Gary Jacob’s Story

A Fisherman’s Journey

Linda and Gary Jacob met in study hall when she was a pretty high school sophomore and he was a handsome football star in his senior year. She remembers with a smile their first date. "It was January 9, 1970; I was 15 and he was 17," she says. "We went to the drive-in to see 'Easy Rider.' He gave me his class ring, we started going steady, and we just never looked back. He was the love of my life." 

Married in 1974, the couple would have celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this year but for Gary's passing in June after dealing with ALS for three years. Thanks to Duke HomeCare & Hospice, Gary was able to die at home, surrounded by those he loved: Linda; their son, Allen; mother, Marge; and a houseful of pets. The Jacob family home currently houses two dogs and six cats in the house as well as four strays that have heated beds on the porch. 

"One of the things I loved about Gary was that he was kindhearted and had a passion for animals," says Linda. "He and I were alike and rescued everything that walked through our yard whether they needed it or not!"

Another love of Gary's life was bass fishing. Growing up in Florida, he spent happy hours at Lake Okeechobee. After moving with Linda and Allen to Chapel Hill in 1987, Gary—along with his family—fished regularly at Cane Creek Reservoir in a boat that he customized. After discovering a bass fishing resort on Lake El Salto in Mexico some years back, Gary traveled there two or three times a year. "He made many, many friends down there," says Linda. "They really loved each other."

Gary's love for his son was evidenced in their fishing trips, weekends in Topsail beach—where dad taught son how to surf—and travel for Allen's youth hockey tournaments. "Gary showed in his actions every day throughout his life how much he loved our son," says Linda.

When Gary was diagnosed in 2011 and told he had a terminal illness, the Jacobs were shocked. "He was such an athletic and active man that it was hard to believe," says Linda. "What do you do when somebody tells you that you're dying? We got our affairs in order and then we were sitting around waiting for something to happen," she says.

After realizing that the diagnosis made them more focused on dying than living, the Jacobs decided to change their focus back to living.  "And we had great years together. Gary always smiled and never complained about being sick." Linda says that they celebrated many happy occasions together in their home, surrounded by loved ones. "He was everybody's friend," she says.
Gary loved working and was proud of Yellow Dot Heating and Air Conditioning, the company he started. "He was a hard worker and a good provider for his family," says Linda. "The company grew to 185 employees who he really cared about."

When Gary and Linda moved to North Carolina, they bought two acres—which they cleared themselves—where they built the home that was their paradise. So, when it was clear that Gary was nearing the end of his life, it was important to the Jacobs that Gary "stay at home until he takes his last breath surrounded by all that love him," says Linda. "For him to say goodbye to all of his beloved creatures and drive down the driveway for the last time would be like dying two deaths."

While it was tricky to accommodate Gary's wish to have his ventilator removed at home, Duke HomeCare & Hospice went the extra mile to accommodate his and his family's wishes. "We were able to help the Jacobs so that Gary's passing could be on their terms, the way they needed it as a family," says Diana Russell, Duke HomeCare & Hospice's clinical coordinator. "We didn't get so caught up in the medical system, saying 'I can't.' We could and we did." 

Like everyone at DHCH, Diana cares about the patients she works with. "Because I don't work in patients' homes, I never met Gary," she says. "But I spoke with Linda so much that I felt like I was part of their lives. When I watched the video that Gary's son made for the funeral, I just sat at my desk and sobbed. I was so moved and so happy that we were able to help honor what he wanted."

"Everyone at Duke HomeCare & Hospice was so warm and personable," says Linda. "It felt like everybody was our best friend."

Linda says as soon as Liz Zechinati, a nurse practitioner and Gary's first hospice care provider, walked into their home, they had an instant connection. She was so kind and easy to talk to," Linda says. "Gary loved her." Danielle Flaig, RN, social worker Ellen Joyce, Dr. Robin Turner, and chaplain Tom Hehenberger were all part of the Jacob family team. "They went over every detail with me," says Linda. "They have everything covered from beginning to end, including sharing with me a list of funeral homes. We were so well prepared by our team that everything fell into place beautifully." Linda says that the day before Gary passed, Danielle and Liz were by his side from 7 in the morning until 7 at night. 

On the day that Gary passed, "Danielle, Liz, and Dr. Turner were like a flock of angels," says Linda. "It gives me such peace that when Gary died, he was as peaceful as he could be and that we honored his wishes."

This article originally appeared in the 2013-2014 annual report for Duke HomeCare & Hospice.