OPINION

‘Isn’t it Lucky:’ Hospice helps couple remain together at home

Submitted by Hospice of the Red River Valley
Submitted by Hospice of the Red River Valley

Jack Sunday leans back at his dining room table, hands behind his head. The laughs come readily as he shares stories of his late wife Jane Reff. The cherished memories of more than 15 years together pour out.

“Jane and I had a saying, and she started it. ‘Isn’t it lucky?’” Jack said. “Isn’t it lucky that we somehow crossed paths? We got along so well. It was like we were newlyweds for all 15 years.”

The dining room table is a workstation, a listening hub, a gathering space, a place overflowing with tradition. It’s where many collective meals, laughs and tears are shared.

Their dining room table was the center of life at the Reff-Sunday household—and it’s where Jane passed away with Jack by her side in November 2020.

Jane lived with cortical basal ganglionic degeneration; she was originally misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The disease progresses slowly and steadily. As with Parkinson’s, it causes rigidity and loss of body control. Unlike Parkinson’s, the condition doesn’t respond well to medication.

The best treatment was exercise and being active, which Jane did emphatically, until the disease slowly took her independence. Jack accompanied Jane every step of her nine-year journey with the disease.

As Jane’s disease progressed, Jack stepped down from his more than 30 years of work as an on-air personality at KFGO to care for Jane. It was a sacrifice Jack willingly made for his loving wife and does not regret.

“Jane was my biggest fan,” Jack said. “She would sit right here and have her radio on every day. And I was her biggest fan.”

The black AM/FM radio Jane listened to sits on a counter in the corner of the dining room in which Jane and Jack shared so many years together.

Jack often told Jane he considered himself lucky to care for her—a kindling of their fond sentiment for one another, “Isn’t it lucky?”

Help with Hospice

The couple enjoyed traveling together. Trips were taken and memories made in Mexico, Jamaica and Ireland. But during their final of many trips to Naples, Fla., Jane spent three days in the hospital. She was transferred to an in-patient hospice facility. It was clear Jane needed more support, and she wanted to be home. The couple called Hospice of the Red River Valley before returning to their Fargo home.

Jack said the care was extraordinary. Hospice of the Red River Valley CNAs, nurses and social workers cared for Jane and taught Jack helpful ways to care for her. “They were absolute gems,” Jack said.

Hospice staff answered questions and offered support. CNAs visited twice a week to help Jane shower.

“I often heard them laughing when they were helping Jane,” Jack said. “My favorite line from those two was from the nurse Chelsey, when she said, ‘What’s said in the bathroom stays in the bathroom!’” Jack especially appreciated the lightness the staff brought to each situation, and he knew Jane did, too. Jane always adored a great sense of humor.

“They were always right on top of getting what Jane needed, from a lift to a hospital bed to her personal needs,” Jack said.

The fondness and compassionate way that Hospice staff cared for Jane provided Jack peace of mind his beloved Jane was in good hands.

The Soundtrack of Love

Jack and Jane met while on the planning committee for the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Fargo. They were both socially active and remained so throughout their relationship.

Jane’s blue eyes sparkled with her sense of humor. Jack knew immediately she was “a lot smarter and more organized than me.”

“Conversation drew me to her,” Jack said. “She was very well-informed, and she liked to talk.”

Late nights and long road trips were often filled with nothing but conversation—work, travel, books. About life.

An avid reader, Jane always carried a book with her because “you never know when you’ll have to wait for someone.”

She loved Janet Evanovich mystery novels, with their elements of humor. Jack often heard her giggling in bed as she read. When reading became too difficult for Jane, Jack read to her. He admits he’s read and liked every Evanovich novel.

The couple enjoyed music. Jane’s favorite genre was jazz, which they frequently listened to in Florida. The pair traveled many places together, but the Gulf Coast of Florida was their favorite.

“Jazz was the soundtrack of our romance,” Jack said.

Music was a prominent feature of Jane’s funeral—a steel drum band, Irish vocal trio, bagpipes and a harmonica solo.

The harmonica sits on Jack’s dining room table. He’s trying to learn it.

“I’m a learner, but a slow learner,” he noted.

It’s a quip he often used with Jane, who spent nearly 40 years teaching in Fargo Public Schools. Jack and Jane shared a familiar refrain of joking about Jack’s lack of math skills. Jane always quickly pointed out he didn’t have her as his teacher, otherwise he would’ve taken to math.

“She taught me every day,” Jack said. “She could teach you without you even knowing it.”

Jane taught Jack about relationships, too—how to listen intently, to laugh wholeheartedly.

Loving Memories

Jack sits at his dining room table. The familiar radio over his shoulder, a beautiful photo of him and Jane on a beach in front of an ocean view. Jack sifts through one of the boxes of seashells Jane collected from their walks on the beach. Her only criterion for keeping each shell was, “They had to be perfect.”

Jane’s pink geraniums sit on a table next to the patio window. Jack tenderly cares for them. It was another subject Jane taught him.

The mantle over the fireplace features a series of the couple’s memories. Jane’s urn, wrapped in a beautiful painting created from a photo of her gazing at the beach. A piece of bright, white coral is paired with it.

A photo of the couple taken in front of their living room couch as they got married in front of friends and family.

Jack describes Jane as strong, independent and smart. While her strength and independence ebbed slowly, her intellect remained.

Jack misses full-time radio. More importantly, he misses Jane. But he’s glad she is now free of the physical symptoms that took their toll on her.

Jack said he used to think hospice was for those in their final days, but now he reflects on it as a gift to live each day as fully as possible. “It was such a comfort to have Hospice here to help us,” he said. “I’m so glad I could take care of her; thank goodness we could be at home.”

Jane Reff and Jack Sunday