For family & friends of Cornelius Harder: His cancer journey and final days

Cornelius W. Harder • February 22, 1960 – April 24 2020

*****

NOTE:
In light of COVID-19 restrictions, we are not able to hold a proper funeral or visitation for Cornelius Harder. This includes most immediate family members.

FUNERAL LIVESTREAM DETAILS: On Monday April 27, 2020, at 2:00pm EDT, the funeral for Cornelius Harder will be livestreamed via YouTube at the following link: Kebbel Funeral Homes.

*****

On Thursday April 23, 2020 family members of Cornelius and Susan (Bender) Harder received word that Cor, my brother, was declining rapidly. Knowing how difficult support is during COVID-19, I took some masks and gloves to his home to ensure his wife had all supplies needed. I anticipated dropping off the product, and possibly saying my goodbye to Cor if he was responsive, and then sitting in my vehicle awhile in the event Susan, Cor’s wife, needed help. However, shortly after arriving the VON nurse also arrived and asked if someone would be comfortable administering medications via port in the absence of a nurse. Susan, knowing I had done in-home elder care and worked as a nurse’s aid, years ago, suggested she talk to me.

Another sister and I, who both enjoy (for lack of better word) doing palliative care, spent the night with Susan and Cor, offering support and caring for his medical needs.  Our goal was to be present, monitor his condition, observing the progression of Cor’s decline, explaining any changes, and keeping Susan informed of what to expect next, so that she would not be taken off guard and frightened or traumatized. This allowed us to prepare her for his passing in a peaceful manner, keeping him comfortable and offering her the support she needed. It was an honour to offer this support.

*****

COR’S CANCER JOURNEY

On June 12 2018, only 22 days after he went to the doctor with initial symptoms, Cornelius Harder received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. This began a 23-month journey in his fierce battle against this ruthless disease. On July 1, the physical suffering that would mark much of the next year and nearly ten months of his life, began, followed by the first of many trips to the hospital for pain management.

Surgeons were confident that surgery offered Cornelius the most likely chance at a full recovery, so by November 1, 2018, they successfully performed a Whipple procedure.  By April 2019, he had healed considerably, and was able to enjoy reasonably good health with minimal discomfort until August of that year. During these months Cornelius planted crops and kept up with his customers at Kenpal Farm Products Inc.

In mid-September 2019 a partially blocked bowel brought complications and reintroduced significant pain and suffering into Cornelius’s life. In October he was diagnosed with stage 4 recurrent pancreatic cancer. By November he experienced severe back pain, causing him to lose much sleep, leading to a challenging Christmas season. In the ensuing months, there was a gradual, yet steady decline in his health.

Even as he declined, growing weaker and weaker, he fought the disease valiantly, maintaining an element of independence and mobility, always concerned for Susan’s wellbeing and doing everything in his power to ensure she was cared for. But, in spite of his grit and determination, on April 18, 2020, standing by his bed, Cornelius became very weak. “My legs are going to give out,” he said to Susan “I’m going to fall.”

With Susan’s assistance, he managed to lay himself across his bed and wiggle back into position and get comfortable. This was the beginning of the home stretch. Cornelius maintained a good appetite and continued to eat well, for the most part. By Wednesday April 22, days after becoming bedridden, he had grown so weak that he was no longer able to feed himself, though he ate well with Susan’s assistance.

Early Thursday morning, April 23, Cornelius began sweating profusely without a fever. Susan’s concerns subsided when she offered him breakfast and he ate well. By mid-morning, in the middle of a conversation about the final details on the income tax return, Cornelius fell into a deep sleep which lasted until late afternoon. Not long after the VON nurse, Jennifer, arrived, he was suddenly alert, eyes wide open. Jennifer called Susan over, telling her she wouldn’t want to miss this time with Cornelius. This led to a delightful, endearing and humorous moment in Cornelius’s final hours.

Seeing Cornelius so alert, Susan smiled, kissed his forehead and expressed her love for him, to which he responded with warmth and affection, affirming his love for her. “It’s so good to see you wide awake, your eyes open,” Susan exclaimed, beaming.

“Have I been sleeping long?” he asked. She told him it had been awhile, but that he needed the rest and it was ok.

“Well,” he said, “while I’m awake I might as well sign the Income tax form.” The nurse, Susan and I all erupted in giggles to see him go from such a deep sleep we could barely communicate with him, to asking for papers to sign and complete.

Susan found the form and started flipping through the pages and commented at being uncertain where to find the spot that needed signing.  Instantly, Cornelius piped up, “It should be about page 3.”

A moment later he was set up to sign the documents. Declining visual focus made it challenging, but he got it done. This was his final act of practical care for Susan. Immediately he returned to a deep sleep.

