- Bonnie Evans
Three years! Strange how at times it seems that Joe died a few months ago and other times it feels like decades ago. Joe passed away at home under hospice care on August 31, 2015. His last three months were a roller coaster of numerous near death events that took a toll on my mind and heart. My emotional health had also roller coaster of various stages of grief. I wondered if I would ever stop crying or would I ever be able to look at photos and smile as I remembered all our travels together.
In May 2015 Joe gave his blessings for me to travel with The Friendship Force to Azerbaijan and the Republic of Georgia. Before my departure Joe was in good shape and after various doctors exams and tests the docs gave the okay for me to travel. Joe depended on me so much for his health and taking care of him. He turned down staying with his sister while I was gone or even having her coming down once a week to check on him.
About two and half weeks into my trip, Joe started his fast downward spiral into the last months of his life. I am convinced now that Joe decided that he wanted to relieve me of the burdens of caregiving, I believe he consciously made a decision to die while I was gone by stopping all his medications. It is the only explanation why his condition deteriorated so quickly. It makes me angry these days that he did that. I suppose he was sick of being sick and tired. The pieces all fit together when I reviewed the timeline of events and how he acted. So, right now, I am damn angry at him. I was left with the guilt that I went on that trip and left him alone. He could not deal with it. I should had known better but hindsight is twenty twenty.
Once Joe was sent home from the hospital under hospice care, he only lived three more days. I was shocked how fast his death came. Family came home to offer support and to say their good byes as well as many friends. My tears flowed freely and there was no way
to console me, I was no longer brave. I was falling apart. Joe kept telling everyone that he wanted me to lean on my family and friends and to continue to travel. Joe died on a Monday morning at 8:30 AM. I tormented myself by remembering each detail of those last few days and hours for months.. What should I had said and done differently? I became a champion of second guessing myself thus causing emotional distress.
My youngest son and I went to Decatur Cemetery to purchase a burial plot then head to the funeral home to make arrangements for a memorial service which would be held on Wednesday. Why the rush? My granddaughter, Hailey, had a big family first birthday party scheduled for Saturday in Memphis and I know that Joe would have wanted that to go on as planned. Joe’s visitation and service was held at our church, Eastminster Presbyterian Church. Somehow I kept my emotions in check and did not shed a tear that whole day. I wore my red hat the whole day and smiled as I greeted family and friends. It was my gift to Joe since he loved my smile and wondered how I managed to smile through so many turbulent times, I wore the red hat as a memorial to our joy of travel where he would be able to find me by looking for the red hat. The Eastminster deacons hosted a light lunch and lunch in Founders Hall where a slideshow celebrated Joe’s life. I was so proud of my two sons getting up to speak about Joe as well as Joe’s brother, Drew.
Life continued to push forward as I drove with Keith and his family to Memphis, TN on Thursday the day after the funeral. Everywhere I looked I saw signs from Joe such as red Ford F150 pickup and even Kubota tractorsm two items he loved so much and was proud to own.. Since there are Starbucks everywhere, that would also be a sign. It took all day to travel there. I was away from the house and not alone which is what Joe wanted. Friday it was busy preparing for the birthday party and blowing up hundreds of balloons. Saturday was the party filled with happy family and friends of Keith and Chelle along with a dozen little kids. All of this took my mind off of losing Joe but I felt him near me the whole time. I think I stayed in Memphis for three weeks before I went home.
Kathy Dubin Flynn was celebrating her 50th birthday in October and it was to be her last birthday since she was dying from an aggressive brain cancer. She was a two time stem cell transplantee and a much beloved member of the MPN Community. Over the years on the internet there was a group of women who developed a close bond and we always stated that someday we would all get together. We all decided to attend Kathy’s party as a tribute to her.
Even though it was only 6 weeks after Joe died, I decided that I could not be one of the missing links. Marina Peed and I flew from Atlanta to San Antonio. Cyndy Morreale, Ann Haehn and her daughter, Genny flew in from Denver, Colorado as well as Shelley Rotramel. We came together as sisters in our love for Kathy and to celebrate her life as well as say our good byes. It was very emotional and hard for me.
Cyndy Morreale and I departed on a road trip through Texas to visit friends and sightsee along the way. It was healing and seeing new sights was enjoyable, Cyndy flew back to Denver halfway though the road trip but I continued on to visit other MPN and MCL friends for another two weeks on my own. I even got over to MD Anderson Cancer Center to see and thank Dr Verstosvek and Dr Romaguera for all they did to give Joe some bonus years. It was extremely emotional for me but I wanted to do it.
I was home for a few days before I headed to Jacksonville, Florida to be with my youngest son family for a few weeks followed by a week in Vero Beach with my sister, Dolores.
I just kept moving and kept family and friends around as Joe wanted to help me recover.
Holidays were spent with each family and were bittersweet but having grandkids will surely put smiles on the saddest of faces. I decided to still go to Joe’s favorite vacation place, Maui which we did every winter. I spent four weeks of constantly feeling Joe with me since he loved this place so much, It was the place that healed my heart. I continue to go each year to Maui, my place to renewal. This year I will spend six weeks with four of those weeks hosting a high school girlfriends and then my Memphis family.
I continued to travel all over the world to amazing and exotic places with me even organizing and leading special journeys. I did my first transAtlantic cruise from Florida to Portugal and Spain. I always wanted to go to Israel but Joe did not so I traveled with the Friendship Force of Chicago and had a grand time. I lead a three week safari and philanthropic journey to Tanzania which I organized. It took a bunch of planning but again it kept my mind busy. A week long visit to Costa Rica was interesting since I took some family with me. At Joe’s request those last days, I took my oldest granddaughter to France for 18 days when she graduated from high school.
I kept going and going, I won’t lie to you there were many times, I did not want to get out of bed. It was so warm and cozy there and I felt safe. I forced myself to get up and shower and get out. I volunteered for all kinds of events. I became politically active and even went to my first march., I became an officer with the Friendship Force. I hosted various visitors from the Ukraine, Republic of Georgia, England and Oregon in my home. I founded and funded the Joe Evans Respite Center at Eastminster Presbyterian Church to give caregivers a break from the stress of caregiving.
I now can now look at photos when Joe and I traveled and smile, I have several videos where I have his voice which is precious to me. I bring up Joe in conversations and encourage people to talk about him.
I do not visit Joe’s grave very often because he is really nothing there. He is always with me in my mind and heart. He is here everyday. I am happy that I am no longer caregiving. I have a new stage of my life and it is full of wonder.
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