I am Charlie’s sister Cheryl. Charlie stated in his last blog post on February 21st that he and his wife Pat had made the decision to enter hospice care. I was there with him when he made that decision. I was there when the admitting nurse came that same afternoon, and when a hospital bed was delivered that evening, and when his care nurse came the next morning. But then I had to return home to my husband in Oklahoma, as I’d already been away from home for a week. I said my goodbyes on February 22nd and told him I loved him. I stayed in close contact with Pat, and learned that he died peacefully early in the morning of February 24th. Pat was with him at the end, as she had been throughout this illness and through the last 37 years of his life.
Anyone who has been reading this blog over the course of his treatments will know that Charlie faced his illness with great courage. He remained hopeful and optimistic throughout his long ordeal. But then, that is the way he lived his entire life. He kept his concern and compassion for others to the very end. To give just one example of this, February 21st was a particularly bad day for Charlie. He was quite weak, and he’d thrown up what little food he’d been able to eat. Pat had gone to get some supplies recommended by the hospice nurse. He decided he wanted to clean up a bit. He didn’t need much help from me, but I stayed close just in case. After he finished whatever cleaning up he was able to do, he was sitting on the bench at the foot of his bed. He looked up at me and said, “This must be really tough on you. First Billie [our mother, who died in 2013], and now me.” At that moment, in spite of all he was going through, he was more concerned for me than he was for himself.
Charlie told me early in my last visit that Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech really resonated with him. Lou Gehrig had said, “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.” Charlie considered himself to be one of the luckiest men on the face of the earth as well.
I have just returned from another visit, this time to be with Pat. Originally, Charlie was hoping to have a Pre-retirement party. This is what he wrote on the invitation that he and Pat sent out before they decided to cancel because of his health:
“Pre-Retirement Party”? I am not retiring yet, but because of a recent decline in my health, I think that time is probably sooner rather than later. So before it got too late, I wanted to hold a celebration to thank all of the people who have supported me so much over the last years.
Sadly, instead of a Pre-Retirement Party, it turned into his memorial, a Celebration of Life. The memorial party, because it was a party and celebration of Charlie’s life, was a very beautiful and moving afternoon. There were over forty people attending from the many areas of Charlie’s life. Those included a group from his employer, where he worked for many years. They brought with them a large packet of heartfelt messages of condolence that they wrote at their recent conference. They also brought an award for Charlie that he had been told about before his death.
In addition, there were many friends attending, going all the way back to his college days, up to the present in Southern California, and family members from both Charlie’s and Pat’s families. Pat and I were very appreciative and moved to hear all the kind words about Charlie, the impact he had on so many lives, and the beautiful expressions of sympathy. Pat is so very grateful for the wonderful kindness and encouragement she received through all the years of Charlie’s illness and death. She plans to acknowledge everyone individually in the coming weeks.
Charlie always knew that once he died, it would be over for him, but not for those of us left behind to grieve his loss. We’ll miss you Charlie!