My patient, John Francis Greene, grew up in Ipswich, Massachusetts, right near the Atlantic Ocean. He loved the open water. Later, he bought a boat and often went out past Plum Island to go deep-sea fishing. He moved to Florida for a while, living near the water, and fished off his boat down there, too.
For four months I was lucky enough to help take care of John as a registered nurse case manager along with our staff at the Beacon Hospice, an Amedisys company, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Only 67 years old, a husband, a father and a grandfather, John had cancer. Still, he somehow managed to tell me a lot of fishing and boating stories – about seeing dolphins and manatees, for example.
One day, I asked John what he dreamed about doing just one more time. The Amedisys Foundation has forged a partnership with Dream Foundation to deliver Dreams to patients, so I brought up some options for him to consider. One of my ideas was for John to go on a whale watch.
And that’s what John chose.
And so on the night of July 11, that Dream came true. John gathered at Rye Harbor with his wife, his son and daughter, his six-year-old grandson, his two best friends and some 20 others close to him. I showed up at the dock, along with other staff from Beacon Hospice. And as a surprise, John’s oncologist and her staff came by, too.
The boat chartered for this special occasion headed out into the Atlantic. At one point, two humpback whales swam alongside, as if to guide John to his destination. I’ll never forget the look on John’s face. He was beaming with joy. And no wonder—he was out on open water again, only now with those he loved most in the world, watching the humpbacks leap in the air as if just for him.
Three weeks later, John and his wife, Jo-Ann, celebrated 47 years as man and wife. He was no longer alert and unable to talk, but somehow he mustered the strength to get up from his bed to kiss Jo-Ann on the cheek. I saw him that night and I knew – knew as well as I ever knew anything – that he would hang on for at least one more day rather than leave his wife on this of all days.
The next day, Jo-Ann told John he could go. And so he went.
For all I know, John departed imagining himself once more out on the Atlantic far from shore, fishing rod in hand, marveling at the whales. I imagined him at peace at last.
For more information about participating in the partnership between the Amedisys Foundation and Dream Foundation, click here.