Stories: Who You Have Lost

A Life Well Lived

Story aboutNoel Biggs

Noel Biggs and his older twin brother, Frederick, were born on Christmas Day in Henderson, Kentucky. Noel was an inquisitive child who liked to take things apart to see how they worked, including his mother’s mantel clock and the engine of his father’s 1930 Buick; however, they both worked better after he put them back together. He was ambidextrous, able to work and write with both hands. Noel excelled at math and history. He had a life-long love of learning and would read as many books and manuals as he could on a subject, teaching himself many skills, including wiring of electrical circuits, basic plumbing and carpentry. He never met an engine he could not repair or a structure he could not build. Growing up by the Green River, he and his friends learned to swim, dive and pilot fishing boats, and his father’s ferry boat at a young age.

Following Pearl Harbor and days prior to his 18th birthday, Noel enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Noel was trained as a “frogman” and was a member of the Navy’s Underwater Demolitions Team. He saw action in Europe, Africa and the Philippine Islands, serving aboard the USS John Hopkins, USS Eric V. Hauser, USS Brontes, and the USS Ernest G. Small. While serving in the South Pacific, he was part of the team sent to rescue a downed fighter pilot taken captive by an island’s native cannibals. When his ship arrived off the coast of Naples in 1943, too many were moored in the harbor, so Noel’s ship dropped anchor just outside. Ships burned smoke pots to obscure their position. Despite their attempts at camouflage, the German Luftwaffe found their target and Noel was injured by flying shrapnel. The hospital in Naples where he was taken for treatment was also hit, losing the roof and a portion of a wall of the wing Noel was admitted to. Noel and other patients watched the bombers continue through the city until staff came to remove them from the rubble. His awards include the Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Victory Medal and Good Conduct Medal.

After the war, Noel worked a variety of jobs, including the construction of power lines through Central and Eastern Kentucky. He graduated first in his class from Hobart Welding School in Ohio, able to use any type of land or underwater welder. He worked at Alcoa Aluminum Warwick Works in Indiana for over 25 years as a Master Mechanic, Welder and teacher of Apprenticeship classes. After retiring, he moved to Frankfort. In his 80’s he came out of retirement to work part-time at Kroger West as a bagger, where customers knew Noel by his smile and kind demeanor.

In 1950, Noel and Frederick had blind dates with two sisters. Noel came to escort Dorothy and Frederick to escort Irene. By the end of the evening, neither sister liked Frederick, but Noel had taken a shine to Irene. Noel continued to visit “the family” until he got Irene to go on a date. His kind and easygoing personality and sense of humor won Irene over and they married in 1953. Years later, when he was teaching their daughter to read, he said “if you can read, books can talk to you – they can teach you things and take you to wild and wonderful places.” Noel also taught her to sing her ABCs, which got her in trouble when she sang them for Ms. White on her first day of first grade. When she told her dad “teacher says you don’t sing your ABCs” he laughingly replied, “Daughter, that’ s probably because your teacher can’t sing.”

Noel was baptized at an early age. He was active in the Masonic Lodge in Henderson and Morganfield and served as Grand Master. A member of First Baptist Church of Frankfort (on St. Clair), he was known as “The Candy Man”, greeting people with one of his many ornate baskets filled with peppermints, spearmint and butterscotch.

Noel loved God, his family, his country, bluegrass music and bagpipes. He is greatly missed by his friends, family and his daughter who lost her “gentle giant”. Noel Biggs, age 95, now walks with the angels.

John and Me

Story aboutJohn Haponik (1 of 2)

John died of Covid-19 on January 29, 2021.
Thirty-seven years is a long time, and yet not nearly enough. I thought I was looking for something to read when I went into the bookstore at the Paducah Mall. Instead, I found the love of my life.

I nearly lost him twice. The first time when he was working as a contract chemical engineer in Baton Rouge, LA, living out of a hotel room when he came down with a mystery illness. The ER in Louisiana was no help; they acted like they thought he was a pill seeker. He had a terrible headache, and when he was able to drive, he packed up his things and came home to me. Four months, five doctors, seven spinal taps and dozens of tests and we finally had the diagnosis of Cryptococcus Neoformans; Fungal Meningitis. He lost sight in one eye became deaf in one ear and had only partial hearing in the other, but he was still my John and we managed just fine, though with a bit more yelling. I stayed with him for weeks in the hospital, even sleeping in the bed with him. His doctor would peek around the door before coming in of a morning, “good morning, love-birds,” he would say. We were stronger together, and nothing could come between us.

