases, so its easy to forget how dangerous they can be.

    Trent, I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your aunt.

  10. Shelley says:

    She sounds like she was a wonderful person. I agree that vaccinating children is important. I remember the anxiety my parents had about polio and how wonderful it was when my Dad took me to the grade school auditorium to eat my sugar cube with the polio vaccine in it.

  11. Kai says:

    I strongly respect your willingness to wade into the vaccination arena. It’s spectacular how the nutty movement has managed to gain mainstream recognition. I was surprised to find ten comments before me, and all in support. Sometimes we hear only those who shout the loudest – it’s a good reminder that others are out there.
    It’s very telling that the anti-vaxers are all first-world, and young enough to have never really known the true horror of the diseases we can now prevent. People who remember the wreck of polio and other diseases are thankful for the ability to prevent them. It’s those who are lucky enough to be a generation removed who don’t have the personal connection and start believing the problem is in the cure.

  12. Tizzle says:

    YES! To Trent and everyone. Vaccinations are so important. Thank you for not believing correlation = causation.

  13. Mel says:

    I am reluctant to wade into this, but I do feel very strongly about it.

    First: I am not in or from the US, but I grew up in a country with an incredible public health system and a schedule of free vaccinations.
    Second: I will probably have my child vaccinated (although likely I won’t be given an option), and I consider this to be a personal choice made by each parent or individual according to what is right for them and their family.

    My mother made the decision NOT to vaccinate me or my sisters – not because of autism (this being the early 80s), but because the ONLY information she could find was advertising and propaganda. Direct requests for more information from our doctors were ignored or answered with the same cheery pamphlets. NO mention was made of possible side-effects or risks. One campaign included the vaccinations being marketed directly to us children through the school, and in relation to another one my teacher (a former nurse) actually said the words “Your mother doesn’t love you if she won’t let you have the vaccination”. This was even AFTER the teacher was told that I had been tested for – and had – antibodies for the diseases involved and was therefore already immune.

    My personal issue with vaccines is the same as my mother’s: nothing about the vaccines themselves, but the hysteria, bullying and lack of information given about them. Advertising, peer pressure and propaganda do not count as information.

  14. Tom says:

    I will probably have my child vaccinated (although likely I won’t be given an option),

    My wife and I recently went through pediatrician interviews, 2 out of 3 were ok with modified vaccine schedule or refusal, so long as we would sign a waiver. One dismissed it out of hand. He used to be the head of our state’s pediatric doctor association, so take that for what it’s worth.
    If I remember correctly, the British doctor who published a study in The Lancet questioning vaccines and autism had his paper subsequently reviewed, rescinded, and his license revoked. I believe people should make informed decisions about their health as Mel implies above. The information should come from a doctor you trust, who should be able to rattle off potential side effects at request, and probably not from Jenny McCarthey.

  15. Tom says:

    Oh, and to clarify, we were asking about vaccines simply out of curiosity, we have followed the normal schedule to the letter through the first year without any issues thus far.

  16. Matt says:

    My dad died 2 months ago yesterday. He was a great man, much as your wife’s aunt sounded a great woman. “It’s the little things.” You can’t summarize life better than that. Live life for today, and don’t worry so much about tomorrow. Today is a good day as soon as you wake up, and an even better one when you get to live through it and make it to bed at night. Tomorrow is just as good for the same reason. Cherish your true family and friends, and make sure they know you love them.

  17. Jessica says:

    Thank you for using your wife’s aunt’s legacy to do good changes for your kids and your readers.

    I have a Master of Public Health degree and 8 years of experience as an epidemiologist.

    I’m also somewhat of a hippie. I really do make my own granola. I breastfed my daughter for 37 months until I was severely ill during pregnancy with my son. My son is 17 months and still breastfeeding. I practiced baby wearing with a Moby wrap, etc, etc.

    I now stay home with my kids, but they are on schedule for vaccinations and so am I and my husband.

