Unbelievably it has been three years (more or less) since our family lost two very special people. I want to record some memories as a tribute to them. I am one of the lucky ones when it came to my in-laws. The term “in-laws” often carries a negative connotation, but not for me. I knew the first time I met Bob and JoAnn Peters I liked them, they welcomed me to the family quickly. It didn’t take long for that “like” to grow to “love”. When I married their son they accepted me as a daughter, “in-law” wasn’t part of it.
For almost 37 years I was fortunate enough to have a second mom and dad. I often sought their advice, always listened to their counseling and loved just spending time with them. Bob and JoAnn were conservative in many ways, but never with their love. JoAnn loved having big family lunches on Sunday, she was an excellent cook. She prepared a pork roast with potatoes that Paula Deen would be jealous of. Her pies were as delicious as my mom’s and that is quite a compliment. Bob and JoAnn were two of the most generous (sometimes I think JoAnn had to nudge Bob to her giving ways) people I know. I don’t say that as a criticism of Bob because I unequivocally know he had a heart of gold.
My second mom and dad set such a beautiful example for their family. I feel privileged to have witnessed the love they shared, their parenting and grand-parenting lessons and their inspiring marriage. My children loved and adored them, they were everything a Grandma and Grandpa should be. When the “greats” came along they fell in love with each one as did the children with them. They were great at “spoiling” them, JoAnn believed as do I, the opposite of spoiling is “neglect”, and hers would never be victim of that.
When Mike and I became empty nesters we spent even more time with Bob and JoAnn. We loved taking trips together, places such as SanAntonio, Corpus Christy, LasVegas and New York City. We loved Friday night canasta card games, JoAnn and I were always partners, Mike and Bob our opponents. We often shared pizza and always something sweet. Their freezer was stocked at full capacity at all times, a box of Russell Stover candy always at the ready, homemade cookies too. I miss those evenings terribly, but am grateful for the memories.
Bob and JoAnn made birthdays special for everyone, always the perfect gift and a wonderful meal. Holidays were also important and we looked forward to another chance to gather as a family. Since Mike and I made our home and raised our children only 2 miles from Bob and JoAnn’s we were linked even closer. That was certainly by choice and we never regretted it. Another sentiment my second mom and I shared was “you can’t be close to someone you don’t spend time with”.
Bob and JoAnn were very dedicated to their church, Rock Creek Baptist. They rarely missed a Sunday, were faithful to tithe and had their own pew. The spiritual well being of their children, grand-children, and great grand-children was unquestionably important to them. They had no doubts they would spend eternity in heaven and wanted their family to join them some day. JoAnn loved her Bible and had read it from cover to cover more than once.
JoAnn was an avid walker. She exercised daily, outside whenever possible. Sometimes
the weather forced her to be a mall walker or use her exercise equipment in their garage but she was committed to being active. She retired from her deputy county treasurer career in 1991 but never quit setting an alarm clock, sometimes two clocks. Her day always started early, she had much to accomplish. After her morning exercise she had appointments in her home beauty shop, her second career. In and around those chores she also maintained a spotless home and made sure Bob had nutritious meals. The term “Super Woman” comes to mind when I think of JoAnn.
Bob’s health issues eventually made it somewhat difficult to keep up with his beloved, but he always tried. He kept their yard looking perfectly manicured, I think golf courses could have taken lessons from him. Weeds dared not grow in Bob’s bermuda. Bob was a plumber most of his life, he was a hard working husband and father and supported his family admirably. He was devoted to JoAnn and quick to want to please her. This worked well for them because she usually had many ideas of what he needed to do.
Just a little more than three years ago, late September of 2010, I started noticing small inconsistencies in JoAnn. At first I thought she was just being a little forgetful and not quite herself. You had to know her really well to see the changes, she was good at “covering”. Bob and JoAnn loved to come with Mike and I to our annual trip to Fin and Feather, for us it was a working weekend and they were a great help. That September trip was different, JoAnn was different. There were subtle hints but noticeable enough to be worrisome.
