Greg Campbell has gone home to die. His liver and kidneys are failing and on Wednesday, March 8, he left the hospital because he didn’t want to die in an institution. He has chosen to die at home where he finds peace and love and safety.
We talked about his faith, his desire to teach people that they don’t need to fear death and the deep joy in having time to say goodbye to friends.
“In June of 2017, I had lost probably a third of my weight. I could hardly eat and I was just really sick. They had gone through some testings, found out I had what they called duodenal cancer, which is a plugging of the digestive tract with cancer. If it metastasizes or spreads, there’s not much you can do. On September 2nd, 2017, I had surgery. It’s supposed to be a five to six hour surgery. Mine was 11. If they’d found cancer, they were just gonna sew me up because if anything spread, I wouldn’t be here today talking to you.
I spent nine days in the hospital and then about six months after that, I started chemotherapy. I did that for several months and I was pronounced to be clear of cancer. In my world, with duodenal cancer, they figured after 24 months, if there’s no [recurrence,] you’re clear.
Well then about two years ago, I started retaining a lot of fluid. They thought I had a blood clot from the major surgery in my liver so they treated it with blood thinners. That didn’t work so then they started giving me diuretics. And over the period of about a year or a year and a half, they kept cranking up the diuretics.
Chemo can damage you because it’s really poison. You know, it knocks down every cell in your body. Well, so my liver got damaged and as it was struggling, it starts working harder on the kidney. And I kept retaining more and more water. And I was having five liters of water, almost 10 pounds of water drained from me every week. And then they doubled the diuretics. Well that really is hard on your liver and kidneys and it damaged my kidneys. So I’ve been fighting with that all fall now.
I was going in to be tested to be put on a transplant list for kidney and liver. I made it all the way to the very last test, which is a colonoscopy, and they almost lost me on the table. My blood pressure went so low that I’ll never be able to get the kidney and liver I want.
So, I stayed in the hospital this last time for six weeks and just returned home this week to go into hospice. They figure within a week I will be gone.
I could have probably gotten a few more months out of life, but when I go to dialysis, my blood pressure would crash. I’d just go back in the hospital and it was my preference not to pass away in the hospital but at home. So it was really a choice that I could limp along for a couple more months, but there’s no reason to do that when there’s no chance of me getting better. It’s just time to move to my next mission of peace.
I’m extremely comfortable with it. I’m the youngest of eight and I am a baby boomer. I’m a prayerful person and I am actually very comfortable because I realize we’re all born to die and we have a new life to live, a new adventure to go on. So as I’m very sad that I won’t be here to be with family and friends, you know, hunting, fishing, gardening, all the things I love to do, I guess I’ve done and I’ve affected enough people here that it’s time to move on.
So I am not happy, but I’m very content. It is okay. When the time comes, I will pass on from this world to the next.
Do I feel cheated? No. Saddened and disappointed that I won’t be going to the North Shore to hang out at the cabin and enjoy the sweatshirt weather and campfires. And go back to Lake of the Woods where I go walleye fishing every year in Canada. Sure, I’ll miss that. But I actually told the guys that I fish with, “You know, next summer when you’re fishing and you don’t think I’m near, I’m going to be in the front of that boat and every big fish you guys pull in, it’s because I sent it to you.”
And I said, “When you get to Canada, you guys could toast some Irish whiskey. That’s just fine.” But, I told them, “I’m gonna spend my life in heaven—or wherever this place is we’re all gonna go— and I’m gonna spend my eternity praying for those people back here and for peace on this earth.” Matter of fact, just yesterday I went out and made all my burial arrangements at the Resurrection Cemetery in Dakota County in Minnesota. And I designed my own headstone and everything. And on the very bottom of my headstone it says, “Let there be peace on earth.” That’s what I stand for. I’ve always tried to bring peace wherever I go.
In the human state, peace is where we all treat each other equally and fairly. Help those out that need help. If somebody has three children and one is good at school, one’s not in good school, one’s a good athlete. As a parent, you parent them similarly but differently because they each have different needs. So when you talk about peace within mankind, it’s adapting to the situation. Where is the need to bring peace? Where is the need to bring hope, kindness, love? It’s not a state of stopping war because war will always happen, but it’s creating trust within people that you’re not trying to take advantage of them.
You know, I’m sitting here, I’m dying. Money and material things mean nothing. Nobody’s going to judge me that, “Oh that guy was a CEO or he had a million dollars in his pocket or just a penny in his pocket.” It’s like the little lady at the well. The little lady gave Christ the one coin she had. That’s all she had but Christ needed it. So she gave it to him. That’s what it’s about. I mean, if you see somebody that’s hungry, give them some food. That’s peace.”
“I’ll tell you a little philosophy. My dad was a World War II veteran. He and I are dying at the same age, 61. But the night before he died, we were just having dinner and coffee and I didn’t know he was dying. He died of a silent heart attack. So I don’t know if he had a premonition, but he told me something I lived by my entire life. He said, “Greg, there’s three things that are the most important in this world. Your god, your country, and your family.” And in family I put in good close friends, nothing more. He didn’t say it was your education, he did not say it’s the amount of money you have in your retirement fund. It’s not your fancy home, cars, job title or anything like that. You love your country, you love your community or your village and you love your family and your friends. That’s what we’re here for. Be with them, enjoy them and work with them.
I was 19 years old when my dad died and I hope I’ve lived that my entire life. I think the man knew what he was talking about.
You know there will be an end. When you die suddenly you die suddenly. When you’ve had a slow burn like I have, you have an opportunity to visit with people and people have time to visit with you. One thing I found out through this whole process is that I have affected more people in this world than I ever knew. And I say this without bragging because that’s not a good thing. But I didn’t realize how much they loved and cherished my friendship. And to me it’s stunning.
