Livin’ & Dyin’ On Hilton Head Time

I’ve spent a lot of time in Hilton Head, South Carolina over the years, and once my parents purchased a house here in 1990 – my time on the island increased exponentially. Most tourists visit Hilton Head for the sandy beaches or for Sea Pines (where Harbor Town and South Beach are located). Yet there is a secret side of the island …

There are a number of trails in Hilton Head and in the nearby Town of Bluffton. I’ve walked most of these trails and have enjoyed seeing how they change with the seasons. One of my favorites is a walk through a pine forest and swamp at Whooping Crane Pond. in Hilton Head Plantation.

In February 2024, these trails became a part of my daily routine when I arrived to assist aging parents in a transition to assisted living. After a stop at Magnolia State Park on the drive to the island, I shared photos and video with my parents of a care center that I found for them near my home in Atlanta. Then after a blessing from my father to finalize the paperwork, I headed out to walk around a nearby lake at Jarvis Creek Park in Hilton Head.

I had no way of knowing at the time, but this Sunday was a turning point in my Dad’s life. He began a decline on that day that not even he (a licensed physician) or that I expected. I woke the following morning to find that he could barely get out of bed. I took time off from work, helped him when I could, and took breaks to unwind at Whooping Crane Pond and on the Around The Horn Trail at the Carolina Coastal Museum. I needed these walks after my father’s personal physician, a hospice nurse, and the home health care manager all confirmed the same – that my Dad likely would not make it through the weekend.

I was shocked. He was shocked. On Wednesday, my father officially entered hospice. We moved him to the living room where he could look at the lake and be with us in the evening. With great effort, he managed a few words from time to time. I told him that I loved him, and he responded with the same. These were the last words that I heard him speak.

The hospice nurse suggested that my sister come to Hilton Head immediately – that my Dad was likely near the end. After an extensive job search, my sister had just started a new job – but she immediately made plans to drive to Hilton Head. My Dad held out for her visit, while I packed my emotions and a small hip pack and headed for Dolphin Head to hike until sunset.

On Thursday, my father was in pain and on morphine. It was hard to see. He looked at his watch frequently anticipating my sister’s arrival. The hospice nurse and home health care helper said the same – my Dad was holding out for her. Later that afternoon, I went to clear my head once again at the Audubon Newhall Preserve then returned to the house to await my sister’s arrival.

My sister didn’t get to Hilton Head until 11pm on Thursday night, then slept on the couch next to my father. My Dad was not responsive on Friday and Saturday, but we were told that he could still hear us. So we spoke with him from time to time over the weekend. We got no response, but kept communicating to my Dad. I returned to Whooping Crane Pond on Saturday where the parking area was flooded from a recent storm.

Then I watched Wake Forest blow a huge lead and lose a basketball game to Virginia Tech as I sat next to my Dad in the living room. I expect that he was smiling as I cussed out our late game demise on the basketball court.

I headed to bed after the game and my sister slept on the couch with him once again this evening. On Sunday morning, Dad was still breathing – but he was still unresponsive. I firmed up a place for my Mom in memory care today. Then my sister and I shared the news with my father around 11am. He has been worried about my Mom’s well-being for some time, and I am certain that it took a heavy toll on him.

At noon, I headed for the Greenway Trail in Bluffton to clear my head. I needed some wilderness time and hadn’t hiked here since 2011. The trail is near a shopping mall but it is really peaceful and the pine trees are amazing.

Five minutes from the trailhead, my sister called to say that my Dad had passed away. I was numb – but I knew that it was coming. We think that my Dad held out for my sister’s visit and for my Mom – and for a confirmation that she was OK. I heard over and over that my Dad was a fighter. And he fought to the end.

During the next few days, I thought of my Dad frequently and I walked more trails on the Owner’s Beach, to Starr Pond, and finally on the Greenway Trail. These hikes gave me closure and made me grateful that I had my father for over 50 years of my life.

Rest in peace, Dad. You were a great man and a wonderful father. No one deserves Heaven more than you.

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