Throughout the course of my life, I’ve been fortunate to have had the companionship of many wonderful dogs. Read More
At 5:45PM today, my dear father-in-law, Jay Hatfield, passed away from complications due to lung cancer. He was 61 years old.
Over the past few weeks, Jay’s health had been steadily declining. He was too fragile to withstand more chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and the location of the tumor made it impossible to operate. Bedridden, medicated, hooked up to countless machines and unable to speak — it wasn’t what Jay wanted for himself. He wanted to go home. He’d smile bravely when we came to visit and say he wasn’t depressed — not that our stoic cowboy would ever tell us if he were — but we knew he didn’t want his last days to be in the sterile environment of an ICU.
Yesterday afternoon, a local hospice organization transported Jay back to the home he shared with his wife Sue in Aromas. They set up his bed in the living room by the window, and everyone could see that he was happy to be out of the hospital and surrounded once again by the familiar comforts of their place. His sister Marsha brought his favorite horse, Goblin, around the side of the house and up to the window. The hospice nurse, Cynthia, held up Jay’s hand so Goblin could say hello to his old friend. Then Jay slept for most of the day, sedated on medication to relieve his pain. Cynthia left at midnight, and Shawn kept vigil by his bedside and attended to his father until morning.
Shawn and his stepmother Sue were sitting beside Jay in the early evening when she said, “I wish Jay would say something.” At that moment, Jay opened his eyes for the first time since yesterday. His gaze was steady and strong, fixed in a piercing stare upwards. Jay’s breathing became slower and more labored until he fell silent. The gray cowboy tipped his hat to his loved ones and ventured up into the sky.
There have been many tears today and there will be many more over the next months and years. But through the tears will be the memories of his wry smile, his fiery temper, his gentle kindness and his abiding love for his friends, family and community. Thank you for your warm spirit, Jay, and may you rest in peace at last.
Jay was sleeping when I first walked into his hospital room this afternoon, so he was unaware that Shawn, Sue and I were all there. His brow was furrowed, as if he was uncomfortable and upset. Shawn sat down and gently massaged his left arm and hand, and the tense wrinkles in his forehead eventually began to relax, then melt away.
He was scheduled for some physical therapy, and the attending nurse turned off his medication so he’d be awake and lucid for his short exercise regimen. As Jay began to revive, I went over to his bedside to say hello. He surprised me by greeting me with a big, warm smile. During our previous visits, his face was often vacant, devoid of expression due to being in a hazy, medicated fog. But his smile lit up his entire face, and I saw the gray horse cowboy in that familiar grin.
His physical therapist arrived and she told him they were going to work on having him sit up for a minute or so. Jay’s eyes widened; no words were needed to express his dismay with the impending exercises. I glanced at Shawn, and I know he saw that anxious look as well. In the past few months, Shawn has become an expert at reading his father’s eyes or mouthed words to communicate with him. But he was stumped the other day when his dad whispered a request to him. ”Are you trying to say the word ‘building’?” said Shawn. Jay shook his head. Shawn started pointing to letters of the alphabet on a notepad to see if his dad could help him spell out the word. The letter “M” garnered a nod, and he finally understood that his dad had been asking for a milkshake. Ah, of course — he should have known his dad was craving one of his favorite drinks.
Before the therapist showed up, Jay had already tried sitting up with Shawn’s help. Jay would hold Shawn’s hand and try to pull himself up away from the bed. Being bedridden had weakened him considerably, so even the smallest effort was tiring. And his arms were heavy and swollen with fluid, a side effect from the chemotherapy treatments. But he was able to lift both arms over his head much higher than the previous day. Yesterday, Jay could barely lift one arm off the covers, but he seemed restless and determined to do so. Shawn was unsure of what he wanted, but he propped up his dad’s arm on his own. Jay then reached up and proceeded to scratch his forehead. It was a reminder that it’s those little things that you take for granted, being able to scratch that one troublesome itch or easily move your pillow into the right place under your head just so.
As his therapist got him ready to sit up, I thought about all of the lifelines that were branching out of Jay’s body: one for food; one for medication; one to take away his waste; several to provide him with oxygen; countless others monitoring and maintaining his health. They had to move carefully to not disturb his network of lifelines. Healing is a delicate process and you have to move forward slowly with grace and deliberation.