I affected people. I’ve received so many accolades, so many cards. I believe I’ve left this world with hope and goodness. And I think from my actions, thoughts, and conversations that I’ve left people with the sense of do for others, not necessarily for yourself. I walk out of here, kind of with my boots on. I mean, I’m very comfortable in my skin.
I know I was born to die and some day I was gonna die. Do I want to die when I’m 61? Well, absolutely not. But it’s not my choice. I just have to deal with it. And so I’m very ready to make that transition. I feel sorry for my fiance and family left behind. I am the youngest of eight. Older siblings should never have to bury their youngest sibling. Just like parents shouldn’t have to bury their children. But sometimes that’s just part of it. And as I go through this last period of my physical life here, one of the things I tell everybody, is I think it’s very, very important that people die with dignity. We all need to die with dignity.
The last message I want to leave to people in my life of hope and peace and kindness, I want to show people how to die. Not to be worried, not to be scared. It is what it is. We’re always scared of the unknown. I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing. But that’s what it is. I want my last lesson to people to be how to die with dignity.
I spent many years helping my mother with her medical care. And when she was dying, somebody said, “Well, you took that really well.” And I said, helping a person die, especially an elderly person that’s really struggling, it’s kind of like taking a kid to kindergarten for the first day. You’re bringing them on to the next step of life, from home rearing on to education. It’s a privilege to help take somebody home to Jesus. It’s just a privilege to be with them when they pass because you’re there and you care. That’s what it is. Please care.
Especially if they’re struggling with pain or dementia, whatever it happens to be. Cancer patients piled up with different kinds of pain killers and morphine. It’s very difficult to watch that. So when you can hold their hand and they pass, you’re bringing them a little peace. Once they pass, there is no more pain. It’s all gone.
As my kidneys continue to fail, I believe it’s ammonia that will eventually start taking over my blood. That’s what they do in dialysis is they clean your blood and take the out impurities. I’ll become a little more lethargic. I’ll start sleeping more and eventually I’ll be really tired and I’ll fall asleep and die peacefully without any pain. That’s what I was told. That’s what I’m bargaining on. Hopefully I won’t have any pain, but if I do, that’s okay, too. Part of being a person of peace, kindness and hope is pain.”
“A friend is somebody that will go to bat for you. If you’ve broken down someplace in the middle of the night and you call them, they will get out of bed and come get you. It’s inconvenient, sometimes it’s not nice, but they help you. If you’re short of money, they’ll give you some money. That’s a friend. They stand by you. They’re there to cry with you. They’re there to laugh with you. They’re there to go on vacation with you, help each other move from apartment to apartment. That’s a friend.
To create friendships, you have to open up. A friendship isn’t just somebody you meet for pizza. If you want to have friends you have to open up. And that sometimes can be very scary because you can get hurt.
But I have friends I’ve known for 46 years and to this day they’re still helping me. They’re shoveling my sidewalk and taking care of everything. They’re here every day asking “What can we do? What can we fix?” That’s friends. That’s kindness. They do it because it’s right and they do it for everything I’ve done for them. So when people talk about paying it forward in life by being kind and good and peaceful, you never know when the withdrawal comes. And the withdrawal is coming for me right now.
As I’m wrapping up and I’m planning my funeral, I’m trying to take care of all my finances so it will all be clean. I don’t wanna leave [a mess]. A person at 61 shouldn’t be dying. I should have a good 30 years or 20 years of life to live. And I have this really good friend, Wade Barry. I’ve known him since the early eighties. We worked at K-mart together. That’s actually where we met. And we have camped and gone to the Boundary Waters. We fish together, we hunted together. We both love music and gardening outdoors. We see eye-to-eye on the environment and the village mentality. I’ve learned a lot from him.
And yesterday I wanted him to come to my house. He owns an organic farm and I had a bunch of things that he could use on his farm. Chainsaws, all these kinds of things. So I asked him to please come over and he did. I always had a revolutionary war musket and he always admired it. And so I said, “Here Wade, you take it. The musket’s yours now. He was very emotional because he has to say goodbye to his buddy that he’s known since 1984. I was in his wedding and we just spent so much time.
When life really creeps up on you—and it does—we all have our days that we feel our world’s getting crushed. The times when you’re laid off or you’re between jobs or you don’t have a lot of money to make it. He was always there to bring me back and help me. To say, “You know, Greg, you’re a good person. Keep going.” Again, that’s friendship. And it was so hard to see him being emotional, but yet he understands that I’m very comfortable in passing from this world to the next.”
“As I was preparing for my funeral and getting my grave lot, I asked the people at the cemetery if I can have a tree planted. And they said, yeah. And the tree I really wanted to plant was a burr oak. Because a burr oak lasts for hundreds and hundreds of years. Some of these other trees won’t. When I plant a tree, it will help keep the air clean, it will give shade to those that need a little shade. And the birds that I dearly love will have a place to rest and be close to me. I’m not planting it for a memorial for me, but a thank you to the environment and all the love and thankfulness it’s given me. Peace and kindness.”
Just love one another.
“I plan on dying with as much dignity as I can. It’s not fun, but it’s the trail I’m on. I have to finish the trail.”
-Have you lost someone close to you?
-Have you helped someone go through the dying process?
-How do you think of your own death?
-What does it mean to die with dignity?
-Is there something Greg said in his interview that resonated with you? Challenged you?
-How would you like to be remembered?
-When has someone shown you kindness?
-What would your parting wisdom be? Would people recognize it in the way you lived your life today?