On Thanksgiving morning, my father, George Ivory, sat looking out at the ocean, the bustle of the day’s big meal prep already underway inside the house behind him. A crowd of 24 was gathered, ready to celebrate a day that had come to mean so much to all of us.
This was the thirteenth year of a traditional Thanksgiving beach holiday Dad started to get everyone together, for not just one day of feasting and togetherness, but a full week. He rented a big house and welcomed friends and family alike.
This year, though, he almost didn’t make it. He was hospitalized the week prior, his health failing rapidly from pneumonia and assorted other conditions. He tolerated only a couple days in a hospital before convincing his doctor he needed to leave. His doctor graciously recognized the beach was a more powerful therapy than anything he could prescribe.
Getting him to the beach from his home in safety was another matter. But through New Hanover Regional EMS and the Sentimental Journey Program, Dad made it to his rented house overlooking the ocean in comfort and in the company of three amazing EMTs.
As his grandchildren – and those considered grandchildren for the closeness of the families – arrived from all over the state and various college campuses, he was there to greet them. He sat on the porch and watched the ocean, enjoying both the coming and going of the tides and the joyful conversation of friends and family reunited.
The hospice nurse warned us he didn’t have long, but dad kept going. He joined us at the Thanksgiving table, said grace, and basked in the love and appreciation of all those gathered.
Once his mission to make it through Thanksgiving was complete, he slipped gently away on Friday morning, still able to listen to the waves while holding our hands and taking his last breaths.
Death rarely comes without pain and suffering, and my dad’s passing, through weeks of decline, was no exception. But it was also beautiful for the recognition that sometimes there are opportunities to seize near the end of life, and they should not be missed. Dad knew that. And, thanks to NHRMC EMS and hospice care, he was able to experience, one last time, everything that made the annual week at the beach so special.
New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Sentimental Journey program partners with Lower Cape Fear Hospice to help those at the end of life have an experience that will be meaningful to them. Started by NHRMC EMS’s Warren Brown and Lower Cape Fear Hospice physician Ted Winneberger, MD, it has provided dozens of special excursions. Sometimes, it’s a trip to the beach. Other times, it’s a night out to a favorite restaurant with a loved one. Each time, it’s a trip that provides a moment of happiness at a time of sadness, a chance to love life before it ends, and a beautiful memory to hold when it’s time to mourn.
My family would like more people to have the opportunity to experience a trip to the beach at the end of life, so the NHRMC Foundation is accepting gifts to the NHRMC EMS fund in George Ivory’s honor to buy a beach wheelchair. With it, we hope more of those who are facing the end of life will have the opportunity to experience the warmth and soothing power of the beach, the ocean, and the company of those who love them.