Joseph Eagers Jr. was always the first of his family in the water.
For over 30 years, whenever his family visited Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, he was first to brave the ocean waves. He'd encourage his children to join him in the blissful swells of the salty water.
On April 19, Eagers made one final trip to the beach.
With the help of his hospice nurses and his eldest daughter, the 95-year-old retired civil engineer and veteran of three wars felt the cool sea breeze in his hair and listened to the waves crash onto the shore. After leaving the beach, he made one final stop at his Sea Pines home, where he'd lived for 35 years.
"When death is coming, there are few material things that matter," said Maggie Clark, Hospice Care of the Lowcountry's volunteer coordinator. "What is important are experiences, family, love and comfort."
His final wish realized, Eagers died peacefully next to his daughter the following day.
"He hadn't been outside in over a year and a half," his daughter, Jan Eagers, told The Island Packet. "He didn't open his eyes, but he knew he was in a special place.
"It was so beautiful."
'I promised myself I would be there for him'
Eagers retired to Hilton Head in 1984 after a long military and civilian career that took him to over 80 countries. After his wife, JoAnne, died unexpectedly in her sleep at age 63, he spent his time traveling and bicycling around the island.
Eagers moved into assisted living care in 2019, the day before the island evacuated for Hurricane Dorian.
In early 2020, Jan Eagers relocated to Hilton Head, moving into his Sea Pines home to spend time with her dad as his life came to a close. They spent time reading the Wall Street Journal and The Island Packet together, watching mystery programs and indulging in his favorite sugar cookies, sent by his daughter, Claire, who lives in California.
Jan Eagers' sacrifice is one that many people were robbed of in 2020 due to the pandemic. Travel restrictions made being close to family more difficult for many, and complicated the grieving process because funerals and gatherings were unsafe. Thankfully, Eagers made the move in the early weeks of the pandemic.
"I just knew it was not going to be a long, long life. I wanted to be there for him, because no one was there for my mother. She just disappeared," Eagers said of her decision to move from Colorado to Hilton Head. "I promised myself I would be there for him at the end, and the only way to do that was to put my life on ice. I don't regret it at all."
When her father's health took a turn for the worse in January, she started to think about how to make him happy in the last weeks of his life.
"I had casually mentioned to the hospice nurse that I wished I could take him to the beach," Jan Eagers said. "I think it's one of the smallest, most beautiful things I could do. It was a wacky idea, and they listened to me."
Last trip to Sea Pines' beach
On April 19, a private ambulance brought Joseph Eagers back to the beach one last time.
Hospice Care of the Lowcountry staff helped him get onto a stretcher and accompanied him to Sea Pines' Tower Beach -- one of his favorite places.
When they arrived, Jan Eagers was overwhelmed with emotion.
"He could smell the salt air, hear the ocean, feel the sun on his skin," she said. "His little gray hairs were blowing in the wind."
After they left the beach, they stopped at his home in Heritage Woods in Sea Pines.
"I opened the door and said, 'Hey Dad, I brought you home,'" Jan Eagers said. "'Home,' I repeated. I didn't ever think I could bring him home."
When he died the following day, there was peace.
"I feel complete peace and no regrets regarding the last days of my father's life," Jan Eagers said. "It was very important to me to share this last adventure with my dad."
This article is written by Katherine Kokal from The Island Packet Online and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.