That disease is 100% fatal without treatment and the only treatment at that time was a drug called Amphoterison B. If you watched House on tv, you will remember they called it “Amphi-terrible” because it is so hard on the body. Two weeks inpatient and six weeks outpatient IV treatment with Amphi-terrible and he was finally pronounced ‘cured’. Once his doctor cleared him to drive, the first thing he did was go fishing at Kentucky Lake, where he cast off his wedding ring. He had lost so much weight it just went flying off into the water. I bought him another on Ebay. This one is plain gold and has two sets of initials in it with the date “14-11-36” which we teased was our new anniversary. I’m wearing it now.

Well, two years after being cured of fungal meningitis, we had moved to Robinson IL where John worked at Marathon Petroleum. He fell ill again. I gave him a couple of aspirin and we went to a local doctor who turned out to be a terrible diagnostician. Two visits to this guy without any results and I finally gave up and took John to the ER where he is diagnosed with “heart failure, liver failure, kidney failure…” The aspirin probably saved his life, the ER doctor said. After John got stabilized at the small hospital they moved him by ambulance to a larger one in Terra Haute IN. A week in Terra Haute, and they send him to a much bigger hospital in Indianapolis for heart surgery. His surgeon, Dr. Hormuth, says that only maybe 2 of 10 heart surgeons would operate on a person as sick as John. Dr. Hormuth has a huge ego, but when you routinely and literally hold someone’s life in your hands, you can be justified thinking you are God’s gift. He plays in a jazz band after hours too, and you have to love that. I stayed with John in the Cardiac ICU till a grumpy night nurse told me to leave. After I left, John’s stats went a bit bonkers and he kept that nurse busy trying to make him comfortable. After a while she asked him if he wanted her to go find me. “No,” he said, “but maybe you’ll let her stay tomorrow.” She did.

These last 12 years here in Somerset have been pretty good, for the most part. Our kids, Stacy and Michael, have both grown up. Stacy always felt like more of a ‘northerner’ than a ‘southerner’ and now lives in Connecticut. Michael is still at home and has been a blessing to me these last few months since John died. They are both a wreck, missing their dad. Me too. It occurs to me that I have loved John for 37 years, and that is a long time, more than half my life. Stacy and Michael have loved him their entire lives. He was a great dad…. and an even better friend and husband.

My Husband, John Haponik

Story aboutJohn Haponik (2 of 2)

I caught Covid at work. Before I knew I had it, I had given it to my son, Michael and my husband, John. My positive test was on the Monday after Christmas. Michael and I recovered. By the following Monday, John was in London at St. Josephs Hospital. His doctors said he was there in plenty of time. He was on ‘room’ air for a week, then moved to a different floor where he could have ‘high’ air. They did the drug treatment and the antibodies and at first expected him to be home by Saturday. I wasn’t allowed to stay with him, of course, but had his phone and we texted back and forth.

This is all too hard to write. At the end of his second week, he was placed on a c-pap. His lungs had filled with sepsis and blood clots. They had to turn the pressure up enough to force the oxygen into his struggling lungs. He developed a pneumothorax- a hole in his lung- from the pressure. He said it felt like a panic attack and it seemed like the whole floor of nurses dashed in to take care of him. That was the day he texted our daughter Stacy, “It is mostly boring here, but sometimes very exciting.” After that he was placed on a ventilator. Before they sedated him, he wrote out, “Darlene, I love you. JPH” on a sheet of paper the nurse gave him. I had it framed so he can tell me he loves me every day.

You can only stay so long on a ventilator before it starts working against you. He couldn’t get a tracheotomy because of the tube coming out of his lung; he was too medically fragile for surgery. His doctor explained that no surgeon would agree to surgery if the patient would die on the table, as they were certain John would.
His last week in ICU they finally let Michael and me visit for a while. I realize what a blessing this was… most people did not get the chance to sit with their loved ones since Covid. I thank the doctors and nurses at St. Joseph for that privilege. John was heavily sedated and didn’t know we were there. I wanted to climb in bed with him and hold him, but had to settle for hugging him around all his tubes. A priest gave him last rites for the Catholic Church on our 37th wedding anniversary. I refused to take him off the ventilator on that day, but came back to the hospital on the next. His nurse told me that all the nurses who had taken care of him were crying and upset that they hadn’t been able to save him. I said, “he must have been a good patient” … and she said, “That’s not it. We are all upset because he loves you so much and was so worried about you.”

