Blessed with 50 Memorable Years
Bob Schappel, Hospice Family Member
On January 4, 2005, nine days after celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary, the doctor told us Jo had cancer. Jo told us, after the diagnosis, that she felt the cancer was an answer to a prayer that she be spared the lingering death of Alzheimer’s disease. She was at that time in mid-stage “AD”.
Although the doctor explained that there might be a slight amount of life extension with chemotherapy, Jo declined that option. This decision permitted us to engage hospice immediately, and soon became fast friends with Nurse Winnie and Nursing Assistant Joan.
We envisaged caring for Jo at home and hospice somewhat miraculously arranged for a hospital bed to be set-up in the living room and equipment appeared including a wheel chair narrow enough to negotiate the small doors in our 40-year old house. Winnie called several times a week to check on Jo, and Joan took wonderful care of Jo’s personal needs.
Early on Winnie brought over a small supply of various pain medications. We really didn’t need them until the last week of Jo’s life when abruptly the Tylenol was no longer adequate for the pain. By then we had quite a bit of family help. Our 2 children, Kathy and Chris, had unknown to us, arranged between themselves to alternate weeks to look after us for the duration of Jo’s illness. Kathy from New Jersey and Chris from Wisconsin. My brother from Tennessee and Jo’s brother from Florida also helped in the vigil. We all became adept in keeping Jo pain free. The nurse taught us how to determine when she need-ed help and how to administer the medications.
On Sunday Feb. 13th Kathy volunteered to stand watch while the rest of us went to 11:00 am mass. When we returned, Kathy met us in tears. Winnie was there. It turned out that her time of death was when it was announced in church to “pray for Joan Schappel who is near death”. Kathy told us Jo just stopped breathing and died—peacefully. It was extremely moving for Kathy to be with her Mom when she died.
Winnie took care of calling the funeral director, collecting the unused medications and arranging for the equipment to be picked up. Hospice truly made the experience easy on us physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Winnie and Joan attended Jo’s funeral mass, but that wasn’t the end of hospice concern. Hospice provides grief support groups for spouses. I attended 2 of these. At first it was hard to get past the lump in my throat or the misting in the eyes when speaking of memories of Jo. But as time went on, I found that what someone else was expressing rang a bell with me. We told our stories and brought mementos which helped getting past the hollow feeling in my chest. There is still the occasional tear in private but the chocked up sensation is gone.
Memories of Memorial Days past were the subject of many of these meetings and Jo and I had a couple of whoppers in our early life together. We met through a friend in Indiana on Labor Day 1953. Then I didn’t see her until Memorial Day weekend 1954 and we were married in Florida the day after Christmas 1954. I was on the road working which gave us a few months at various locations and it was like a continual honeymoon for 2 years. After that we decided to put down some roots. Memorial Day 1955 was spent picnicking in New Hampshire. In June, we climbed Mt. Washington. And that day, this feisty lady (yes, my Jo) from the flat lands of Indiana walked up and out of the tree line, scrub growth and then scrambled her way up and over immense boulders to get to the summit.
This memorial day and everyday, I remember 50 years full of surprises, adventures, achievements and just plain great times with each other and with friends. The noble and elegant way she handled the news of her terminal illness added a final wonder to our 50 years together.