Saturday, August 13, 2016

6 Months Later... Hal's Legacy

I'm sorry it's taken this long to write another post. It's certainly taken this long to just talk about it without becoming overwhelmed with emotion, but writing is just as painful. August 11th will be 6 months since Hal has passed, as well as Nancy's birthday. It's going to be a hard day but Nancy and I thought that this would be a good time to go back and talk about the events that led up to Hal's passing so that anyone who'd like to know can read this and remember him.

Tuesday, January 26th, Hal and Nancy came back home after he had his 3rd brain surgery for tumors. Although the surgery went very well and the doctors were very positive about it, Hal mentally was just not the same.

I was fortunate enough to see Hal the next week when we had a pizza party at the store to welcome him back. He seemed very positive and his surgical site was healing well. I could tell in conversation that he wasn't 100% himself. He asked the same questions multiple times. He complained about pain throughout the day. Nancy spent less time at the store and more time at home because he simply was too weak to be left alone for long periods of time and she worried for his safety.

I got to see him one more time that week on Saturday when I stopped by their house briefly. I kissed him goodbye and told him I'd see him soon.

On Tuesday, Nancy spent the day with Hal. They went into Augusta to go shopping and had lunch at Dairy Queen. He was having trouble swallowing and kept coughing during their meal. He said it felt like he had something stuck in his throat. From there they went to Walmart. She picked up what they needed while Hal rode around in an electric cart picking up what they didn't need. They got back to the truck and he took a drink of his soda and choked again. She wanted to take Hal to get checked out but he declined; he wanted to go home. They worked on woodworking projects with Hal's new tools he got for Christmas. Nancy made a base to raise his recliner higher so he could get up easier.

When they ate dinner that night he was still having trouble. With that along with his high levels of pain and double vision, Nancy planned on calling his doctor at the Mayo Clinic on Wednesday to ask him for his advice.

That night at around midnight, Nancy woke up to the sound of Hal's hearing aid chirping for a new battery. She removed the battery and noted that Hal's CPAP machine was breathing normally. At 1:45 am, Hal got up to go to the bathroom. Nancy was half asleep but could hear him in the bathroom coughing just like he had the previous day. She heard him fall hard and she rushed to see if he was okay. She found him face down, unconscious on the bathroom floor. She tried to turn him over but he was just too heavy for her to move him. He was completely unresponsive and wasn't breathing. Nancy then called 911. Two sheriffs showed up at the house first and were able to get him turned onto his back and started CPR. EMS showed up about 20-30 minutes after that and they could not find a pulse. They took over CPR and after another 20-30 minutes, they finally got a pulse.

Because his vitals were so unstable, they decided to transport Hal to the Kansas Medical Center in Andover. He arrived there around 3 am. We all rushed to meet Nancy there. My mother and I along with Hal's brother and his wife were all there. The Andover hospital was able to get Hal's vitals more stable but he still wasn't improving. He was unable to breathe without a ventilator and his eyes were dilated. They didn't have a neurologist there so Hal was transported to the neurocritical ICU at St. Francis in Wichita at around 6 am.

I arrived at St. Francis around 6:30. At St. Francis, they were able to take more extensive tests and determined he had not suffered a heart attack, brain bleed, or stroke. When I arrived they had just finished those tests and were in the process of doing an EKG. After about an hour the neurologists reported that he had very little brain function. The results were not looking good.

I left to go to school around 8:15. After school, I went by the shop for a couple hours and fortunately we have some very caring employees (more like close friends that also work with us) who were more than willing to cover for Nancy and I so that I could go back to the hospital. I believe I got back to St. Francis around 3 pm and stayed a few hours.

During the day, Hal's body temperature would spike and then drop, his heart rate would also spike and then drop. He still wasn't breathing on his own. The doctors believed the choking he was experiencing were actually seizures and that's what caused him to collapse. They also believed that the time that he stopped breathing to the time that CPR began was too long and his brain had suffocated and may have put him in cardiac arrest. Throughout the day at St. Francis he was experiencing frequent small seizures. The doctors still didn't know if he would come out of the state he was in but as of that point, he was still on life support.

I left the hospital around 7pm and Nancy left at around 9pm after all the visitors had come and gone. Hal's father, Rusty was among those who visited. He's 93 years old and just lost his wife Betty, Hal's mother, in 2014. He is really having a hard time understand what was happening and was very upset.

Later that night, (Thursday, February 11th) Nancy remembers the nurse calling her around 1am telling her that Hal was having a harder time and was in need of more assistance than before. Nancy was so exhausted that she fell back asleep until her daughter, Jennifer called her saying that the nurses had called her too saying that it was more urgent and we needed to come back to the hospital. I met them at St. Francis at around 2:15 and Hal had just passed at 2 am. He was 60 years old.

The doctors were very apologetic as they told us how Hal's body was shutting down despite their efforts. We believe it was just his time to go; his body had had enough. We went to see him and he was still feverishly hot from his temperature spikes. Shock and exhaustion was pretty much all we could feel at the time. Hal had struggled for so long and Nancy simply wouldn't let him give up so to lose him after he just had brain surgery was so defeating. Like the battle had been lost.

The funeral was held the following Tuesday, February 16th at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. Hal had wished to be cremated so grudgingly, Nancy conceded. Family, friends, and customers from near and far arrived to pay their respects and celebrate Hal's life. We put together a slide show of pictures with his favorite music playing. Some of the pictures and stories I had never seen or heard before! Stories of his adventures, pictures from when he was young. I enjoyed seeing pictures from his younger years when he was able to walk and especially liked the ones where you could see some of his friends that were in attendance to the funeral. I snickered at the hair and clothing choices from the 60s and 70s. On display were his wood turning projects, pens he had made, his favorite hat and boots.

Some of his closest friends spoke at the service. They talked about how good a friend Hal was to them, stories (only G rated ones of course) and how Hal deserved so much more than life gave him. Nancy's daughter Jennifer wrote a letter instead of speaking which Pastor Snow read aloud, talking about how much we loved him. His two brothers wrote a letter together. Nancy wrote a letter too which spoke of the night of the incident and how grateful she was to have that last day together. The theme that showed in everyone's stories was how he never blamed anyone for his problems and how courageous he had been through them. It was a very emotional day but we all felt so fortunate for our many friends and family that were able to join us and share their love with us. I always knew my grandparents were well known, but they were (and still are) loved and respected. The many lives that my grandpa touched overwhelmed me.

August 11th was Nancy's birthday as well as the 6 month mark since Hal passed. She said she's still waiting for the heartbreak to get better. From her point of view: "My family keeps me busy. They have been extra vigilant on the special days since February. Like Hal's birthday in March, our wedding anniversary in April, Easter, Mother's/Father's day, birthdays, and now my birthday. The last 6 months has been hard but I am so blessed to have family, friends, and good customers who have cried with me, showed care for me, and have been generous with financial help. I cannot think of words to express my gratitude. Life is truly a gift. Make the most of each day and tell the ones you care about how special they are. I hope I can give as much as I have received."

I know our family will never be the same, the business will never be the same. But the fact that so many people have been so supportive of my family has been eye opening. We're not just a business, our customers are not just customers. We are all family and everyone felt Hal's passing as a loss. Nancy started this business as an outlet for Hal and although he's gone, his friends (humans and animals alike) live on for him. I can still hear his voice in my head, mostly ornery comments and him crashing his electric scooter into things. My grandfather will always be with me as well as all the creatures he influenced throughout his 60 years.

His spirit remains at Birds of Paradise if you look for him.