For Women in the Second Half of Life
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James Lawrence Casey
November 14, 1930 - December 21, 2020
Saying Goodbye During a Pandemic
The week before Dad turned 90, he began to get weaker. I teased him that his warranty must be expiring soon. He also found a large, tender bump on his breastbone, though, and I took him to the clinic where the PA told him she didn’t know what it was and said to rub hydrocortisone cream on it.
My kids and grands brought supper over for his birthday on November 14th, and when the City started shooting big fireworks a few blocks away, I was surprised and concerned to see that Dad needed help down the three porch steps to watch the show. We told him the fireworks were in honor of his birthday, and he laughed, knowing we were pulling his leg.
When he continued to decline over the next two weeks, we both took a Covid test (negative) just in case and made more visits to clinics and even a trip to the ER, but no one could tell us what was going on or what we should do about it. A second visit to the ER on Monday, November 30, involved all kinds of tests including one for a stroke and another Covid test. Both were negative although he thought it was 1991 and kept asking where he was. The nurse said all the hospital beds in the area were full, thanks to the pandemic, but we could get on a list and wait until one opened up. Dad believed if he could just shave that stubble off his face everything would be fine. We stayed in the ER for 27 hours until a bed became available in Round Rock. As the attendants started to wheel my father away, I kissed him goodbye and told him Joe (his #3 child) would be meeting him at the hospital in Round Rock.
The hospital drained 1.5 liters of fluid from Dad’s lungs, and he was able to breathe better. Hospital policy during the pandemic allowed only 1 guest per day, so Joe took over so I could get some sleep. He stayed with Dad during visiting hours on Tuesday and Wednesday. The doctor told us she was pretty sure Dad had cancer, but said biopsies would be too invasive for him. My sister Joy had come to town, too, so I dropped her off to be with Dad on Thursday until he was transferred to the SPJST nursing home in Taylor. We were so relieved a bed was available there since we heard they usually had a waiting list.
Joy said she was told he would be transferred to Taylor between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and she said I could see him briefly when they took him to the ambulance, so I waited around in the parking lot. I was able to get a Rapid Covid test (my second in a week) at a nearby clinic so I would be able to see him in the nursing home. One o’clock came and went, and it wasn’t until 4 p.m. before attendants came to pick him up. I waited 7 hours that day to be able to see my Dad for 15 seconds when they wheeled him out of the hospital doors and onto the ambulance. He probably didn’t even realize I spoke to him and kissed his cheek. But it was worth it. Separation from loved ones in medical care during the pandemic is heartrending.
Rules in the nursing home were much stricter than the hospital, and I wasn’t allowed to see Dad until the next day. I knew he was probably wondering where I was, and sure enough, when I saw him he said, “I thought I’d lost you.” Heart pang. The rules said he would be in quarantine for 14 days, and that only one family member who had been Covid tested within a week’s time could see him only once a week. I thought I’d get to see him briefly every day, but that wasn’t the case. We could stand outside his window at any time, although Dad had a hard time staying awake unless someone was in there with him reminding him we were at the window. His voice continued to get weaker and weaker, and it was hard for him to put coherent words together.
I made big hearts that said “Love you Dad” on his window, and I made a poster to put on the wall of his room that told his caregivers about the life of this man they were taking care of. I wanted them to know how special he was and how loved he was, and that our hearts were broken that we couldn’t be with him more. Damn pandemic.
Eight days later my dad was unrecognizable, and we were told he was in his “end of days.” How did that happen so fast? My siblings came on the weekend to tell him goodbye, but he continued to linger on that following week, even without eating or drinking. End of days meant we could see him for 15-30 minutes a day rather than once a week.
The nursing home followed strict guidelines to protect their patients, for which I’m grateful because they kept Covid out of their facility. Each daily visit involved signing in, filling out a Covid form, disinfecting hands, donning a hospital gown, gloves, a really tight and uncomfortable mask, and a visor, all of which were disposed of each time. During the last week, I had to take a rapid Covid test every other day at the nursing home to be allowed in. For 9 days, I told him an agonizing goodbye at the end of each visit, thinking it would be the last time I saw him on this side of heaven. On Sunday, I was told that Christmas week visits were maxed out, but I called early Monday and left a message with their scheduler to please fit me in somewhere— that as long as Dad was alive I needed to see him every day. I didn’t hear back from them, so I called at 3 p.m. and asked them to open his room blinds— so I could at least see him from the window. The receptionist said she would head down there.