    The nutty people out there who do not vaccinate must have never met anyone who suffered from a vaccine preventable disease. They must not have met parents who lost a child to such an illness. Or a woman who miscarried a baby due to such an illness. Or someone who lived with a lifelong disability because no vaccine was available.

    The firsthand research is out there on PubMed for anyone to read.

  18. AnnJo says:

    Trent, my condolences to you and your family and thank you for the lovely remembrance.

    Mel @13, Physician Desk References have been around for decades and they provide a good start on any information anyone might want about any drug, including vaccines. Merck Manuals have also been around for decades, providing detailed information on diseases.

    I don’t blame many physicians for their reluctance to dive into a full-scale discussion with patients of the pros and cons of vaccinations, given the average person’s (and often the physician’s own) lack of education in science, math, logical reasoning, probability and risk analysis.

    Catherine @8, thanks for the reminder re: shingles (zoster) vaccine. I’ve been meaning to get that. There are plenty of other vaccinations adults should get, including pneumococcal, boosters of Tdap (tetanus diptheria and whooping cough) and MMR (measles mumps and rubella) and annual flu shots.

    When I saw Trent’s closing paragraph and the number of comments, I expected a different general trend to the comments re: vaccines. I’m glad to see I was wrong.

  19. Tamara says:

    Count me in as another who is very surprised and relieved by the responses here. As soon as I saw ‘please vaccinate’ in bold letters I was prepared to make popcorn and watch the fur fly!

    Anyway, I understand wanting your child(ren)’s health to be your top priority, but not vaccinating on the basis of dubious, discredited studies & celebrities’ advice? That’s just irresponsible.

    My mother has a severely compromised immune system, and she and others like her rely on ‘herd immunity’…I am terrified that she’ll run into some unvaccinated child and die as a result of whatever illness she picks up from them.

  20. Amber says:

    Jessica, Thank you so much for your post! I am a dietitian specializing in pediatric nutrition and public education and I wish more women would breastfeed their babies! Cheers to you!

  21. Brett says:

    I am sorry to hear about your aunt. I know what it’s like to learn to appreciate someone when their time remaining was short.

    Your comment about vaccinations struck home with me, too. Far too often I hear parents spouting about their perceived risks and how they have opted-out because everyone else has their children vaccinated.

    At risk of being a jerk, to me this is one of the worst kinds of free-loading imaginable. It would be different if they declined vaccination for themselves; but they are making that choice for someone who relies on them for safety and health.

    Ok, time for me to get off my soap-box before I work myself up too much.

  22. Andrew says:

    When I was 5 I caught measles. I was the first kid onh neighborhood to have it, and I passed it along to about 15 of my friends. This was just before the measles vaccine became available.
    Everyone recovered and were fine except for one, who died. I know I wasn’t responsible, legally or morally, but still–

    Those who would risk this happening to their children are fools.

  23. mary Scott, RPh,CGP says:

    Re: #18 Ann JO,
    The Physician’s Drug Reference is just a compilation of drug manufacturer’s inserts. It doesn’t give much info about classes of drugs or vaccines and nothing about post-marketing adverse effects. A much better alternative for consumers to research drugs and vaccines is Medscape or WebMD.
    Pharmacists consider the PDR pretty much as a joke, and we are the drug experts!

  24. Liz says:

    I, too, was eagerly anticipating the anti-vaccines crowd, and am very glad to be “disappointed”. My sister is a pediatrician and she just wants to shake parents who won’t vaccinate their kids. She works at a hospital with a diverse service area, and she is somewhat surprised that it’s the “well-educated,” higher income folks who refuse vaccinations for their children. Lower income parents are very eager to have their children vaccinated, and regularly ask about vaccinations for themselves as well.
    With regard to the shingles vaccine, several years ago I read a study (don’t remember where, or even when, precisely) about the explosion of shingles cases in Japan, which researchers suspected (don’t know if it was confirmed or not) was related to the rise of the chicken pox vaccine, which was available in Japan several years before it was available in the U.S. They theorized that being exposed to children who had (currently, recently, or didn’t know it yet) chicken pox reinforced the adults’ immunity to the shingles virus, which is related to chicken pox. When that exposure went away, so did the reinforcement, leading to the increase in shingles. I had chicken pox 30-odd years ago, and I wonder if I have any antibodies left, or if I’ll need the vaccine myself. One more thing to ask the doctor…

  25. Christine says:

    I appreciate the great discussion here and the willingness to discuss vaccination. There are definitely pros to vaccination, and I appreciate Jessica’s (#17) comments that there are consequences for those who actually contract many of the diseases in question.

