A good death on the prairie

Pall bearers took Jim Jeffery to his final resting place at a cemetery in Saskatchewan Photo: Cheryle Watson via CBC

We celebrate good lives. We rarely consider good deaths.

Jim Jeffery, 95, had a good death.

Jeffery spent much of his life on a farm in Saskatchewan. Back in the day, he had hoped to spend his last days there and be buried in a family cemetery he created, carried there by a horse-drawn wagon he’d built.

But life works in mysterious ways and when Jim followed his wife to British Columbia for her job, the Saskatchewan prairie vanished in the rearview mirror.

“After mom died he’d come out (to Saskatchewan) for the summers,” his daughter Denise tells Discover Moose Jaw. “Then one year he went out and never came back.”

As time ran out, and his wife dying in 1983, he lived in an old folks home, but he talked about going home.

The end was obviously near a week or so ago. So his family rented an ambulance to take him home to Moose Jaw, his daughter tells the CBC.

“We had two more carloads of people join us in Vancouver, filled with grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so we had a trail ride on our way out to the Prairies,” Denise said.

The paramedics tending to her father’s needs during the ride were very courteous and became part of the journey, Denise added.

Jim had stopped eating 17 days earlier and he was trying to hang on, she said.

And he did. All the way to Saskatchewan, his daughter, Cheryle, said.

“We got to the Saskatchewan border and got out to take a picture of the ‘Welcome To Saskatchewan’ sign, and at the next gas station they said ‘you’ll never believe it. He’s calmed right down, his breathing is smooth … he knows he’s home.”

Cheryle said they uploaded pictures of their journey home on Facebook, with interest seeming to grow with every post.

“They said ‘it felt like we’re with you,” explained Denise. “We had a friend meet us at a gas station in Kamloops who came and said ‘farewell’, and we stopped in Caronport where his sister is. They had a big sign out there that said ‘Welcome home Jeckals (Jim’s nickname).”

A few miles later, they were at the old ranch and the room where both of his grandparents died.

“Everybody’s wish, really,” said Denise. “It wasn’t really us who got him here. He got himself here.”

In the final stretch to the ranch a huge “welcome home” sign greeted the convoy, and Jim knew exactly where he was: home.

“There were a few close friends that were there,” Denise said. “The next day people had heard about it so they all came out to the ranch, got to see dad, so he was really happy to spend extra time with people who haven’t seen him in a while.”

Three days after leaving British Columbia, Jim died as his family toasted him. At home.

Photo: Cheryle Watson

“It’s a gift he gave us,” Denise said.

(h/t: Matt Black)