A Life Well Lived
“It's always tough to lose someone, but it makes it a lot easier when you know that they’ve truly lived,” said Joe Simonet of his late father, Vietnam War and Army Veteran Terris Simonet.
While on a bucket list adventure vacation in Asia over the holidays at the end of 2019, the Simonet family suffered a horrible blow. Terris fell terribly ill, requiring travel as soon as possible from Japan to the closest major Veterans Affairs or military hospital that could handle his rapidly deteriorating health condition.
On January 8, the family departed Japan for Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu so Terris could be admitted in the United States and have his care transferred back into the VA healthcare system.
The next major obstacle was finding a place to stay for Joe and his mom, Miyoshi. The Fisher House was initially full, but a last-minute cancellation the following day provided the opening the family needed. They were able to move into their “home away from home” where they would not only cope with illness and loss but also the safety restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Within the first couple of weeks, Terris began showing progress, was discharged, and moved into the Fisher House where he would continue receiving treatment as an outpatient. He had been diagnosed with Metastatic Multiple Myeloma; a type of bone cancer directly associated to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. This required chemotherapy and additional treatment that initially appeared to have positive results. The family began doing physical and occupational therapy together at the Fisher House because, due to the pandemic restrictions, appointments with professional physical therapists were unavailable.
Shortly before Easter, however, Terris’ health took a turn for the worse, and the family made the difficult decision to readmit him even though COVID-19 safety precautions would mean he would be no longer be able to receive visitors.
“They did go out of their way – one of the nurses was nice enough to bring their personal phone into the room and hold it up to his ear so that I could talk to him,” said Joe. “He couldn't respond to me, but me and my mom could talk to him for the last time.”
In the early morning hours of April 12, Easter Sunday, Terris lost his battle with cancer and passed away.
Joe said they felt fortunate to have the extra time with his father and learn what his last wishes were if things did not go as planned. “He had said, ‘Man, if something goes down here, don't bother trying to bring my body back to Wisconsin, especially amid all this COVID stuff.’” Joe explained that his dad’s sense of humor stayed strong as he also joked that the “ground is just way warmer here in the winter than it is in Wisconsin, anyway.”
Through the challenges, Fisher House was able to accommodate Joe and his mom for longer than would typically be normal. Since travel was so severely restricted, incoming guests had to cancel their appointments leaving space for the Simonets. Once restrictions began being lifted, they were able to return to Wisconsin.
The family planned for Terris to be cremated and interred at Hawaii State Veteran’s Cemetery, however, nothing was simple because of the pandemic. Joe anticipates they will be able to return to Hawaii and hold a service for his father in Hawaii towards the end of 2020.
Joe reflected on how the Fisher House brought comfort to his family.
“I just thought it was a place that you could stay, while a family member or somebody you know is in the hospital, but it's just so much more than that,” said Joe. “My father was always adamant with me about not bothering to regret the things you’ve done in life, only the things you haven’t, and to that tune we were able to enjoy our last month together in Hawaii. From watching sunsets while grilling outside, to having dinner with new friends as well as old, and most of all enjoying that precious family time just sitting around together as if in our own home, which is all too often pushed aside by the busy schedules in our everyday lives.”
Joe explained how right up until the end of his father’s life, their family experienced life to the fullest.
“The most important thing really, is just don't wait until it's too late,” he said. “We took those trips, we had those dinners, we said, ‘I love you.’ Furthermore, I am eternally grateful for that one good month post-surgery when things were going better, because as short-lived as it was, we did everything we could with the time that we had. There was nothing left unsaid. He knew where we were at. We knew where he was at. It made the loss of my father easier for my mother and I to cope with, and it made it easier for us to let go at that time.” he said.