This one was tough
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.