    However, I think the issue of vaccination should be a choice made by parents on a family by family basis. There are also side effects and sequelae from the vaccines themselves, which can be just as devastating for the families who have to face them (and I’m not talking about autism).

    Each vaccine should be weighed on an individual basis with the risks and benefits of that particular disease considered as a separate issue.

    Vaccination is definitely something that all people and parents should educate themselves about, but forcing one’s opinion and decision on another goes against the principle of informed consent.

  26. Liz says:

    I second with @Catherine. My state recently posted vaccination schedules on their website. I downloaded and printed, and will be taking it to my next doctor’s visit. As far as I can tell I need a couple of booster shots.

    I am old enough that I remember getting the measles and chicken pox, and taking those diseases home from school to my younger siblings. This younger generation has no idea how destructive these now easily prevented illnesses can be.

  27. valleycat1 says:

    I disagree with the few here who say they think the decision to vaccinate should rest with parents. Although of course a child who has other health issues who would be put at risk by receiving a certain vaccine (as determined by a medical professional), healthy children should stick to the schedule.

    This is a public health issue, not simply whether you want to risk you or your child getting a certain disease – nor is it a marketing success by bigpharm. The vaccines were implemented to avoid devastating epidemics with truly dire consequences. By refusing a vaccine solely on principle, you’re putting yourself AND everyone in your community at risk.

  28. Riki says:

    valleycat — I couldn’t agree more!

    Very well said.

  29. Carrie says:

    I’m actually not surprised to see no anti-vax remarks here. Since Trent appears to be pro-vax, and I would assume the majority of the readership is more “mainstream,” it makes sense. Besides, who would want to insult the rememberance of a loved family member, who died as a result of complications of a vaccine-preventable disease, with some rant against vaccines? Certainly not myself.

    A few technicalities – vaccines are not free at my health department, although they may be at some. If I were low income, some would be free or at a reduced rate. Otherwise insurance has to pay for it (not really free), or, in my case, I have to pay out of pocket, since we are part of the self-employed under-insured.

    Regarding those who have said that people who choose not to vax must not have been alive when these diseases were running rampant, to those who say anti-vaxers must not know anyone who died as a result diseases that could have been vax’d against – check your assumptions at the door. I know people who have chosen not to vax who were indeed alive, and suffered from a variety of the diseases we can now vaccinate against. I know people 65+ who suffered along with classmates, who now wish they hadn’t vaccinated their own children (although the now-grown children have not suffered any obvious side effects). I know people who choose not to vax who have family members who died as a result of vax-preventable diseases. Don’t paint all non-vaxers with such a broad brush. There are reasons (whether we agree with them or not) that people choose not to vax, which can include “religious” reasons and obvious medical contraindications.

  30. kristine says:

    Valleycat- a notable exception being the the Texas Guardasil mandate for young girls, for which the governor received a huge campaign contribution from Merk. Guardasil was still pretty new, and has since been altered to eliminate some side effects. Parents definitely should have some say in it. Whooping cough is one thing, possible std that might raise your cancer risk someday is quite another. I would never give the government carte blanche over my child’s body.

  31. SwingCheese says:

    I truly didn’t think about it until my son was a newborn, and cases of whooping cough were confirmed in our state. The elementary kids who caught it were fine, but an infant contracted it and died. My husband and I were following the traditional vaccination schedule, which meant that our kiddo couldn’t be vaccinated for whooping cough until he was older. In the meantime, all I could do was hope and pray that he wouldn’t come into contact with these germs until he was older. I’m in the pro-vaccination camp. (And FWIW, I also make my own granola :)

  32. Kai says:

    “#25 Christine @ 8:56 am December 7th, 2011
    Vaccination is definitely something that all people and parents should educate themselves about, but forcing one’s opinion and decision on another goes against the principle of informed consent.”

