woman playing a guitar for an elderly man in a hospice bed and a visitor

Gary’s Story

Gary Uhland was quite the character.


With a work hard-play hard mentality, he knew what he wanted (or what was best), pushed himself and others around him to go for it… and wasn’t afraid to tell it like it is. For some, this made him more stubborn than understanding, but for those who knew him the best, it was a mix of both which drew people to him.


“He really was a softie at heart…so kind and caring,” said his wife, Chris. “Yes, he was strong-willed but always wanted to make my life easier.”


For Gary, enjoying life was about his experiences, and he was grateful for a lot – his worldly travels and education, but none more than marrying his one true love, Chris, 29 years ago. “She is my Iowa sweetheart,” he said, which was opposite of how he described himself. “We are totally different personality-wise, but our devotion to family, our work ethic and trust created a lasting bond between us.”


For Valentine’s Day 2019, Gary wanted to do something special for Chris. He enlisted the help of Cedar Valley Hospice Music Therapist, Rachel, to sing “The Rose” by Bette Midler for the couple while Gary surprised Chris with a yellow rose (her favorite).


“I gave her a singing Valentine,” blushed Gary. “It was a cry fest, but it meant so much to the both of us to be able to share that. It was wonderful.”


Gary’s greatest joys often came from the people he met and the conversations he shared with them. Whether it was a cab driver in a remote Caribbean town, a former student or his care team from Cedar Valley Hospice – he genuinely invested himself in their well-being.


One of Gary’s final talks was with someone he shared a special “kinship” with – his Cedar Valley Hospice Volunteer. As veterans, they connected on many different levels during their four months together before Gary passed away. “He is just a super guy,” said Gary, grateful for his long talks with him, and how, in a moment’s notice, he would be by his side. “One day he talked with me for 8 hours until Chris got home.”


Gary was certainly memorable and known to be an adventurous man, so for him be confined to a bed near the end of his journey was difficult. After years of battling COPD and several bouts of cancer, there wasn’t much more the doctors could do. He was reluctant to even think about hospice because of the “stigma” of death, but as his hospitalizations became more frequent, he knew that both he and Chris needed extra help with his care.


As Gary began considering hospice care, it was in his nature to do research. First, he sought “competency” because he said, “I can’t afford to be wrong.” Second, he wanted an understanding and kind staff. What he found with Cedar Valley Hospice far exceeded his expectations.


“Here is an interdisciplinary team, at no cost, that really cares about you as a person and provides so many services for you and the caregiver. I told myself I’d be foolish not to have Cedar Valley Hospice be a part of our lives,” he added.


As the months passed, Gary realized how important this decision was for his family. “Hospice is not a synonym for death, it’s a synonym for comfort,” he added. “My crew has been all aces in all areas. They worry about every aspect of my day and have taken a lot of weight off Chris.”


She concurs wholeheartedly saying Gary always wanted to “take care of her,” so it helped their relationship being able to focus on enjoying one another vs. her being a caregiver to him. “He always put me first,” said Chris. “He built up my self-esteem and became my rock.”


Yes, she added, Gary could sometimes come across as “gruff” but above all that, he had the “kindest heart.”


“He was always looking out for people, even if they didn’t know it,” she added. “His willingness to help people was astounding. He could read them and know what they needed. He was the type of special person that comes around only once in a lifetime.”


Through all their deep discussions there was a running theme – core values – and it’s what linked the couple so deeply. When Gary died in April, it hit Chris hard, but she knew Gary’s strength was diminishing. When it came to his illness, Gary may not have known exactly what was to come early on, but his instinct to protect what was dear to him was steadfast. When he chose Cedar Valley Hospice, he did so knowing he could trust us. The Cedar Valley Hospice Experience was his final gift to his wife.


“I really hit the jackpot having them in our lives,” said Gary. “It’s the people that make this organization, and I’d be hard-pressed to find something they could do better.”

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