I left the room while they disconnected the tubes and equipment. When I came back, I held his hand hugged him while he took his last breaths. He just stopped breathing. No struggle. Just peaceful rest. His heart kept beating, his pacemaker doing its duty even after his lungs could not. His nurse used a magnet to quiet the device… and my John was gone.

My Mother, My Angel

Story aboutWilma Kelley

My mom passed away on November 25th, 2020 due to COVID-19. She left me and my dad and her grandkids and great grandkids suddenly. She was my best friend and the best mother anybody could ask for. And I thank God every day for the life lessons she taught me as a child. Now she is my guardian angel and watches over me and my dad, her husband of 58 years. They had the kind of love that every little girl dreams of. Mom took care of daddy and now she has placed him in my hands. I only hope I can make her proud. Mom passed with a lot of complications from COVID-19 and because of that, nobody was allowed to see her. That’s what really hurts is the fact that she died alone and scared. We didn’t get to have the funeral or memorial service the way she would have liked…(up to 25 people). She knew she was loved dearly by everyone that had any contact with her. And my dad and myself miss her so bad. I love you Momma!

My husband, Earl, died during the COVID19 PANDEMIC on June 4, 2020 at the hospital. (he did not have the covid virus) We got the call to come to the hospital but the nurse met us at the door and told us he was gone. The days that followed where sad and long. So much to do and no one to come home to. The following is a post our son,Micah, posted on fb when he returned to our home the morning his Papa passed.: Micah Wyatt June 5, 2020 at 4:22 PM · Shared with Public – I have wrestled with the idea of sharing this publicly cause my father was a private man, and the current viral context makes a difficult situation even more problematic- and the difficulties only increase as numbers grow. Yet, I didn’t want to deprive anyone of the opportunity to honor my father and grieve alongside those who also loved him. So, it is with a heavy heart made strong by the courage and strength my father modeled that I must inform the world my Donald Earl, known as, “Whitecloud” to those who knew him in youth due to his bright blonde hair, went to sleep last night and became one with the thunder. Dad had suffered in ways few could ever imagined because he never burdened others with his problems of body and spirit. So, while it is sad he is no longer here there is also comfort, cause he is released from the pains of his flesh. My father was my first friend and always my best. Funny, kind, and generous to a flaw, he was also brave, powerful, and no one to trifle with or disrespect. The calm and quite clouds would part, shot guns would rise, and the danger or disrespect would be dealt with. Yet, he was never unreasonable or unfair with his anger the entire time I knew him. Further, dad could flat kick your ass at Rook. Even after everyone at the table had six packs each he could still recall exactly what card had played and who played it. My father was a warrior, both literally and metaphorically. He served our country during the Vietnam era. He was an artillery gunner, and a damn good one. His gunnery squad were taken to West Point Military Academy to train the artillery infantry there. Dad supposedly never saw action, but I also know he had a top secret clearance at one point so what he really did remains an unknown. He shared what he was comfortable with, and the rest I never asked about. There is no doubt this world has had its level of kindness and generosity reduced today, but with an indomitable will and keen mind I will strive to double my efforts to help that level to not fall as far as it might so as to honor my father’s legacy. In his last years papa spent much of his time at his desk watching multitudes of birds come to the feeder hanging from the window before which he was seated. As I had done with grandma and grandpa Wyatt as a child, dad would quietly identify and witness various feathered friends as they ate, sang, and scuffled amongst each other. When I arrived home from the hospital after seeing my father off on one of his final journeys it was about 5:45am. As I got out of the car songs from hundreds of birds filled the air, and I wondered with a transcendent smile, “How many of these did papa feed?” Every morning the numerous birds on our mountain greet the sun with their voices. I do not know the winged choirs were for my father, but I also do not know they were not. love Micah
It will soon be a year since we lost him. My heart is still broken, the tears still fall. The hill will never be same without him. Love Always and Forever, Rosemary

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