I arrived at the nursing home in minutes and stood outside Dad’s window for at least 10-15 more minutes waiting for them to open the blinds. I know they are busy with 88 patients, so I understood if someone hadn’t gotten to it yet. I watched family members at the next window— their mother/grandmother almost always had visitors at her window when we came. She sat by her window and talked on the phone with them. Dad hadn’t been able to communicate for the past 10 days, so the times family members were at the window, we just stood there and watched him, willing him to know we were there and that he wasn’t alone or forgotten.
As I stood by the window that day, the sweet receptionist I had talked to earlier came walking up behind me, and I when I saw her, I said, “He’s gone, isn’t he.” She nodded her head and said it looked like he had just passed. I tell myself that Dad’s spirit saw me standing at the window as he left his body— that he knew he was not alone. Thinking that makes it bearable for me.
She let me suit up and spend 45 minutes with him. I wept as I held his hand, still pliable, and touched his smooth cheeks. His kind caregivers shaved him and combed his hair every day, even the days he didn’t even know it. I don’t know if they knew it, but that was important to him. By then he was only a shell of the man he once was, but in my mind he was still my strong father I could always count on. I told him I was so sorry I couldn’t have been with him more. But I’m comforted in knowing he wasn’t in pain and was unaware of his situation his last week. I'm comforted knowing he's with Momma again.
Then I packed up his belongings— much of the new comfy clothes my sister and I bought him had yet to be worn. I put the big box and bag on the walker and parked it by the door. I figured someone probably needed to use that bed like we did, and I was grateful it was available when we needed it.
I took off my mask and visor and put my cheek against my daddy’s forehead for a moment. Then I kissed his face goodbye for the last time, put the mask and visor back on and walked out.
All the times I stood outside his window, I’m sure people saw an old woman peeking in to see an even older patient. But it was actually a heartbroken young girl watching her dying father during a time of pandemic.
Donna Casey Van Cleve
PawPaw with great grand Carter the first weekend in November at my sister's lake house
Dad seemed fine in November, although he started feeling a little unsteady on his feet & he began to eat less & less
On his 90th birthday on Nov. 14 with 3 of his 11 great grands- Audrie, Finn & August. We wanted to have a big celebration for his 90th, but the pandemic postponed that, for good we realized soon after.
I put hearts on the window with the message, "Love You Dad!" to remind him he was not forgotten.
My brother Joe with my Dad; many of our visits were from outside his window, which was hard to be so close and so separated
At the Window by Audrie Roeder
When Dad turned 90 in November, I asked friends on FaceBook if they would send him a birthday message since we weren't able to have a larger celebration. He loved hearing from everyone. The following are some of the responses, as well as posts about Dad after he passed.
Jon Gregory said, "Mr. Casey, I moved from Cotulla when I was 12; that was 47 years ago this month, if I remember correctly. My memories are mainly around Bobby and you and our activities. I remember so distinctly that light blue pickup that had the hooks that held the tailgate up, and it so often had the canvas bag with baseball equipment in it. Little League baseball was so different back then. We didn’t start at age 4 and play year-round on travel teams trying to earn that elusive college scholarship or pro contract. You instilled the fun (and fundamentals) of baseball and to this day I still love the game. I have umpired for decades and even got to umpire the Little League World Series a few years back. It seems when baseball was not in season, we were at the Scout Hut (mainly mowing it for like $4 split between Bobby and me.”) Then in the fall it was football every Friday night going somewhere. So many times I rode with y’all to out of town games to watch Joe Mack. We loved those Friday nights, except when we played Hondo. We hated Hondo. Hard to beat Texas Friday Night Lights. I loved my dad so much, but was always jealous of how much time you were able to spend with your kids. You and Mrs. Casey were such good friends to Mom and Dad; pastors struggle to have that. Thank you. Have a great birthday."
Darrel Seidel said, "Happy Birthday to my Little League Coach. I fondly remember in 1974 my final year of eligibility, I missed the first day of practice tryouts and Mr. Casey tracked me down. We had a great season that I will never forget!