While at Fin and Feather JoAnn mentioned she thought she was getting a urinary tract infection and her back was bothering her. On Saturday evening a large group of us gathered for a rousing card game of 10 to 1. Jake and Eric had driven up to be helpers, Susan and Kaycee had worked all weekend with us, Courtney had come with Colton and Kinsey, we were eleven strong. We were missing Charity and her Mike because Charity was expecting baby Gabriel and Grace was only one, Roy was working. We discussed JoAnn’s back ache at the table and I offered her a muscle relaxer (actually half of a flexeril). We attributed her pain to one of many things, the Fin’s bad mattresses, too much bending in our booth, picking up little Kinsey, her possible UTI, the list could go on and on. She said she would like to try half a muscle relaxer (flexeril). In what seemed a short time she became a little goofy, but in a clever and comical way. Normally a very card smart woman, JoAnn played her cards irrationally and made comments that kept us all laughing. Jake commented, “Grandma, you can’t hold your flexeril.”
The next morning, it was Sunday, JoAnn was still sleeping when the whole large cabin was up. On a normal morning she would have already done her hair and makeup, made her bed, fixed and drank coffee, walked 45 minutes and tidied everything possible. Mike and I needed to head to the building our booth was in but couldn’t leave without knowing she was ok. We woke her quietly and visited a few minutes. After we had the booth opened we took turns re-checking on JoAnn at the cabin. The day progressed and we insisted Bob and JoAnn head home in the early afternoon, and they agreed.
That week we kept in close touch with the parents. There were oddities more than once but nothing really serious. JoAnn went to our local clinic and strongly insisted she had a UTI, the urine analysis showed no infection but she would not believe them and they wrote a prescription. Bob and JoAnn bought a new car on Thursday and when they were making their financial arrangements JoAnn walked right up to a bank associates chair and sat down, Bob told me later he was shocked and embarrassed. When he asked JoAnn about it she said she was tired. She cooked dinner for several of Bob’s family members that had gathered after a funeral service of a mutual friend, she told me and many others it would probably be their last meal together. We did not understand why she kept saying those words. At the above mentioned funeral she went to the pastor who had officiated at the service and asked him out of the blue to perform her service when the time came. He told me just five days later that her question had so surprised him he said “Of course, but that is too far off to think about”.
On Friday of this same week we celebrated Eric’s birthday at our house. We ate dinner, there were gifts and then a card game. Again we watched as JoAnn played erratically, she bid incorrectly, trumped when not allowed and took tricks she did not have to take. This seems like a trivial thing and it was but I was afraid something was not right, this was not the woman I knew and loved. The next morning, Saturday, Mike and I decided to try and talk to Bob by himself to see what he was noticing. He admitted he was very concerned and did not know what to do.
This same Saturday JoAnn had a fun girl’s day with her sister, Luetta Jane and her niece, Christi. They had mani/pedis at a local nail spa, did some shopping and enjoyed a good lunch. I have always been grateful they made that memory. I later spoke to Luetta and Christi to ask them if they observed any trace of what I had been noticing.
Sunday morning Mike and I were working in our merchandise warehouse when our daughter, Courtney, drove up rushing to tell us Grandpa needed us. We quickly made our way to Bob and JoAnn’s and found Bob unable to convince JoAnn what day of the week it was. She insisted it was Saturday and wanted Bob to take her shopping, he told her the stores were not open yet because it was Sunday. She had walked earlier in the church parking lot and couldn’t understand why there were so many cars there on a Saturday. I asked JoAnn if she felt confused and explained to her we were concerned. I phoned a friend who is a pharmacist to ask if the medication JoAnn had been taking could be making her confused, more than one person had mentioned UTI’s in older adults could cause confusion. After listening to the pharmacist’s advice we headed straight to the hospital ER.
At the hospital things moved fairly quick, after a CT scan of her head we were told there was a brain bleed and she needed to be transported to a much larger Oklahoma City hospital. An ambulance took JoAnn to OU Medical Center. After being examined there the doctors confirmed Shawnee’s diagnosis. She was still completely coherent, with instructions for each of us, including the doctors. One doctor had longer hair and a scruffy unshaven face and JoAnn gave him a kind but stern reprimand. She was a woman who spoke her mind, another quality I loved about her.