A few people dropped by through the course of the evening to see Cornelius one more time. We were fortunate to have accessed masks to reduce risk of exposing Susan to flu viruses, while still allowing some of those closest to them to show their love and support. Dennis and Carolyn Martin and most of their family sang some favourite songs and hymns in the garage. Cornelius’s pleasure was visible.

Around 9:15 Cornelius became restless, the pain setting in again, and feeling obviously unwell. Nurses had left detailed instructions, and a phone number to call for help, so with their guidance we were able to settle down the pain. With Susan by his side for support, and the activities of the evening behind him, he was able to rest comfortable.

Shortly after 1:00am Susan said she knows what she needs to do, but oh how she dreaded it. She had heard that sometimes the dying feel when their loved ones cannot release them and fight to stay out of that sense of care and duty. After an hour of struggle, she took that difficult step, through tears, and assured Cornelius that God, family, friends and her church would care for her, and she would be ok. She released him to God, inviting the angels to carry him into God’s presence, to be with Jesus.

We played “Trust His Heart” by the Esh family, followed by a variety of hymns and songs familiar to Cornelius. He smiled, from time to time, resting peacefully, holding Susan’s hand, squeezing it gently. Then, soon after Susan released him, his breathing changed, growing more shallow, yet with no distress.

It was 2:39am. Susan needed to get something, so she released Cor’s hand for only a moment. Several of Cornelius’s sisters had stayed with Susan, and one noticed he opened his eyes and turned his head, as if looking for Susan, so she called her back.

Susan leaned over and kissed Cornelius’s forehead, “I love you so much dear husband!” she said. His face lit up in a wide smile, his eyes wide open, turned toward her.

“Look at that smile!” one of the sisters exclaimed. Susan could hardly contain her delight as she returned to her seat.

“Susan… Come…” one of the sister’s beckoned, “this is his moment. Cor is going home.” His heart never beat again, after that smile, and his next breath was the deep drinking in of eternal life.

At 2:41am, on April 24, 2020, with his wife Susan by his side, Cornelius slipped peacefully into the arms of Jesus, his Saviour, healed forever from the incredible suffering he endured in this life.

*****

Susan has given our brother exceptional care through his illness and their years together. As a family we are deeply grateful, and offer our love and support.

New Hamburg Conservative Mennonite Church and its leaders have again been compassionate and kind in their support as we go through this difficult time. It is especially meaningful so soon after supporting us in the loss of our mother. As a family, we express our thanks.

Special thanks to the VON nurses and PSW’s who supported Cor and Susan, so that he was able to stay at home with Susan, especially with the complications of COVID-19. The excellent care and compassion are appreciated by Susan and Cor’s family.

*****

God is kind.

In the midst of the trauma that comes with cancer and death, which is exponentially more complex and painful in light of COVID-19 restrictions, we find Hope in His goodness. We do not understand why now, at a time when we cannot properly gather to support each other without risk of arrest and extreme fines and consequences, including risk of imprisonment. But we know that God is not taken off guard. We know He cares deeply for each one of us. And trust and pray that when these restrictions are lifted, we will be able to find some way of connecting as a family, and beginning the healing process together.

Only a few siblings are able to be with Susan during this time to support her. I am not one of them, but she has my support 100% on the people she has chosen to be with her at this time. We have all experienced loss. But none of us have experienced loss to the extent that she has, losing her best friend, husband and partner in the day to day ups and downs of life. Having spoken with most of my siblings personally, while it is, admittedly, excruciatingly painful for those who cannot attend, each one echoed that support for her as well.

Please say a prayer for our sister Anna who is married to Leonard Hursh of Mt. Joy PA. She was able to cross the border, but as of yet there is no indication that she will even be able to see any family member, or go to the funeral home to find some closure, without the fear of extreme consequences even if masks and gloves are used. We are praying for a miracle. She and Cor were very close growing up and to not have her find some form of closure looks overwhelming for us all.

Finally, thank you to so many of you have prayed for Cor and Susan, and for our family, including many of my friends who don’t know them. We all prayed and cried out for a different outcome than the one we are walking through. But ultimately we prayed for healing, and his healing is now eternal. We are so thankful for Jesus, and the hope He offers us in this time.

As always…

With love,
Trudy

© Trudy Metzger 2020

2 thoughts on “For family & friends of Cornelius Harder: His cancer journey and final days

  1. Katie Troyer April 25, 2020 / 6:14 pm

    So many emotions surface at this time. I am praying for you all.

  2. Earl Peachey April 25, 2020 / 8:05 pm

    You are both on the list.

    Earl

    >

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.