(This is a very long post about my husband. You don't have to read it, but I needed to write it.)
Jay David Johnson was born in Highland Park, Michigan on December 2, 1955 to Ivan and Audrey Johnson. He was the second of three children (Debra, the oldest; Jennifer, the youngest) and the only boy. From the stories I've heard he was quite a character. You can see some of that silliness peeking through in the picture.
I met Jay ten years ago in 2001 and moved to Michigan 3 years later in 2004 to start a new life raising chickens for meat and eggs. Jay had plenty of experience with animals, but my contact was merely of the petting and feeding of pets of the rabbit, dog and cat variety. There was a bird in there, but she was a parakeet named Darlene and I was too young to feed her.
Jay taught me everything he knew and we learned other things together. Through trial and error we built a pasture raised poultry business called Topsy Turvy Acres Pastured Poultry. We sold fresh pasture raised chicken, turkey and eggs at farmers' markets, to grocery stores, bakeries and restaurants throughout mid-Michigan for 3 years. It was a lot of hard work and at times frustrating, but mainly joyful. I truly believe we were on the verge of breaking through and reaching a point where we could expand and hire a couple of helpers, but when your feed costs triple and your customers start getting laid off and leave the state, there's not much you can do.
Throughout the time we worked together I got to know him as a selfless man who cared deeply for those he loved and called friend. He would not hesitate to help you if you needed it. He was a whiz at wiring, plumbing, dry wall hanging, door hanging, laying laminate and tile floors and pretty much taught me everything that he was doing. He built the two barns on his property by hand with the help of his kids on weekends.
His search for a better way to do things was insatiable. He would find information from several sources, read them thoroughly, compare and if needed take the best points from each of them and combine them into one.
Jay grew up in Dearborn, Michigan. His father was a typesetter for the local paper. His mother was a stay at home mom. Jay remembers his dad being very close with the budget, but that resulted in being taken on wonderful trips including one in Washington, DC where he got to watch the debate over the Civil Rights amendment and eat in the Senate lunchroom. If we saw a picture of the White House or the Lincoln Memorial it would trigger a "been there, saw that" and the stories would start. One of my favorites though was told to me by his big sister and involved a duck pond and a missing flip flop. Someone got a little too up close and personal and lost a shoe.
He was artistic as a child and teenager and won many awards at school for his creations. He was a Cub Scout, Boy Scout and...drum roll please...an Eagle Scout. And not just any Eagle Scout but the youngest in Michigan at that time to achieve that status.
He graduated from Edsel Ford High School in 1974. I've learned that life in Dearborn at that time was pretty sweet thanks to Ford being in the area. He loved to ride his bike, taught himself to sail and loved learning about the new technology in computers. He still had some of the punch cards he used for programming in high school.
After high school Jay joined the Army. He was a scrawny thing, if he turned sideways he disappeared. But he was pretty strong and held his own. He reached the level of Captain before being discharged in 1985. He loved being in the Army and it put his management and organizational skills in the forefront. He didn't see any combat, but he had a blast learning and using the different fire arms. He also jumped out of a plane a couple of times which amazes me because he was terrified of heights. There was no war at that time and he was in the reserves.
During that time he married his first wife and had two children. A boy and a girl. They were married for 30 years and unfortunately as seems to be the tendency rather than the exception were divorced in 2008. I was actually friends with his wife when we met. We were all partners in the business, but Jay and I did the majority of the work.
Before leaving the Army, Jay obtained a part time job with United Parcel Service. He worked at getting hired on full time and quickly made it to a position as a full time driver. For 30 years he drove trucks for UPS and retired in 2004 when we started raising chickens. Jumping out of UPS trucks is hard work. Doing it year round, rain, sleet, snow or shine makes it even harder. He had permanent scars on his shins from the times he hit the step of his truck going back up. Driving a package van without power steering also built him up a bit and gave him broader shoulders and arms and hands that could pin you down easily. A tickle fight was a losing proposition as he could hold two hands in one and leave you giggling deliriously with the other.
Around 1988 he built a house on 23 acres in Webberville. Shortly thereafter they started raising animals for the kids 4-H projects (hence the need of the barns) and he fell in love with sheep. Suffolk and Jacobs were raised for show and competition. He sold them also. At one point he had as many as 125 head of sheep on the pastures. Through chickens, turkeys, hedge hogs, rabbits and pigs in there and you've got an idea of how hectic things could be. He named it Topsy Turvy Acres because they always did things upside down and backwards. I personally think it was predestined because of the condition the driveway would achieve. If you didn't have four wheel drive and sit up high you were in for quite a ride.
As I said before unfortunately the marriage didn't work out. There are always two sides to a story, but I saw a number of things which I won't go in to of a couple who probably should have gone their separate ways years before they finally did, but for whatever reasons they didn't. The end result was a divorce that started out fairly amicable and ended up spewing a lot of unnecessary venom. While all of this was going on Jay and I became closer. You work together with someone from sunrise to sunset, dive out of bed when there's a rain storm, process chickens with them, you get a lot of time to talk. In that time I learned that he was a gentle soul who wanted nothing more than for his kids to be happy and to take care of the people he loved.