That afternoon and evening our group grew as family and friends were alerted of JoAnn’s condition. A great many people loved her and wanted to be support for her. The hospital was very full, there were no beds available in the ICU so the doctors chose to keep JoAnn in the emergency room. They wanted her close to nurses and immediate care. As evening changed to night Bob began trying to sleep with his head in his own lap, this was happening in a straight uncomfortable hospital chair. JoAnn wanted us to take Bob home, she said we all needed our rest and we could return early the next morning. The doctors told us they believed the brain bleed had stopped. Her condition was still very serious but they encouraged us to get a few hours of sleep. We mistakenly believed that because we had JoAnn in the best hospital the situation was under “control”.
We returned to Shawnee and rested, even tried to sleep. Our telephone rang between 1:00 and 1:30 a.m., never a good thing. Mike answered and I jumped up and began to dress for what I could tell would be a quick return trip to Oklahoma City. The doctor explained to Mike that JoAnn’s condition had changed, she was in a coma and unresponsive. He said he had spoken to JoAnn at midnight, she had been very clear that she did not want to be on life support but he also knew it was not possible for us to return to Oklahoma City before that choice had to be made. I don’t understand why a family member could be allowed to change the personal wishes of a patient.
We picked up Bob and drove quickly finding Jake and Eric at the hospital. They lived in Oklahoma City and had received the first phone call. We entered her room to find JoAnn drastically different, unconscious with her breathing labored and erratic. The doctors told us a new cat scan revealed the brain bleed had greatly enlarged and spread to the other side of her brain, there was no hope and no help. Shock and devastation are the two words that best describe how we felt. The hours that followed have somewhat blurred in my memory; nurses, doctors, scans, tests, choices, plans, so many words, heart breaking words. The blurring seems a gift from God.
The afternoon of that same day, now it was Monday, hospital services helped locate a place for JoAnn to be transported to. The doctors believed she could live weeks or even months in the comatose state she was in, since there was no treatment plan a hospital was not the appropriate setting. A hospice house had been located and by afternoon we were headed there. Mike said he would take his dad, Bob, and meet the family that was soon to be gathered at our new location. I said I wanted to ride with JoAnn in the patient transfer van the hospital had arranged. A young man, some type of med tech, and I rode in the back with JoAnn. I began praying immediately asking God to watch over JoAnn, my thoughts returning again and again to the truth that she would never want to “live” this way. A few miles into our journey the tech said to me, “she is waking up, her eyes are open”. My eyes had been closed in prayer and as I said the words “that is not possible” I looked at her face. She had indeed opened her eyes but we weren’t the ones she was seeing. I will always believe she saw Jesus, smiled in recognition as He took her hand and happily entered heaven.
Moments later we were at the hospice house, they rushed JoAnn to a room and I was led to a waiting area. Everything happened at a frantic pace, nurses rushing and many doors opening and closing. I was alone when one of the staff came to me and I admitted I had prayed the entire ride that God would take JoAnn, prayed He would not let this be her life and the staff member said to me, “I think your prayer was answered, she’s gone”. My heart was breaking with this news but also rejoiced in the knowledge JoAnn would not lay in a bed, her “life” would not become a slow death. I breathed another prayer, a prayer of thanks to our merciful God.
The natural pattern of grief followed that day. We cried until there were no tears left, we planned the funeral we knew she would want and hoped and prayed it would have pleased her. We had the love of our friends and family to support us, knowing God was keeping His arms around us. We searched for a way to go on. Death is a part of life and life goes on.
I have read and reread my own words many times. I have debated with myself the relevance of the many details that I have recorded. I want it to be very clear that these details all took place in just a little over one week. JoAnn’s story was not about months or years of illness, the brain bleed that took her life was only a tiny fraction of the time she spent on this earth. She was blessed to have lived and loved for 79 years.
I want to continue with the man she left behind, her partner she had to part with for awhile. Bob had a very difficult time losing the woman he knew was his soul mate. He repeated the words, “it was suppose to be me, I was suppose to go first” to all who would listen. We lost JoAnn on October 4, 2010 and by December of that same year we began to realize we were losing Bob. Christmas was hard, but that was to be expected. Sometimes our grief seemed unbearable but we knew Bob’s was worse. He and JoAnn had been together for 61 years, a lifetime.