Steven Parker said, "Happy birthday, Mr. Casey! We love & miss you. Your kindness has had a great influence on our story! Think of you every time I see our Casey.
[Steven & Lisa named their third child Casey after Dad and Mom]
Anita Volek said, "Missing his sweet smile and handshake on Sundays. Happy Birthday, Mr. Casey!!!"
Bobbye Ann Pierce said, "Happy Birhday, Mr. Casey! Thank you for being such a good role model to the young people in First Baptist Church, Cotulla, Texas, all those years. Thank you and Mrs. Casey for sitting with me in the hospital as my mother was dying. That meant so much to me."
Bob Boeker said, "Happy birthday, Mr. Casey. Your home was my home away from home as I grew up. I even managed to become a mediocre pool player there."
Chaney Gregory said, "Jim, do you still have a mess of keys on your belt?"
[I tell members of First Baptist Taylor that Dad was the "Mike Townsend" of First Baptist Cotulla]
Trisha Gentry Rowland said, " I have such good memories of you and your family. You made such an impact on so many of us in Dell City. Your kind and gentle nature is one thing I remember so well. Your love for God is what I remember most. Thank you for being an inspiration and I hope you have a wonderful birthday!!"
Elizabeth O'Dell said, "What a gem of a human! He will be missed by so many. I remember the windmill and all the crazy things I asked for him to build for VBS! We all need a little Jim Casey’s servant heart. He was always so willing to lend a hand. I was blessed to have known him!"
They Took the Time
“Wake up! It’s time!” he said to us four siblings in the middle of the night. We stumbled sleepily out of the house to a blanket spread in the front yard in Salt Flat, Texas. Star gazing doesn’t get much better than to see the night sky in West Texas away from all the light pollution of cities.
We lay there looking up at the sky, witnessing something we’d never seen before and haven’t seen the likes of since. Falling stars of all sizes covered the sky like a fireworks show. I did a little research, and it was probably the 1966 Leonid meteor shower, called the greatest one in recorded history that produced as many as 40 meteors per SECOND! I’ll never forget it, nor many of the other experiences Dad and Mom took us through. And when I think about it, the only cost in most of those experiences was time— their time.
I can still look up at the night sky and find Orion, the Big Dipper, the Seven Sisters, and the planets Venus and Mars that Dad taught us to recognize. For years we took empty baby food jars with us on vacations and weekend trips to collect soil samples from all over Texas and the other states we visited. We had every kind and color of soil imaginable, including caliche with bright yellow specks of uranium in it. That accounts for our glowing personalities and nuclear appetites. We visited educational places such as museums, historical parks, and the State Capitol, and went beach combing for shells and unbroken sand dollars at the coast.
Our budget was very tight during one of our stays in Oklahoma City while Dad attended a training school for the Federal Aviation Agency. For entertainment, we found the bookmobile nearby and discovered the joy of reading, or we’d walk several blocks to play in a park. One day we took a free tour of a meat packing plant. They warned us that we’d never be able to eat another hotdog or baloney sandwich after that, but unfortunately, the tour didn’t phase our eating habits. Mom and Dad still had to knock us away from the dinner table. I blame it on the uranium.
Dad built several playhouses for us out of large equipment crates during our elementary years. He built the first playhouse in Fort Stockton, but we had to leave it when we moved further west. The next big equipment crate that arrived at the Salt Flat VOR Dad turned into a two-story cavalry fort within the picket fenced backyard. Our imaginations soared in a place where TV reception was almost non-existent. Mom and Dad taught us to play domino and card games and played with us often. They erected a volleyball net under light poles and we played volleyball with the neighbors at night after the wind died down. We lived 20 miles from Dell City and 90 miles from El Paso and the nearest doctor, dentist, and adequate grocery store. We spent many hours in a vehicle together, which allowed for plenty of singing and conversation, as well as the occasional intelligent debate (Did too! Did not!) and wrestling match (pre-seatbelt days).
We moved every three years, on average, and one of the first things Dad and Mom did was to join a church. Much of our social life was centered around the church and the people we met there. The parents I saw at church were the same parents I saw at home. They lived what they believed. I am grateful for this heritage of faith my parents instilled in me through their example.
