Wednesday, December 24, 2008

This one was tough

Jack (not his real name) was a lovely man in his eighties whom I met when his wife died in hospice care. I spent time with the family during her last illness and was the chaplain on duty when she died. Jack was deeply affected by her death. He adored her and had been her main caregiver for a long time, as she had some chronic health problems before her final illness. Jack would weep, openly, at her bedside, because he knew how much he'd miss her. He had adult children and grandkids too, and all of them adored him and vice versa. We all hoped he'd be OK given what a disruption as well as a loss the death of his wife would be. His wife had become the center of his life, and caring for her had occupied most of his time, and when that happens the adjustment is enormous--there are so many empty hours to fill. I was drawn to Jack immediately, because he was absolutely genuine and open-hearted. He was not afraid to show deep emotion for his wife and family, and at the same time he was very much a strong man. I just loved him, all of us who cared for his wife just loved him. He and I met up again at the quarterly memorial service the hospice provides for patients who have died in the past few months. Jack remembered me right away. He gripped my hand and wept, we hugged and talked. He was there with several family members, and it was clear that there was a lot of love in the family.

Just a couple months after his wife died, Jack came into the hospital for something that seemed pretty minor. Unfortunately, it seemed that every test he had revealed some new, ominous problem. He had operation after operation, had a heart attack during one operation, and finally had a stroke. He wanted treatment carried out until it was clear he could not get better, as his organs were failing one by one. At that point he came into the hospice inpatient unit. And there he was, the big strong stocky man with his leonine head, his big hands, his very proper VanDyke beard, dying. He remembered me and was too tired to talk. We wanted him to rest and sleep, finally free of all the tubes and monitors from the hospital. He'd put up a tremendous fight but was utterly worn out. The medical staff worked to control his pain, while family members gathered.

On Sunday afternoon I was at the nurse's station and a daughter-in-law ran toward us crying. "He just stopped breathing." I grabbed his nurse from report and we all ran to the room. As soon as I looked I knew he was for all purposes gone. The nurses waited until all reflexive breaths had stopped, and verified that his great heart had stopped beating. Then they left. The room was filled with sobbing. One thing about Jack--his sons-in-law and daughters-in-law loved him without reservation. He was their Dad too. (One son-in-law had told me the day before that Jack had been the one who taught him to be a man, just by example.) The family asked for a prayer which I led, my own voice breaking. Imagine losing both your parents in just a couple of months... I checked in on the family a couple of times in the next few hours. Busy with other emergencies, I didn't see them when they left, but I did have the chance to go see Jack one last time, as the mortuary van was driving up. I sat beside him and caressed those big hands, blew him a last kiss, and told him goodbye. He was simply a wonderful man--I'd learned that he was a combat veteran of WWII, wounded in action. He was also a quiet philanthropist. His family told me that until his last illness, when they'd had to pay some bills for him, they'd had no idea how many charities he'd supported without a word to them. He loved to give and receive hugs, and tell stories, and play cards with his friends, and he loved his family dearly. He was a rock to them, someone who was always simply there. It was tough to say goodbye.

Merry Christmas in heaven, Jack. I imagine you and your beloved wife as newlyweds again and wish you eternal joy.


Blogger Mary Beth said...

Thanks for this. As always.

3:54 PM  

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