Just a few months ago, my husband and I changed our plans and headed for Medford to help his parents. His father, Joe, had fallen and they thought his leg might be broken. They were in the midst of packing and preparing their home for sale, with the intention of moving closer to their three kids. Because of Joe’s fall, and their emotional exhaustion from the preparations to move, Jerry and I could see that they really needed our nurturing and care more than they needed help packing boxes.
Jerry cleaned their kitchen nicely, and prepared some nourishing meals for them. He noticed his Dad wasn’t eating really well, so he wanted to be sure they had some good homemade meals that he would enjoy. The first evening there, Joe and I sat outside watching the sunset. Their place was up on a hillside, so the view of the valley below was striking, and the sunset painted the sky in beautiful hues of pink, blue, and other soft colors.
Joe and I talked about his life and the things that mattered most to him. He shared some memories, some joys and some regrets. He told me that he wanted to take time to make friends when they moved. He had assisted his wife in her tax preparation business after he retired from his work as a heavy equipment mechanic, and even though he was now over eighty, and she was nearing eighty, they had just finally retired in the spring. He said that he often talked to people when he was outside in the yard, but they hadn’t had time for a lot of relationships. So, together we hoped that this upcoming move would allow them both to slow down and enjoy life together. Joe shared his heart about various things, and I told him how much Jerry and I loved and appreciated him and Jerry’s mom. For those brief moments as the sun set, we relaxed and shared from our hearts, thankful for time to connect. Jerry and I returned home a few days later, thankful for the chance to be with his parents and to help out.
Then their house went on the market, and quickly sold. Within a few days, they also found a new home and bought it. In a gated community, they had found a home they both could enjoy. Joe immediately bought fifty pounds of cracked corn and had it on a dolly near the front door. He loved feeding the ducks and made friends with the man who managed the community they now called home. Jerry and I heard excitement and joy in his voice over the phone as he told us about the ducks and the fishing right behind their home. We told him we’d come see their new place real soon.
Sadly, last week we received a call that Joe had been taken by ambulance to River View Hospital. Initially it sounded like maybe an infection had made him less responsive and unable to wake up fully that morning. We hoped he would be okay. But the reports from ICU sounded increasingly serious. So Jerry hurried to meet me in Albany where he picked me up and we headed for the hospital. Part of the Peace Health system of hospitals, the faith-based environment spoke to us, “Peace to all who enter here.” This sign over the parking garage entry and other reminders of God’s love ministered to us as we hurried to his room.
When we reached Joe’s bedside, he had many tubes and machines hooked to him, and a respirator helped him breathe. Tears filled our eyes as we held his hands and spoke softly to him. I thought of his warm eyes that always had a twinkle in them. We never got to see those eyes again.
A few days later, we hurried back to ICU after Jerry got home from work. During the afternoon, I had held a phone in my hands, listening as the ICU doctor shared with family and a few of us by phone that despite the continuous dialysis after the surgery they had hoped would help, his blood pressure was not adequate to sustain him much longer. He said that they weren’t giving up, but Joe would not likely make it too many more hours. He knew that Joe’s sister was trying to come from another state. Though they would see if Joe could make til the next day, he told us not to count on it. His kindness was evident, and we felt thankful for a compassionate doctor who assured us that he would keep Joe comfortable.
Again, the signs with the blessing of “peace to all who enter” spoke to my heart. Despite this unexpected turn in Joe’s health that had brought him to the hospital, Jerry and I talked about how all of our days are ordained before one of them came to be. God knew.
Jerry and I stood by Joe’s bedside, and I left the room so that Jerry’s mom and others could take a turn. Jerry lingered at his dad’s bedside. When my friend offered their guest house fifteen minutes from the hospital, we went there thinking we’d sleep a few hours then relieve the others at ICU. But as soon as we went to sleep, we received the text, “Come quickly. Get here are fast as you can.” We pulled on our clothes and rushed to his bedside.
Gathered with Jerry’s sister and her husband, and their two daughters, Jerry’s mother, and a family friend, Will, we all knew the end was very near. We asked the nurse if they would take the breathing tube out and make him more comfortable. They said that would be good for him. We sang the Johnny Appleseed song together. We told him we loved him and held his hand. Joe hung on awhile, then the monitors began to show lines finally flattening as he took his final breath.
Joe usually gave me a big hug every time we would say goodbye. He wouldn’t let go, and he’d often comment, “I don’t want to let you go.” When my own father died a couple of years ago, I told Joe that I really needed him now. I still needed a father and I was so thankful to have him in my life.
Joe’s own words echoed in my mind and heart as his time on earth gently came to a close. “I don’t want to let you go.”
Back at their new home after the sun rose in the morning, we gathered with the family to plan a memorial. All of us were exhausted. I gladly went outside when we took a break for a bit. Near the stream that runs behind their home, the ducks came waddling towards me. A man on the trail also walked up to me, and we struck up a conversation. I mentioned Joe had loved those ducks and this place. The man asked if I was talking about the man who lived in the house right behind us, and I said yes, but sadly he had died just after midnight.
The man’s face clouded and he said, “Oh no. I really liked Joe. I didn’t know he was in the hospital. We had become good friends.” My heart felt so sad, but thankful that one of Joe’s hopes for moving had come to fruition. He had made a friend who shared his love for the ducks, fishing and for life in general.
Our time was far too brief, and our hopes for many more times together evaporated as his life came to an unexpected conclusion. But we are thankful for every moment we shared with this dear man.
Oh, Dad. It’s so hard to let you go.