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A Patient Story: John Crist

John and I met in 2010 and married in February 2016. Our common bond in Public Safety, the Fighting Irish (John was a South Bend, IN native), love of Jeeps, live life in a simple manner, and the love of random road trips helped build a wonderful foundation. John enlisted in the USMC in 1986 and served at Marine Barracks Washington, Camp David, where he served under Presidents Reagan and Bush before being deployed for Operation Desert Storm.  John always joked he had “only this much” (motioning with his index finger and thumb) to circumnavigate the globe “courtesy of the Marine Corps.” Always wanting to document and remember his travels, John was rarely without a camera. John continued his photography hobby ever since. John returned to Hagerstown in 1994 when he was hired by the Hagerstown Fire Department.

Our random road trips were never pre planned; we just went. Often, the route of travel was determined by a flip of a coin; however, we did have a few “rules” of travel: No cellphones, use good old-fashioned map books, no eating at chain restaurants, get off the Interstate/main roads, and take the back/side roads. Many of our friends told us they could never travel like we did, as they would have to plan the trip. John would always tell them, “Sure you can. Just go it whether it be a day, two days, or more. Just go.” Our travel buddy was our German Shepherd Betio a/k/a “PoopFace”. We adopted him from the Humane Society in 2016 and he quickly became our best friend. John knew I was an animal lover and when I brought home a stray cat home, he just shook his head, pet her, and named her Smoke. We didn’t know Smoke came with some ‘baggage’ and soon, five more kittens appeared. John said we could keep one, so we kept all five. One of the five, Mr. Tabby, a/k/a/ Mr. Tabbs, quickly became John’s buddy. Mr. Tabby followed John everywhere and they’d fall asleep together.

John had been in Hagerstown since 1994, so he was very well known to all public safety personnel and it seemed wherever we went, he knew someone. John was most well known for his mustache, which started as a Fu Manchu style and over the past two years, evolved into a handlebar style. He was extremely proud of “The ‘stache”; especially when others’ commented. Over the past year, John began to apply googly eyes everywhere he went. Sometimes he’d take pictures and other times he would just leave them in place for others to find. It didn’t take long for John to be recognized as the “googly eye guy” in addition  to the mustache. Someone once asked him why he applied them everywhere. John replied, “If it makes one person smile, then it’s worth the effort.”

In May 2022, John and I were on the way back from Frederick and a vehicle in the opposite direction struck a deer which was sent airborne and came through our windshield, striking John. Our Jeep went off the roadway and overturned before stopping. John was flown to Shock Trauma in Baltimore and was hospitalized there until transitioning to Hospice care. I had to make some difficult decisions throughout his hospitalization and at this point, John just wanted to come home. After consultation with medical staff and Hospice physicians, John and I decided the best place for him would be to transfer to Doey’s House.

John had not seen either Betio or Mr. Tabbs since May. John asked me to bring Betio to Doey’s, but I had to finally tell him I couldn’t because I had to put Betio to sleep on August 2nd. I did bring Mr. Tabby in to see John and both cuddled together for hours. I cried happy and sad tears as I saw John cry and hug Mr. Tabby.

 I was by John’s side when he passed away on August, 23rd, 2022. Even though I was later surrounded by many people, I felt so alone. I lost my best friend, my better half, my soulmate….my person. I was and still am, in limbo. Prior to passing, John told me to “live life and be happy”. It would be very easy for me to shut the door and not venture outside again. I promised him I would not do that, and as a result, I attended a Hearts of Hope meeting less than two weeks after losing John. Walking back into Doey’s House was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do, but I would not disappoint John. I forced myself to take those steps and I still do. It’s been five months and I have realized I look forward to and need the HOH meetings. Being with others who can relate has been a Godsend. 

I am still trying to find my way without my best friend. I am in a place where I neither expected nor wanted to be. To help with my grief and give me some purpose, I have begun to piece together some quilts made from John’s T-shirts and am working on fire department/law enforcement patch quilts from our collection. I plan on gifting a quilt for each of our grandchildren so they will always have a part of their “Papa John” with them.  

There will be parts of this journey I know I have to go at alone, but also know there are others on which I can lean. I’m told that this will get easier to bear. When? I have no idea. I lean on Hospice support, our cats (who truly have been my saving grace), and the advice of a friend who lost her husband in 2009. She said, “Participate. Just participate.” I keep going because I never want to disappoint John.

 While remembering John during a conversation between a myself and a friend of ours, she told me, “YOU guys went and lived. YOU two went out did things I and others have put off until retirement.” I look back on that statement and I agree. We DID live babe…we did. I will love you forever and always.

A love letter from those who have passed on…

Words by Tahlia Hunter

Take the love you have for me
And radiate it outwards
Allowing it to touch and impact others

Take the memory you have of me
And use it as a source of inspiration
To live fully, meaningfully and intentionally

Take the image you have of me in your mind
And allow it to fuel you
To take action
Seize the day
And be reminded of what is most important in life

Take the care you have for me
And let it remind you
To care for yourself fully
And shower yourself with your own love
And take the pain and grief you feel
Following my loss
And alchemize it into
Love, compassion and beauty

Build a castle
From the wreckage of my passing
And allow it to unlock your greatness and potential
And empower you to become more than you ever thought you were capable of being
And know that I can never truly leave you
And will always remain beside you
Watching over you in spirit
And that the love I have for you lives on
Through the connections you form
The kindness and compassion you share
And the future relationships and friendships you cultivate.

And until we are one day reunited
I will remain with you
Through the storms and chaos of life
And am always beside you
Walking with you, laughing with you, crying with you and smiling with you
And I am proud of you for being strong

I am proud of you for being brave

And I am proud of you for being you.