Toward the end of life, some people might reflect upon unfinished business or last wishes. Staff members at Hospice Care of the Lowcountry make it a point to ask their patients and family what their final wishes are.
“When death is coming, it’s a last chance for the final hurrah, to do something you’ve always wanted. It’s the grand finale,” said Maggie Clark, social worker and volunteer coordinator at Hospice Care of the Lowcountry (HCL).
This spring, Jan Eagers of Colorado was on Hilton Head Island to be with her father, Joseph Eagers, 95, during his last days. “I had this fantasy about pushing him in one of those special handicap wheelchairs with the big wheels on the beach. It was a dream of mine – for him,” she said. “The beach is like therapy … to see the waves, breathe the salt air. One little thing I wanted for him.”
The elder Eagers, a veteran of three wars, had retired to the island in 1988 with his wife JoAnne, who predeceased him. His only wish was to die in his own home, but he needed too much care.
Eagers asked her dad’s hospice nurse if there was any way she could take him one last time to the beach, a place he loved. Melanie Carver, R.N. relayed the request to Clark and together they set out to make the beach visit happen. It took about a week to arrange medical transport and fulfill the wish.
Transported by All About Medical, Eagers arrived at the beach on a stretcher, which was pushed close to the water’s edge, with his daughter at his side. Carver and Clark were present as well, and the transport team held an umbrella over him to protect him from the glare of the sun.
Jan knelt in the sand next to her father, held his hand, and spoke softly to him. “I think he recognized he was in a different environment as the wind gently blew,” Clark said. “It was very peaceful and very meaningful to his daughter – and to Melanie and I. Now the family can look back and have a wonderful memory.”
Eagers said when they got back in the transport van, she asked the driver if they could take a brief detour to drive past his house in Sea Pines. The RBC Heritage golf tournament had just ended and the crowds were breaking up. Her dad had always loved the Heritage, Eagers said.
“Dad, I brought you home just like you wanted,” she told him. Sixteen hours later, on April 20, Eagers died peacefully with his daughter by his side, and a wish fulfilled. “It was so beautiful,” Jan Eagers said. It helped me. It was the only gift I could give him.”
Fulfilling this last wish was made possible through HCL’s We Honor Veterans program. “It’s important that we honor our veterans and thank them for their service,” Clark said.
“I feel complete peace and no regrets regarding the last days of my father’s life. It was very important to me to share this last adventure with my dad,” Eagers said. “He traveled all over the world and visited 80 or 90 countries. He used to say, ‘I’ve done everything I ever wanted to do, and gone every place I’ve wanted to go, and I’ve had a fantastic life.’ This was the only gift I could give him. Maggie and Melanie were my heroes, and Dad got his time on the beach.”
“Death is often associated to negative scenarios,” Carver said. “At HCL we strive to help our patients live to the fullest during their last days. Standing on that beach, the feeling was beautiful, as if the entire beach was crowded with love.”
Over the years HCL has fulfilled other wishes as well. According to Clark, they have arranged weddings and reunions with family, but there is one particular client Clark said she will always remember. He was only 40 years old and had emigrated from Mexico. His only wish was to see his brothers and sisters in Mexico before he passed.
Clark found an opportunity to fund the purchase of a laptop for him. He said it was a miracle that he could FaceTime with his siblings. After he transitioned, his young son told Clark how wonderful it was to meet all of his uncles and aunts whom he’d never met.
To learn more about Hospice Care of the Lowcountry, visit hospicecarelc.org.
Edwina Hoyle is a freelance writer in Bluffton.