He dearly loved his sisters and family. He was heartbroken that he didn't have a better relationship with his children, but they chose to side with their mother and never asked him for his side of the story. Though he would do his best to make it seem he was okay and that it didn't matter I knew it hurt him badly. He would have given anything to spend more time with his grandsons.
Jay loved his grandsons William Matthew, Eric Bradley and Nathan Christopher with every inch of his being. He missed them terribly and was their Papa. He was the grandpa who played and rough housed with them. He was the grandpa who swung them around, turned them upside down and told them corny jokes. We were working on a date for another sleep over when he became ill. It would have been their second and we were looking forward to it having so many good memories of the one time they were allowed to stay over.
He asked me to marry him while it was going on and as soon as it was discharged in November, we were married on December 17, 2008. You'd think he'd be a little gun shy, but his sister has told me he was more worried that I would say no than anything else. He didn't have to be. Though I had pretty much resolved that I would never say the words "I do" I did. It was a simple ceremony in front of a judge. We didn't even have rings, which bothered him a bit, but didn't mean anything to me. I had Jay, I didn't need a ring.
|Jay and Lisa - December 17, 2008|
I've been really lucky in that people who knew him best have told me that they had not seen Jay that happy since he was a child than when he was with me. I did all I could to lighten things up for him. He swore he had no rhythm, but I caught him shaking his booty on occasion around the house. He told the corniest jokes in the world which earned the the title of "King of Corn" from me. Some of them were so bad I had to leave the room, but then the snickering would start and I would give in.
Jay loved model trains (HO scale) and the Civil War. I can't begin to tell you how many hours of television shows, documentaries and movies I have seen on the Civil War, but I can tell you that my knowledge of that time has increased exponentially. I'm not complaining, I love history and it's just something else he taught me. We went to a TrainFest in Owosso Michigan in 2009. That brought me full circle to being a lover of trains. Those things are amazing.
|Jay with his favorite train at Train Fest|
We could talk about anything and everything most of the time, but there were things that were hard to talk about as well. We talked about our wishes should something happen. I listened and pushed it back in my brain for use much, much later. But I had to pull it out of there far too soon.
Jay, as it seems it is with most men, was stubborn as a mule when it came to going to a doctor. One big reason was financial. I have Crohn's disease and he was far more concerned with my being okay than with himself. Despite my best efforts, he would conceal pain and other things that were going on until they were at their worse. I could cajole, plead, threaten and it would all be to no avail. He would have to seriously hurt for me to be able to get him to a doctors office.
Ironically, this is pretty much where he spent the last 4 weeks of his life. What he thought was a bleeding ulcer finally drove him to go to the doctors. (I also had put my foot down when the pain started keeping him from sleeping) He went through a battery of tests that the results of which were apparently reviewed as positive. He had a colonoscopy and endoscopy because of the ulcer and was told to come back in five years. No polyps, just a little inflammation where he would have had an ulcer.
He came home and for the next couple of weeks I tried to get him to eat more. The pain in his stomach was such with the ulcer that he stopped eating as much. This led to his first trip to urgent care. He was given instructions to take Zegerid and follow up with his doctor. I took him home, he tried to eat, but it didn't agree with him. I bought him some high protein meal supplements so we could get something into him, but those were even hard to do. He went from a man who loved a good meal, to not even wanting his morning tea. Just water. His voice was affected, he lost his focus and his ankles started to swell.
I got him to go back to the doctor and upon seeing him he insisted he come in every day. I had to work so we scheduled morning appointments. He didn't get any better. His speech became more slurred. I would have to ask him to repeat himself at times because I just couldn't understand him. I was frustrated beyond belief because he went from overweight but active and well spoken to weak, muffled and ill. It got to the point that he couldn't walk into the doctors office and I wheeled him in. I went with him on every appointment and it broke my heart to see what was once a vital man of 55 sound and move like an ill 80 year old. His speech was so slurred at times I was worried he'd had a stroke. He even had an EKG at the doctors office and it came back fine.
Looking back, one moment that I now look upon as eerie was the doctor telling him during our first visit about how there are some people who are fairly young and seem fairly healthy who for unexplained reasons just die. Be it from heart disease, cancer, whatever it happened. I think he sensed something and was trying to prepare Jay for this possibility. But he was determined to get his ulcer taken care of and to put him on the road to good health.
Jay's body had another thing in mind. On Thursday morning he woke up, made his way slowly to the bathroom, made it half way back and had to sit down. I got him back to the bed and had him lie down to rest. When I called his doctors office I learned that his doctor had called in sick and was advised to take Jay to urgent care again as his blood count was down instead of going up.
