Monday, October 13, 2014

A Favorite Picture of Dave's Dad

Taken during his last visit to our house in September 2013. We're so, so grateful our kids got to know their Papa Don.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Dad's Bio

With help from Dave, Dacia and Jan, I had the honor of writing the brief biography that a friend read at our memorial celebration for Dad. Here it is, with an updated conclusion.

* * * 

Donald James Wilcox was born March 28th, 1944 in Algonac, Michigan. The oldest son of Alfred and Norma Wilcox, he grew up enjoying the waters of the St. Clair River. He graduated from Algonac High School as a proud Algonac Muskrat.

Moving on to larger mammals, Don enrolled at Western Michigan University and became a Bronco. At Western Michigan he acquired a bachelor’s degree in economics. He went on to complete his MBA and began his career in credit management. He met and married Dawn Beyer, and they settled in the Chicagoland area. In 1976 they welcomed a son, David. In 1983 they adopted a two-year old girl from South Korea. They named her Dacia.

For the next three decades, Don lived and worked throughout the midwest, in Michigan, Wisconsin, and St. Louis, Missouri. Along the way he established lasting friendships and solidified his reputation for friendly sarcasm, love of wit and laughter, stubbornness, and a deep vein of kindness running just under the surface of his wisecracking exterior.

On April 26, 2003, Don married Janet Marie Willis, otherwise known as Jan. They moved to Louisville and began 11 ½ years of marriage, during which Don flourished as never before. He became stepfather to David, Jarrett and Sarah. Between Don and Jan’s five children, they welcomed nine grandchildren, plus a fairy godson named Barrett, to whom they became known as Papa Don and JanJan. They traveled memorably, including a hilariously disastrous hike out of the Grand Canyon. They spent many hours with with friends and family. Don cheered Jan on through endless training and at countless races. And Jan cared for Don faithfully and selflessly as he fought cancer in the final years of his life.

* * *

Don was a man who richly enjoyed connecting with other people. The conduits for the connections he made varied, from Mini Coopers to food to work to medical experiences to intriguing vocabulary words, but the result was always mutual pleasure. Don benefitted, and the person with whom he connected benefitted. There was laughter, and there was the relish that comes from forming a bond with another human being.

At the memorial service celebrating Don's life, someone shared a thought about how dying well is not just about death, but about how one lives up to the moment of death. Don's final diagnosis accelerated his pursuit of relationships rather than retarding it. And the personal connections, the relational investments that Don made during his life shaped his dying days. His wife, his children, his grandchildren, his extended family, his friends flew to his side as his health declined. They wanted to be with him. And they brought him joy as he made the transition from this life to the next. Don died a wealthy man, borne out of the world on the ample arms of affection.

Those of us who were there will not forget the paradox of his last moments: sorrow and riches. Fellowship and tears. A whole room of people bound to one another by our connection to a man who found ways to connect with us.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Farewell: A Timeline

Friday, September 19, 2014
Dave and I meet Dacia at BWI and fly to Cleveland. Dad and Jan pick us up, and we drive to Sandusky, OH. We check into our motel and go out for dinner. Dad has been planning this trip for over a month; he's been so excited for this weekend to arrive.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Dad, Jan, Dacia, Dave and I spend the day at Cedar Point. We ride the Magnum 200-XL together, and Dad crosses that item off his bucket list. He has known since early summer that his cancer is back, and the doctors said then that he had three months to a year to live.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Dad and Jan drive Dave and me back to the airport in Cleveland, OH. Dad helps me unload our suitcase from the back of Jan's car. We all hug and say thank you and I love you. Dad laughs as he hugs me goodbye, as he always does, and there are tears in his eyes, as there always are.

Later that day, Jan, Dad and Dacia drive back to Dad and Jan's place in Louisville, KY. Dacia plans to stay the week.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Jan drives to Atlanta to help her brother, Paul, and sister-in-law, Cindy. Cindy has just undergone a grueling bone-marrow transplant and faces a long and difficult battle back to health.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Dacia says goodbye to Dad and flies home to Charleston, SC.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jan arrives home after her time with Paul and Cindy. Dad does not greet her at the door, and she knows something is wrong. But she finds that in preparation for her return, Dad has picked up a few groceries and vacuumed some of the house, as much as he could tackle before becoming too tired.

