While Vancouver Island, B.C., might have been Jim Jeffery’s address for decades, it was never really home. That’s why his family arranged one last journey for him back to Saskatchewan where he was born – almost 2,000 km by ambulance.
The plan developed as the 95-year-old’s health waned. He hadn’t drank much water and hadn’t eaten in 17 days.
His daughter, Denise Jeffery, said she was on speakerphone with her sister, Cheryle Watson, who was at their father’s care home in Victoria. Their father wasn’t doing well when she asked if he wanted to return to the family homestead southeast of Moose Jaw.
“I don’t hear anything except my sister crying and I said, ‘What’s going on?’” Denise said. “She said, ‘He’s got a big smile on his face and he’s squeezing my hand.’”
The family had concerns Jim would be too fragile for the journey when one of his granddaughters suggested transporting him by ambulance. They contacted a transport ambulance company and the trip began the next day, as they caught the three o’clock ferry out of Victoria.
Many of Jim’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren followed the ambulance, forming a convoy with Denise and her sister Cheryle. Friends in Kamloops, B.C., came out to say their goodbyes as they stopped at a local gas station.
Denise says her father’s health changed when they crossed the border into Saskatchewan.
“(The paramedics) said, ‘You won’t believe it. Once you told your dad he was there, everything just calmed down,’” she said. “He was relaxed. He was happy. He knew he was pretty much home.”
The warm welcome home continued, as the convoy arrived to a welcome home sign. They also stopped in nearby Caronport, where Jim’s 89-year-old sister lives.
“As sorrowful as this loss and everything that was going on (was), the journey just took some of that away,” said Denise.
She said it was also an emotional experience for the paramedics.
“They were crying at the end of it,” Denise explained. “They said it’s forever changed their lives. They said, ‘Now we know why we do this.’”
While Jim was non-verbal in the end of his life, Denise says he communicated with his eyes and hand squeezes. She says he knew he was home.
“We had to take a chance,” Denise says of the decision to make the long drive from B.C. to Saskatchewan. “He just wasn’t going and he should have been gone. He wasn’t eating, (drinking) very little water. We thought at least if he passes on the way there, at least he knew we were trying to get him home.”
Jim died on Aug. 29, a day-and-a-half after he arrived home in Saskatchewan. He was surrounded by friends and family, including his four children. Jim was buried in a coffin he built himself, in a cemetery he built on the ranch.