Nilda Garcia holds her 3-week-old nephew, Jonathan Ferrer, as family members gather to pay final respects to her brother Juan Viera Colon at her York City
Nilda Garcia holds her 3-week-old nephew, Jonathan Ferrer, as family members gather to pay final respects to her brother Juan Viera Colon at her York City home last week. (Bill Kalina Photo)
Three weeks ago, Juan Viera Colon danced inside his father's home, sharing with strangers his love of music, of family and details of a difficult decision to let go of this life.

Sunday evening Colon died, minutes after his brother Juan Jose Viera arrived from Puerto Rico to hold his hand, say goodbye.

Colon was 49 and the oldest of six siblings. He had lain unresponsive in a hospital bed inside his sister and brother-in-law's apartment since last Monday.

Sunday his blood pressure was normal, as were his temperature and pulse. But his chest rattled with every breath he took, paining his father, sisters and other family who have taken care of him in recent weeks.

His sister, Nilda Garcia, called their brother, Juan Jose Viera, in Puerto Rico about 3 p.


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m. and told him he must come, that Colon was waiting for him.

Viera agreed, allowing the family to scrape together money for his airfare, for a flight that would deliver him to Baltimore at 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

Works of mercy: He packed an overnight bag, and boarded a plane in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Colon's family, meanwhile, continued their bedside vigil as well as their weekend mission to raise money for Colon's funeral.

They'd held a yard sale on the sidewalk fronting the Garcia's North Pine Street apartment. They'd also placed several donation cans at area businesses in hope that folks' spare change would bring enough to pay for Colon's funeral.

So far, they've raised about $1,000 of the estimated $3,200 expense for a cremation casket, one-hour viewing and memorial service followed by cremation, according to Kuhner Associates Funeral Directors, a funeral home and crematorium on South George Street. The price, which is not yet fixed, would include publication of an obituary, death certificates and funeral director, who oversees services.

Colon's ashes will be returned to Puerto Rico for burial beside Colon's mother, who died last December.

Colon died from kidney failure. He had been on dialysis for about three years when he opted June 10 to end treatment.

His doctors said his decision was reasonable because although dialysis prolonged Colon's life, it did not improve his quality of life. Nilda and Hector Garcia said it was their job to support his decision, to make him comfortable as he died and provide a decent burial.

Several false alarms: They'd had several close calls in recent days, each time believing that Colon was hours, if not minutes, from death.

More than once Nilda Garcia telephoned family members, telling them "it was time," for them to say goodbye. That time came and went, as did sleepless nights beside Colon's bed.

Visiting Nurse Association employees also were on hand daily because Colon was in hospice care, meaning caregivers were to keep him comfortable, clean and pain free. Doctors would not resuscitate him as his health deteriorated.

The nurses heard about plans for Colon's funeral down to the suit he would wear. They'd begun to learn more about Puerto Rico, its people and culture. During the weekend, Nilda Garcia's aunt, Rosario Torres, cooked a traditional meal of pork, red beans and yellow rice, serving it to donors who stopped by the family's yard sale Sunday afternoon.

Juan Viera Sr., Colon's father, spent much of his Sabbath in the shade of a tree keeping an eye on sales. Hector Garcia played chauffeur to family members and greeter to patrons perusing sale items.

Nilda Garcia and numerous other family members divided time between Colon, the kitchen and the yard sale.

Waited for his brother: She said early Sunday that Colon was full of surprises, a fighter, a prankster who was not ready to go. But by 3 p.m. Sunday, she realized he was waiting for his brother, the one who'd never said a cross word to Colon.

To Colon, Viera was a rock, the mentor, and a matter-of-fact, reasonable man who was always, always there.

So when the family bought his ticket, Viera did what guys like that do: informed his wife, and his employer, that his brother needed him. Viera said he'd spent the flight believing that Colon had died and that his family did not want to tell him until he arrived. 

Viera said he last saw Colon in January. Colon was still on dialysis, and still full of life.

But after Colon's mother died in December, he decided to move to York City where his father, sisters and extended family live. His health deteriorated, and he could no longer tolerate dialysis.

"He hated being tied down," Viera said in reference to dialysis, during which Colon was required to sit for hours on end. "He needed to be free and he was happy."

Viera arrived in Baltimore at 9:30 p.m. A cousin greeted him and drove him to the Garcias' North Pine Street apartment. Viera ascended the stairs, walked into the apartment and to his brother's side. Viera and the others gave what they could, gave themselves, as evident in their tears, their smiles and gentle touches.

Viera was the last to hold Colon's hand, to say goodbye.

Colon's breath slowed, then stopped.

-- Reach Kathy Stevens at 505-5437 or kstevens@yorkdispatch.com.