A Life Well Lived

By: Michelle Baldanza
May 21, 2020

While traveling 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 a medical evacuation from Japan to the closest major Veterans Affairs or military hospital that could handle his illness.

On January 3, the family traveled to Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu so that Terris could be admitted.

The next major obstacle was finding a place to stay for Joe and his mom, Miyoshi, who is living with Alzheimer’s disease. 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. He was diagnosed with bone cancer requiring chemotherapy and additional treatment that initially appeared to have positive results. The family began doing physical therapy together because, due to the pandemic restrictions, professional care was 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 alone.

“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 I could talk to him. Me and my mom could, you know, 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 time with his father and learn what he wanted. “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.’” According to Joe, who said his dad had decided that the Hawaii State Veteran’s Cemetery was beautiful and the “ground is just way warmer here in the winter than it is in Wisconsin.”

Nothing was simple because of the pandemic. The family made arrangements for him to be cremated, but every step took longer than normal. Since travel was so severely restricted, incoming guests had to cancel their appointments, and Fisher House was able to accommodate Joe and his mom for longer than would be typical.

Joe reflected on how the Fisher House brought comfort to his family.

“Being able to walk around the house, watch the sunset, laugh while watching Big Bang Theory with my mom. It's just, it makes me go back to what my dad said about, ‘even if she doesn't remember because she's happy in the moment, it's worth it.’ But man, even if he was only happy in that moment, it was worth it to me,” he said.

“I just thought it was a place that you could stay while somebody was in the hospital, but it's just so much, it's much more than that,” said Joe. “I'm just eternally grateful for that because those, although as short-lived as it was, that one month after surgery when things were doing better, when we were grilling outside, when we were eating dinner, watching the sunset.”

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. You know, until it's too late,” he said. “All of that stuff I think was a lot easier on me and my mother because there was nothing left unsaid. You know, we took those trips, we had those dinners, we did that stuff. We, you know, we said, I love you. There was nothing left. He knew where we were at. We knew where he was at. And so, it was much easier to let go at that time.”