Monday, September 29, 2014

I get an email from Jan. "So I came home yesterday, Don either has a virus or is having some bad days.  He doesn’t want to eat and the wonderful Hospus nurses have helped me to adjust his meds.  They will see him tomorrow.  He is finally able to sleep, he had a lot of nausea.  The nurse said there is a virus going around and that may be all that this is.  I will let you know." Later that day Dave calls Dacia. Dacia informs David that she has just gotten off the phone with Jan, who is now saying that Dad has definitely taken a turn for the worse.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The hospice nurses visit Dad. They estimate he has only a few days left to live. Later, as Dad continue to refuse all food and drink, the estimate shrinks. Dave and I spend the whole evening making calls and sending emails. Finally, at 10:00 pm, we make a decision: we will pack the whole family up and leave for Louisville in the morning. We pray we will make it in time to say one last goodbye.

In Louisville, friends and family begin to arrive at Dad and Jan's condo. Dad sleeps most of the time, but wakes up regularly to beam at his guests and crack smart-alecky jokes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dad wakes Jan up early, playing footsie with her and saying, "I am one happy guy."

In Maryland, we also get up early and pack as quickly as we can, feed the kids breakfast, and pile in the car. We are on the road by 9:30, which is a bit later than we hoped. It is a long day in and out of the car, almost 12 hours on the road.

Dacia flies in to Louisville early in the evening.

Dad sleeps even more of the day this time, waking up now and then to smile at or chat with the loved ones who have gathered to support him and Jan. Hospice brings in a bed, which is set up in Dad's office, or "the man cave." Around 4:00 p.m., Dad is asking for the bed. Sarah, Jan's daughter, helps him get ready and is the last person to whom he really speaks.

Dacia arrives early in the evening, and Dad recognizes her. Dad's brother Bob arrives, and Dad slurs out a greeting that sounds surprised and happy.

We finally arrive at Dad and Jan's around 9:15 p.m. Dad is asleep, heavily drugged, but still somewhat responsive; occasionally he replies to our words with groans. Our kids all get to see him and hug him and talk to him briefly.

Our kids go to bed, and Dad starts to decline, with much more belabored breathing and several moments where we think we might be losing him. At one point, Jan tells me, "He waited for you guys," and I think she is right.

Late at night, Dave, Dacia, and I pray for Dad, and Dave reads some psalms. Jan comes in and asks Dave to read a couple more specific psalms. I have a strong and ongoing impression of two lines from "It Is Well With My Soul":

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And has shed His own blood for my soul.

I pray these words for Dad and say them to him before I go to bed. It is not a great night for sleeping.

Dacia and Dave stay up through the night to keep watch over Dad.

Thursday, October 2, 2014
Morning arrives. Dad has made it through and remains about as he was the previous night. Dave goes to bed for a few hours. Friends and family drift in and out of Dad and Jan's apartment, helping with the kids, helping with food, talking quietly. The kids and I have breakfast, then I take them outside to run off some steam. We came back inside, and Dave, Meg, Matthew and I spend a few more moments with Dad.

The nurse and the the chaplain from hospice are there to check in; when they leave, Jan follows them into the hallway to ask how long they expect Dad to linger in this state. They predict that it could be as much as two more days.

Immediately, Jan's best friend Margaret calls urgently, "Jan!" Jan rushes to Dad's bed. Don Wilcox is going to have the last word. No two more days about it; he is ready to go right now.

Miraculously, we are all there in the room; Jan, Dacia, Uncle Bob, Dave, me, our kids, and some of Dad and Jan's closest friends. Dad takes his last breaths surrounded by the people who love him most. We listen to "It Is Well With My Soul" and try to sing along as we weep. Jan says this hymn moved Dad to tears at church; I'd had no idea of this the night before.

Dad's spirit leaves his body peacefully. It is only 12 days since we rode roller coasters in Ohio.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Glasses Girl

Meg has been waiting patiently for a long time to get glasses. It was probably nearly a year ago that she started telling us she had trouble reading things at a distance. I forgot and forgot to schedule an appointment, and then when I finally called the ophthalmologist, there was a three-month waiting list.

But now the wait is finally over, and guess what? Meg is sooooo excited (Who, Meg? Excited??) to have her cute new glasses.

Doesn't she look great?

She's only slightly nearsighted and doesn't need to wear them all the time, but for now she's enjoying them so much that she only takes them off for outside play and sleep.

Glasses Too

Hello, Cutie Pie!