I wrote this article in 1999 and at the time started reading a book that said all families were dysfunctional and the unrealistic Walton and Brady Bunch mentality about happy, functional families were why people in general were so messed up. I put the book down. My family was far from perfect, but my parents were onto something right when it came to spending time with their children. They had the same number of hours in the day everyone else had. They were and have always been there for us kids. We have never had to question their love for us.
Those things don’t cost money, just a little time.
Jack Van Cleve IV (Van) said, "The world lost an amazing man. To many, he was known as Mr. Casey or Mr. Jim, but to us he was PawPaw. Thanks to him, I know who John Philip Sousa is (Stars & Stripes forever), I became obsessed with the Aggie band at a young age, and my love of all things aviation come from him, which is why I run outside any time something is flying over to see what it is. Most importantly, he taught me how to be a better person and to serve others. We will miss you here, but I'm sure Gangy is happy to see you. Fair winds and following seas, PawPaw!"
Jimmy Van Cleve said, "“The world just lost the kind of man that we need more of. He was my Jimmy Stewart.”
Lois Wood Shannon said, "Happy birthday Jimmy. One of the finest men I have ever known. Just to tell you how long I have known this, I remember the day you proposed to Isla. You are one of the kindest and most generous men I have known. Like taking care of aunt Zel and uncle Chock. Hope you have had a good day . Love you James Lawrence Casey."
Laurie Burger said, "Happy Birthday Mr. Casey thank you for treating my family like your family. We were blessed to have had a relationship with you and your family through the Watson family. It is a true privilege to be a friend of yours we miss your beautiful bride as well."
Shirley Gilmore Richardson said, "Happy Birthday Jim. You taught Training Union class to so many kids. You sent them off prepared for life. They are still serving the Lord; you taught them and showed them how to become Men and Women. May God Bless You The Whole Year Thru."
Tom Estes said, "Happy 90th Birthday to you Bro. Jim Casey! I always loved the times we visited with you in Cotulla and appreciated you and your sweet wife singing with us in the choir! And the fellowship at the mens breakfasts was always a special time! Blessings to you, and thank you for your faithful Christian example to all who know and love you! We are richer because of your friendship!"
Rachel Jenkins Mills said, "Happy Birthday Mr. Casey!! You and Mrs. Casey always were planning something for the youth, either at church or at your home. So thankful for you."
Terry Chiles Sr. said, "Happy birthday Mr. Casey. I remember your leadership in the Boy Scouts Cotulla Troop 150. I remember riding in your truck camper to get to scout camps. Please know that I will always look up to you as a great man and have my deepest respects for you."
Kenny Hearrell said, "One of the very best men I have ever known."
Matt Perez said, "I really loved Mr Jim; he made our Bible studies so much more enlightening."
Leslie Kinsel said, "He embodied Phil 4:9 “do what you have seen in me."
Becky Placke said, "I’m so sorry for your loss. I felt the same about my daddy- steady, faithful, kind. Always."
Lisa & Dave Bogan said, " Jim was a great guy, full of wisdom. He will be missed. We always enjoyed conversations with him related to his & our Navy experiences."
[Bogans, the feeling was mutual]
Deb Watson said, "Christopher is going to miss their history conversations."
[After their visit at the lake house in early November, Dad sent Christopher a book with a note calling him his 'new best friend.']
Scott Davis said, "He was one of the most solid, compassionate men I've ever met."
Aki Ohinata said, "Sending love and prayers. So lucky to have known PawPaw Casey. He was such a wonderful loving person who loved us Aggies."
Matt Kinsel said, "Mr. Jim made such an impression on me. In all the time we spent together he was always kind, patient, and good. I loved him and looked up to him."
[My dad taught my son at a young age how to take up the offering during church on Sunday, and after Van was grown and gone, I remember seeing Dad walking alongside a very young Matt teaching him to take up the offering, too. I had to look away to keep from crying. Dad also loved teaching Matt how to work the sound equipment. He always liked to keep up with you, Matt, because he was so proud of you].
Joy Ash said, "Remember helping with him and your Mom at Shepherd's Heart pantry. They were both such sweet and faithful servants."
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