“I don’t want to keep living in this kind of pain,” he told me, referring to his discomfort with neuropathy, which caused his legs and feet to hurt and burn.
Bill lost his life Friday after a month-long effort to get well and come home to my mother, Sarah.
His courage before and after surgery was typical of this gentle man, who has been in my life for 45 years, first as a family friend, and, for the past 13 years, as a stepfather.
Bill was no stranger to hardships, which started when his mother died. He was only four or five years old at the time. Someone handed him a sack of candy, telling him, rather abruptly, of her passing, as if candy could ease his grief. This loss stayed with him throughout his life and possibly led him to marry my mother shortly after his beloved first wife, Wynemia, died. After this early experience with grief, Bill never cared to live by himself.
Bill and Wynemia never had children of their own, but when he married my mother, he also acquired four daughters, nine grandchildren, and a spate of great-grandbabies.
When meeting life’s hardships, Bill exhibited a keen sense of responsibility. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Afterward, he worked at many jobs, including furnace work, carpentry, swimming pool installations, and contractors’ jobs.
Bill remodeled the house that I live in, as he and Wynemia lived here for many decades before I bought the house. He added on two rooms, bricked the exterior, and installed grooved woodwork throughout the house, among other things. When I moved into this house, Bill, with my mother as his new supervisor, built me a carport, exhibiting his lifelong skills as a consummate handyman.
Bill was tough. During his life, he survived a scarring burn, an aneurysm, two open-heart surgeries, a pacemaker implant, and a host of other health problems related to aging. Eleven years ago, a doctor told us that he had dementia. “Divorce him quickly,” that heartless man said to my mother. He was so wrong as, up until two weeks ago, Bill was able to give directions to anyone who was driving anywhere in the county, tell stories about his past, and remember how to fix sinks, doors, lawn mowers, and anything else with moving parts.
Bill’s lifelong determination to endure tough times was most evident during the last month. He sailed through the surgery and, initially, battled only a touch of pneumonia. After a few days, he was able to walk and perform his rehabilitation exercises with vigor. Oh, how he wanted to get well and resume his life.
About 10 days ago, Bill experienced a severe bout of pneumonia, starting a chain reaction of other problems, which ended his life.
How we will miss him. In hundreds of ways, Bill earned the respect and devotion of his entire family.
In his last days, we loved ones understood an unspoken pact: Bill was not to be left alone. We took turns staying with him around the clock. Now that he is gone, we’re tired. However, we realize the effort was worth it.
Even the young children in our family have been affected by Bill’s passing. One great-grandson, age eight, cried incessantly after learning of Bill’s death.
Another one, who is also eight, heeded his mother’s words at a recent ballgame. “Hit one for Bill,” she called to him. He batted in three runs and rounded the bases in honor of a grandfather he is likely never to forget.
Bill would have been so proud: he knew how to cheer us on in this game called life.
Email Sherry at firstname.lastname@example.org.