In early January we took Bob with us to Jake and Eric’s dedication ceremony. As we escorted him to our vehicle for the drive to Oklahoma City I noticed his clothing. I had expected him to be wearing his suit but he had jeans and a nice soft shirt with a casual jacket. I soon learned his suit no longer fit him, he couldn’t keep the pants on and his dress shirt and suit jacket swallowed him. The evening proved incredibly tiring for Bob, he began to “rest” much like he had that night in the hospital with JoAnn, laying his head in his own lap. He was in attendance because he wanted to be a part of this special night for Jake and Eric, they put him between them and held on to him for photos. Jane and Christi offered to have Bob ride home with them so Mike and I could try to enjoy the rest of our evening.
That night Mike and I realized Bob was not just grieving, something was wrong, very wrong. We felt guilty we had not recognized it sooner. We knew he had been to his physician and was given antidepressants. Bob told us the doctor said it would take some time for them to make a difference. After that night we started bringing meals and making doctor appointments. As January turned to February Bob’s health continued to fail, he lost more weight and was so unsteady on his feet he began to fall. After a fall the end of February Pat, Mike’s brother, came to stay with Bob for almost a week. Bob was very happy to have Pat and his grandson Andy with him, Pat cooked for him and helped fill his lonely home and heart.
Days after Pat and Andy returned to their home in San Antonio Bob fell again, it
was the middle of the night and this time he could not get himself up. Mike had put phones in every room after his first fall so Bob was able to call us for help. We had to have an ambulance for the trip to the hospital. During that stay in the hospital the doctors discovered Bob had lung cancer. A few days later Mike and I took him to his oncologist, a doctor who years earlier had considered Bob her miracle patient. He had battled esophageal cancer with her help and won. This battle was different, she explained the pathology report and asked the question, “Bob, where do you want to die, at home or in a hospital?” Words failed me that day and two and a half years later recalling her question still gives me chills.
Mike and I moved in with Bob that week and began the process of finding help. Bob’s oncologist had asked if she could do some research and recommend a hospice, she truly cared about Bob and wanted the best for him. The hospice she chose turned out to be a group of angels. We found two people to stay with Bob while we worked, they were a Godsend. Those weeks were some of the most difficult of Mike’s and my life. I didn’t know it was possible for the love and respect I hold for my husband to grow exponentially. I watched him be a nurse and waiter, lifting and carrying his father, always with the patience and kindness of a loving son. Bob loved waffles and Mike fixed them for him every morning he said he could eat them. Mike dispensed medication with the guidance of the hospice nurses and assisted them in medical procedures as they became necessary. Love is a powerful motivator for “nursing care” you didn’t believe yourself capable of.
Bob had good days and bad those last weeks. At one point he asked his nurse for a pill or injection to end his life, he knew he could not get well and was in his words, “ready”. He was not a complainer, he faced death with the same courage and dignity he had savored life. Bob enjoyed every friend and family member’s visit, he was always quick to offer his sweet smile. He loved his “girls”, his granddaughters Charity and Courtney, and their visits were always special. He took pride in every accomplishment his now adult grandchildren achieved but Charity, Courtney, Andy and Jake never had to earn Bob’s love and support, it was always freely given. Colton, Kailynn, Kinsey and Grace were the most recent generation to find a place in Bob’s heart. As his great grandchildren their status was indeed secure. Bob was also a grandfather to his grandchildren’s spouses, Jake’s Eric learned to love him quickly, Charity’s Mike became his neighbor and friend, Courtney’s Roy had probably the closest relationship with Bob because he joined our family first.
It was a Saturday morning, April 16, 2011. We had cancelled the Herb Festival in Sand Springs, a show we had participated in for many years. Mike and I had a feeling on Thursday, (one day before our set up) that we needed to stay home. That feeling was God putting us where we were most needed. Bob just went to sleep, he was peaceful and seemed at ease, I think God was also putting Bob where he was needed.
Part of us rejoiced at his passing, we knew life had become a waiting game for him. We knew he was ready for the next stage of his journey. Of course our hearts ached from the loss, saying good bye to those we love is painful. I know Bob was called home, I know JoAnn was waiting for him, and I feel certain she smiled and said, “now it’s heaven”.