We made it to urgent care, they took him in immediately and after hours of testing and monitoring he was admitted to the critical care unit in Memorial Hospital in Owosso. He was awake and alert and responsive to his nurses. He actually ate part of a meal that night. (He LOVED the cherry ice). I went home to get some sleep and take care of the dog, preparing to go to work as we had discussed so I could get as many hours in as possible so I take take time off to help him recuperate. Well that all changed on Friday morning when his primary physician walked in and tossed out the "C" word to us. Jay's abdomen was quite distended because his lymph nodes were swollen. He wasn't a scrawny guy any more but I know what his tummy didn't look like that when we took him in. They weren't exactly sure, but they couldn't think of it being anything else. How could that be when he had a clean bill of health from the colonoscopy and endoscopy? Well there is a teeny, tiny area they don't peer into because one doesn't go up high enough and the other doesn't go down low enough and that's where they think it is. We were also told they believed he had a blood clot that had traveled from his legs through his heart and into the lungs. Which is why he looked so gray and clammy when he got into urgent care.
Needless to say, we were both blown away. I raced to my job to let them know I had to take time off and stop to pick up my FMLA paperwork. I got back to the hospital and slept there with him on Friday night. He wasn't putting out enough fluids and no bodily wastes which seriously concerned them. His legs became even more swollen. His sodium count was dangerously low, his potassium was dangerously high. His doctor asked if he wanted assistance with his breathing if needed and if they should shock him should his heart stop. He answered strong yeses to both. After she left he told me he was too young and wanted to fight.
And fight he did. I was so proud of him. The nurses and doctors were astounded. His blood pressure would drop and then it would go right back up to near normal or higher. On Sunday they had to intubate him because the pressure from his abdomen was making it hard for him to get oxygen into his lungs. He was initiating his own breaths, but the machine was pushing the oxygen into his lungs for him. For one brief moment he came out of the sedation and looked at me clearly and I told him I loved him and he tried to say it back in spite of the breathing tube. I told him I knew that he did and then I asked him if he was in pain and he nodded yes and they gave him some morphine to take the edge off. From then until the time he passed he was basically asleep. Sometimes he would open his eyes a little. I tried to talk to him as much as possible and I know he heard me because he would squeeze my hand or his thumb would rub back and forth on my hand. The nurse said it was better for him to sleep because then he wasn't in any pain.
They started dialysis on Sunday in hopes of removing some of the dangerous levels of potassium and other things that were building up. His sister Debbie and I slept in the waiting room that night. Around 1 or 2am on Monday morning I went in to be with him because I couldn't sleep. Later that morning the nurse noticed his hands were becoming purple/blue and we had to leave when she called a Code Blue. The doctor came out to explain that a blood clot from behind his knee had broken off and gone to his lungs blocking the two airways. They didn't think he'd make it, but then it just resolved itself on its own and his vitals went back up. They couldn't believe it. We had about another hour with him when they called a second Code Blue. They thought that it was debris from the initial clot or smaller pieces from his leg. They couldn't give him the drug needed to dissolve them because he had had the ulcer problem only 3 weeks previously. After they got his stats back up with sat with him talking to him and encouraging him, telling him we loved him.
He would grimace sometimes and squeeze our hands, his nurses said he was probably dreaming. All night his blood pressure would go up, then down, then up, then down. He just wouldn't let go. He said he was going to fight and he did.
His heart beat became irregular and despite their best efforts it wouldn't go back to a normal rhythm. A doctor came up and explained that sometimes it's best to let them go because even if they could bring him back he may not be the same and he might only be there for a short amount of time. I told them to not shock him when his heart stopped, to let him go.
He kept fighting, but I noticed changes that told me he wouldn't be able to make it and told him that I loved him more than anyone in this world, but that if he needed to go I would understand. He still kept fighting. His sister told him she loved him and that she and her husband would make sure I was okay. When he heard that he relaxed and let go. I don't know the exact time because I was too focused on him. I've never been through something like this before and I know at some point I may go through it again, but it was the hardest thing I've ever done.
Jay looked very peaceful when he passed. I knew he was in a better place. I knew he was going to be with his mom and dad who he missed every day. And I know that one day I'll be with him again. But I also know what he wants me to carry on here, but it is so hard. I miss him so much.
He loved me like no one ever has. We were good together. We were a team. We had each others back. We made each other laugh. Sometimes we made each other mad. Sometimes we would cry together. But mainly we had a lot of great times laughing and talking and holding hands and hugging.
Debbie and John have done exactly what they promised and have been unbelievable. I don't know how I would have gotten through this week without them. Debbie hurts as much as I do because she lost her baby brother.
I love you with all of my heart Jay David Johnson. Take good care of yourself and I promise I will see you again one day. You are with me every second of every day. I always said you were mine and weren't getting rid of me and I meant it. Be at peace mister.
September 3, 2011
It's been over a month since you were called home. I miss you every second of every day. Everyone keeps telling me it will get better, but I'm not so sure. I have times when I feel at peace, but most of the time I'm just flat out sad. One joyful moment was when I found this picture on the camera from last year. I'm so happy I found it. I love you Pa.
|Jay around May 2010|
October 1, 2011
It's really hard here without you. I'm trying to hang in there, but things just seem to keep piling up on me. I miss you more now than ever. Everyone has been really great and helpful, but I just need you. I miss you Jay. I miss you so, so very much.