    Problem is, vaccines only work somewhat on an individual basis. The real benefit is in herd immunity – where the vast majority of people are vaccinated, the few for whom the vaccines don’t work, and those who are too young, too old, or immunocompromized remain protected because the disease cannot gain a foothold.
    This makes it a public health issue – not just an individual decision. When enough people choose not to vaccinate their children, yet continue to interact with society, the society loses that herd immunity. We are starting to see this now, and measles, whooping cough and the like are showing up again and killing children.

    When it comes to the chicken pox vaccine or gardasil, make your own decisions for yourself and your children. When it comes to life-threatening issues, please think beyond yourself.

  33. Johanna says:

    @Kai: Cervical cancer is not life-threatening?

  34. Diane says:

    Just last month I had an MMR, when blood tests revealed no antibodies to rubella. At the time, I asked about the shingles vax since I’ve had chicken pox and my dad had shingles. I was told I couldn’t get it before age 60. Can anyone help me out on this? Why are some folks mentioning 50, not 60? Is there a shift in thinking or regional variations?

  35. Kai says:

    I should have said life-threatening and contagious.

    Cervical cancer is life-threatening, but if you get HPV, I don’t have reason to worry for myself.

  36. lurker carl says:

    “Cervical cancer is life-threatening, but if you get HPV, I don’t have reason to worry for myself.”

    That is only true if you’re celibate.

  37. Jane says:

    We have vaccinated both of our children, but we did opt out of the Hep B at birth and the chicken pox so far. In this country, Hep B is primarily a sexually transmitted disease, so I didn’t see the point of sticking my child a few hours after birth. I have been on the fence about the chicken pox vaccine, mainly because you need boosters throughout your life, whereas if you have chicken pox, you are immune for life. I know shingles is also a problem, but I am worried that my sons won’t get the boosters some day. What if they travel abroad as an adult and contract chicken pox? That could be devastating. Anyway, I will have to vaccinate them anyway when they enter school, because they will probably not contract it “naturally.” That is, unless I become crazy like the anti-vaxers and have a lollipop sent to me through the mail that a kid with chicken pox licked. Yes, people really do that.

    As far as Hep B, I wanted to wait until closer to the teens year to do it, but I’m sure I’ll have to also do that one for school admission.

  38. Brittany says:

    Also glad to see the rational folks out in full swing today and +5 to valleycat.

  39. Kathryn says:

    Wow. I’m taken aback at all these comments. I’m amazed at the number of folks here who have followed the crowd like lemmings to the edge of the cliff. Have you checked the research? Vaccines are neither as safe or as effective as you have been led to believe. I watched research being done while i worked hospital. There is the possibility for that research to be twisted at every step. The manipulating of statistics make vaccines (and other drugs) appear to be much more effective than they are. Most of the life-threatening allergies we have now (such as to peanuts) are a direct result of the oils and adjuncts used in vaccines.

    I am glad polio is a thing of the past. However, people who were damaged by disease in the past have very little to do with the vaccination being done now. And if you DO believe in vaccines, why worry about the children who are not vaccinated? Won’t your child be covered by the vaccine you believe in? How does a (theoretical) unvaccinated child endanger your vaccinated child if that vaccine works?

    Medical “science” as it is practiced today is a faith-based religious cult. The “science” on which most of the practices and procedures are based is flawed. Many times your doctor has only half the information on which to make his/her recommendations. You won’t be aware of this until you or your child is damaged by it. I would not wish this life on ANYONE. Check it out beyond believing your prophet, i mean doctor, when that person tells you it is safe and effective.

    Trent, i am very sorry for your loss in the passing of your wife’s aunt. She sounds as tho she was an incredible person.

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