My Father in Law has Died

Last week, in the early hours of Thursday morning, Walton Adrian Johnston (aged 87), my husband’s father, took his last breaths. He was alone in his hospital room. A very astute nurse who had been a hospice nurse previously had called us on Wednesday to say that he was nearing the end. I’m so thankful that so many of his family were able to spend hours with him that Wednesday evening, even though it was hard to see him struggle to breathe. We’re not sure how conscious he was since he didn’t open his eyes while we were there, but I noticed how much more relaxed he was when we left versus when we arrived and am comforted that he knew on some level that he was surrounded with love.

I met Walton on my third or fourth date with Elliot back in 2005 when Walton had recently moved into a nursing home after suffering three (3) strokes. He wasn’t making that transition very well and that was the first of many calls from the nursing home about his agitation at the restrictions his body and the nursing home put on him. That first call was when he had fallen because he was trying to stand and walk when that wasn’t so easy for him any longer — he told us he was practicing to be able to come home. Walton had lived with Elliot for years before that transition to the nursing home and for the first several years, we didn’t disabuse him of the notion that he was coming home.

It wasn’t that long after that first visit that we settled into a routine of visiting him at the nursing home every Sunday after church as well as attending regular care planning conferences and other visits as needed. Elliot often wasn’t available during the day to answer calls, so I became a point of contact, reviewing reams and reams of paperwork and deciphering the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security issues. We were often in discussions with the risk managers and advocating for Walton to get more physical therapy or other services to keep him as limber as possible as long as possible.

Walton was grinning the entire time he was at our wedding in 2008– he was so proud of his son!

Walton was able to tolerate short visits outside of the nursing home for several years and we became quite familiar with renting vans that would accommodate his wheelchair to be able to transport him for as long as he could stand being away from his routine. We learned about his medication and Elliot helped meet other needs, like going to the bathroom, during these visits. Sadly, it became clear pretty quickly that he was more comfortable at the nursing home and so we shifted to celebrating with him there rather than bringing him to us.

Liam’s first visit to visit his grandfather, a few days after he was born. Despite Walton wearing a mask, no one was sick, we were just paranoid first parents afraid of Liam catching something.

While I always saw pride in Walton’s eyes when he looked at his son, that was nothing compared with how he looked at his grandchildren, all of them. He knew that the children and grandchildren were his legacy and he was justifiably over the moon when he looked at them. That Liam would bear his last name just as his son, Elliot, was also something he clearly was ecstatic about.

This is my favorite picture of Liam and Walton, companionably snuggling in the hospital bed during an early visit.

Liam became a regular fixture in our visits to the nursing home, delighting other residents and staff with his antics.

Malcolm’s first visit to the nursing home to meet Grandpa Johnston. We were a little more relaxed about germs the second time around!!

Once Malcolm was added to the mix and both were mobile, it was a little more of a challenge to visit since one of us had to chase after the kiddos. They often walked into the rooms of other residents to say hello and Grandpa’s back scratcher was a particular favorite toy while visiting. Malcolm’s middle name is “Walton” and I didn’t think Walton was going to be able to stay in his bed when he learned that this grandson would bear his name.

One of the last visits with Grandpa before we moved from Orlando to Miami in 2017. Harder to get everyone to look the right way and smile at the same time. Miraculously, Grandpa slept through the entire thing!

As Walton’s dementia and confusion progressed, he was less alert and less engaged during our visits. We kept them up regardless and always made sure to make mention of those staff who went above and beyond to support him during his time in the nursing homes. Making sure they saw our faces and knew that we’d be visiting helped us feel as though we were protecting him as much as possible even though he wasn’t able to articulate his experiences as much any longer.

One of my favorite pictures of Walton, from 2014, at a birthday party celebrating his 79th birthday.

So many pictures have Walton with his eyes closed or slumped over in his wheelchair. This is how I knew him the most, as he declined. His children, particularly my husband, knew him as a vibrant and energetic man. I wish I had known him before the strokes and other health issues stole so much of his spirit. To be that life of the party, a doctor with prospects and property and goals, to being at the mercy of the lowest paid employees at the nursing home was horrific to him. He often chafed at the restrictions his body and his circumstances foisted upon him, but he always had a smile for his family.

I’ve included the link below to Walton’s obituary and the information regarding his Celebration of Life and burial later this week. The largest paragraph is about his family, his legacy, and I think that’s exactly the way he wanted it. His family was everything to him and the crowning Jewel of his life.!/Obituary

41 thoughts on “My Father in Law has Died

  1. Beautiful tribute to your father-in-law. Love the pictures you shared! Even the most trying of times can bless us with sweet memories. Love and prayers for you and your family ❤️🙏❤️

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Such a beautiful tribute to a great man. My love and condolences to your wonderful little family. 🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰❤️

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  3. It’s never easy when you lose someone you love, no matter their age or their state of health. That person loved you, and you loved them. They were important to you and have left huge imprints on your heart. Your father-in-law sounds like a beautiful man who leaves behind precious memories and a wonderful legacy. Thinking of you and the family as you mourn his passing.

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  4. Abigail, the love and respect you felt for Eliot’s dad, whom you never knew in his prime, comes through beautifully. The photos of grandfather and grandsons are so very touching. Sincere condolences to you all. These caring scenarios are what one hopes for from family, but I fear too many people in their last years miss.

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  5. I’m so very sorry about your father-in-law. I’m glad he had family to see him and be by his side near the end. I think he knew loved ones were there, he could feel the love without opening his eyes.

    That’s a beautiful photo of of Walton and Elliot at your wedding. You can see his pride and happiness. And it’s so wonderful he’s been able to spend time with his beautiful grandkids. It’s a lovely thing to do, to give Malcom his grandfather’s name as a middle name. It must be terribly difficult to see a friend, loved one or family member deteriorate over a period of years. Very hard indeed. I saw my uncle as he was nearing the end and it tore my heart out, and we weren’t close sadly because of physical distance of him living far away, but we both knew we loved one another.

    It’s making me tear up reading your post but it’s clear he had the blessing of beautiful memories and was loved dearly. And you all likewise have memories of this great man to cherish always. I’m very sorry for your loss, for your husband losing his father. Sending my best wishes to you all 💜🌹

    Caz xx

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