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Sunshine, Pastures, and Memories: Bob Cody's Wish

As a cool breeze stirred the air on an autumn Saturday this past October, Bob Cody felt at peace. He sat surrounded by the lush countryside of rural Oregon, far away from the dull hum of the city and a bed he knew too well. Nearby, Bob could see an ancient barn, a grazing horse, and a ceramic bathtub brimming with herbs. The stillness was broken only by birdsongs and a pair of dogs racing after each other. Bob turned to his nurse, Kate Shaver, and said, “I wish I could die right now.” Kate, who was also the Team Director at Seasons’ Portland office, was touched. She had grown to know Bob as a generally reserved and stoic man. She knew his display of feeling today was special.

 

Bob was suffering from congestive heart failure (CHF) as well as aspiration pneumonia. His wish to die on the spot, in peace, was not made idly or offhandedly. As with many hospice patients at Seasons, Bob knew his death was near, though not how near. That imminence had added a sense of urgency to the mission to bring him to this place.

 

Later, Kate recalled how the trip had come to be. Bob, who had been a Seasons hospice patient for some time, had begun to talk about his uncle’s farm during her visits to Bob’s home. For Bob, the farm was a central feature in some of his warmest childhood memories. Now, some sixty years after his last visit, all Bob wanted was to see it again. Making that happen would not be a small undertaking. The farm was outside of Corvallis, Oregon, which was at least two hours away from Bob’s Portland home, and for a man in Bob’s condition the ride would be tricky (and expensive). But when Bob said it would be his “life’s regret” if he passed without going, and that he was determined to go even if he “died on the way,” the Seasons team knew what to do.

 

They contacted the Seasons Hospice Foundation to ask for help. (The Seasons Hospice Foundation is a non-profit organization that funds wish-fulfillment experiences and other special acts of kindness for hospice patients and their families.) To their delight, the request was approved on the spot. Then they got in touch with Bob’s two daughters to see when they would be available to join. The next day (Saturday) would work,” they said. Great! The pieces were falling into place. The Seasons team contacted a local ambulance company, Metro West, to arrange ambulance service. When the company learned what the service request was for, they refused to be paid for their services. Metro West donated a van (with oxygen) and a driver/EMT for the entire day, free of charge. “Take your time,” they urged. Knowing the nature of Bob’s journey, Metro West also supplied the only van in its fleet with all-around windows. Everything was now ready to make Bob’s wish come true.

 

The next day, abuzz with excitement, Bob and his daughters joined Kate and the Metro West technician to embark on their quest. Spirits were high as they zipped down I-5 toward their destination. But as the interstate gave way to local highways, then surface streets, and then unpainted country roads in the rural surrounds of Corvallis, Kate couldn’t help but become a bit nervous. You see, Bob did not actually know the farm’s address. He thought he knew the name of a street or two, but really, the party had nothing more to go on than the strength of Bob’s memory and recognition as they drove.

 

As the group pushed deeper and deeper into the pine forest, Bob struggled to orient himself to his surroundings. Complicating matters, Bob had been suffering from acute hypoxia of late, which Kate knew would not have done his sixty-year-old memories any favors. Mile after mile, and turn after turn, Bob failed to lock onto anything familiar. At one point, he even asked if the group could return to Corvallis to retrace their steps out into the country. The prospect of success began to dim.

 

At one point, on a hunch, Bob directed the van down a gravel road. As the buckles and fastenings in the van clattered and squeaked, Bob’s face still failed to register any signs of recognition. Kate eyed the remaining oxygen tanks with concern, for how long could she permit the search to continue before turning back? In an emergency, of course, she could contact the local fire department to request an oxygen resupply, but then they would have to—

 

“This could be it!” Bob exclaimed suddenly. His eyes had brightened, and he was visibly excited. To Kate, nothing looked remarkable. They hadn’t seen a house in some time. They were quite literally in the middle of nowhere. “Here,” Bob said confidently, “if this is it, then there will be a house right around this corner.” And sure enough, as they rounded the bend a house appeared—the first they had seen in some time—just as Bob predicted. “And I bet you there’s a creek behind that house.” Kate, craning her neck, could see that, yes, there was indeed a creek behind that house. Bob seemed convinced. This was the one.

 

The van pulled into the property’s gravel driveway and crunched to a halt. A sturdy, middle-aged man in a plain white t-shirt and jeans approached. As Kate hopped out to speak with him, she worried about what he might say. What if, after all of their effort and anticipation, he turned them away? With relief, Kate quickly learned she had nothing to fear. “Actually,” she recalled later, “he seemed really tickled by the fact that a dying man wanted to come see his farm.” They were invited warmly to come, stay, explore, and even take pictures.

 

And so, there it was: Bob’s dying wish had come true.

 

In his weary state, Bob had decided to stay in the van, but from the clearing in which they were parked he was able to see the property quite well. And Kate pulled the doors open so that Bob could feel the air and smell the earth.

 

Bob chatted with the owner, reminisced, and told stories. He explained how his uncle had timbered the farm to pay its property taxes. With his hands spread wide, he spoke of the beaver hides he used to claim from the creek down the hill, and how he split the proceeds with his uncle once they were pelted and sold. He recalled, with amusement, the time his uncle shot at the neighbor’s goats because they had wandered too close to Bob’s little sister. With each telling, Bob glowed. All around, the place seemed to fill him with life and memory.

 

As the day wore on, it became time to go. Farewells were exchanged, Bob was tucked in for the return journey, and the van rattled and wound its way back down toward the interstate. As the hours-long trip back to Portland wore on, Bob’s body began to show signs of the toll the day’s adventure had taken. But once he was safely at home in his own bed, Bob perked up and spoke fondly of the memories he had just made and rekindled.

 

Three days later, Bob suffered a stroke. He passed the day after that. Had the trip been scheduled only a few days later (which had, in fact, been considered), it would have been too late.

 

Looking back on the outing, Kate marveled at how quickly and easily the trip had been prepared. “We just asked,” Kate recalled, “and in a matter of an hour we had everything coordinated.” Finding the farm was a little tough, she admitted, but the search itself became a fun part of the adventure. Unquestionably, it was worth it. Even if the farm had eluded them, just delivering Bob from his bed to the countryside of his boyhood would have been rewarding enough. Of course, with the help of the Seasons Hospice Foundation and Seasons staff, Bob fared much better than that. Reflecting on what it had all meant, Kate’s voice dropped to a whisper. “He was so happy,” she said.