One day, in 1994, as Bill Riggle’s restaurant was preparing to serve lunch, he fell to the ground, holding his arm over the pain in his chest. This was the first heart attack Bill experienced, and he was only 59 years old.
“I remember my staff laying me down in the grass outside,” Bill said. “When the paramedics showed up, they asked me if I smoked, and I said, ‘I used to.’ They asked me when I quit, and I said, ‘About five minutes ago.’”
That day, Bill learned life is short. Although he continued working for the next 11 years, he began traveling the world with his wife and purchased a motorcycle trike. He started living life a little on the edge, and in 2012, decided to take a motorcycle ride across country, from Pennsylvania to California. He visited friends, stopped at national parks and took in the scenes. It was something he wanted to do before he became “too old,” and he had a feeling his heart condition would continue to worsen.
Since that day in 1994, Bill has endured nine heart attacks, two open heart surgeries and the placement of 14 stents. Last year, the effects of his chronic heart disease qualified him to begin receiving care from Masonic Village Hospice. He was on services for six months before “graduating” from the program when his health stabilized. In March, Bill’s heart disease was once again rapidly progressing, and all of his curative options seemed to have been exhausted. He was again placed on hospice and welcomed his old friends back into his life.
“This staff is special,” Bill says. “They say when the time comes for me to go, they’re going to keep me comfortable, and I believe that. They’re the type of people who are easy to believe, because they’re like family to me.”
During one of hospice’s visits, Bill struck up a conversation with Kevin Jacoby, hospice social worker, about something they both love – football. Bill re-lived his cross-country motorcycle ride while telling Kevin about one of his favorite stops to the Green Bay Packer’s stadium in Wisconsin. He had been a fan of the team for decades, and watching their games had gotten him through some hard times.
“What’s special about this hospice is that they stop in and see me when they don’t have to,” Bill says, “and that just makes me feel good – like a million bucks.”
Hours after the conversation, a wild thought came to Bill’s head, and he decided to sleep on it.
While out with his daughter a few days later, Bill announced he wanted to get his first tattoo. He wanted the Green Bay Packer’s logo tattooed on his bicep. His daughter, who has some small tattoos herself, responded in utter shock, but not because of Bill’s age or condition.
“She couldn’t believe what I wanted to do,” Bill said. “Mostly because every time she got a new tattoo, I would give her heck for it. I guess life changes your mind about things like that.”
Masonic Village Hospice staff heard word of the story and were inspired to grant Bill his wish. “They said they would take care of it,” Bill recalls. “Before I knew it, they were coming to pick me up and take me for my first tattoo.”
Hospice staff called Tim Fry, the owner of a local tattoo shop, whose in-laws received care from Masonic Village Hospice. The story inspired Tim, and he agreed to tattoo Bill with no hesitation. That day, hospice staff gathered around Bill for two hours as Tim worked his magic. “It didn’t hurt one bit,” Bill said, “which was a surprise.” He received another surprise after the session, when Tim donated his service. It was the last tattoo Tim would give, as he received a promotion at his day job and would be soon closing the shop.
“He felt like it was something he wanted to do for me, and that he couldn’t think of a better last tattoo,” Bill said. “It really meant a lot to this old guy.”
There is one special person Bill wishes could have seen one of his last “rebellious” acts: his wife, June, who also received care from hospice in 2014 after living with Alzheimer’s for several years.
“When I first saw June, it was definitely love at first sight,” Bill said. “She was beautiful, and it was disappointing to watch her go through what she went through.”
Bill still recalls the day he knew something had gone terribly wrong with her health. “We were sitting in the living room, and I looked over at her and saw she was reading a magazine upside down,” Bill said. “I said, ‘Hun, your magazine is upside down.’ She just looked at me with these empty eyes and said, ‘What’s it matter?’” Bill immediately took her to see a doctor, and they were both horrified by the diagnosis.
“I didn’t want to believe, and she didn’t want to either,” Bill said.
Toward the end of June’s life, hospice informed Bill every step of the way. When hospice knew June only had days left, a cot was set up next to her bed, and Bill spent each night with her.
“I was holding her hand when she went,” Bill said. “It was hard to watch her decline, but she never failed to remember me. I was happy that hospice was there for us, and they looked over her like mother hens.”
Masonic Village Hospice staff have a special place in Bill’s heart, as they have guided him through the loss of his wife and throughout his own illness. As he looks down at his tattoo, he is reminded of his love of adventure and for the people who have cared for and about him.
“I don’t have any regrets in my life, and I don’t fear death,” Bill said. “I look at it as a reunion with my wife. Hospice has given me the chance to look at the end of life differently.”