Larry and Joyce Williams of Lebanon, Mo., collect pennies. It’s a habit they started in 1995 following the death of their only son Bryan.
“I like to think of them as pennies from heaven,” Joyce explains. “When I find a penny, I imagine Bryan sending it my way and saying, ‘I love you, mom.’ I kiss each one before saving it in a jar.”
Bryan was a normal college student back in 1985, studying business at UMKC. During his free time, he loved to fish and camp.
“There was a lake up near Smithville where he and I would fish for Crappie right off the bank,” Larry recalls with a sparkle in his eye, “we’d fish our limit in about an hour.”
Joyce verifies the fish story adding, “I’d fry them up in a pan and they were so mild delicious.”
A growth on Bryan’s neck was the first sign that something was wrong. Eventually, a biopsy revealed that he had Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was a devastating diagnosis for the family, who had lost an older son prematurely at birth.
“But Bryan was optimistic,” Larry explains, “and he went on with his life despite drastic chemotherapy and radiation treatments.”
He graduated from college and accepted a position with Macy’s in California, determined to live life to its fullest.
“He always said it wasn’t the quantity of live that mattered, but the quality,” Joyce remembers.
After nearly nine years of battling his illness, Bryan’s condition worsened and he was unable to continue working. Heartsick, Joyce and Larry traveled to California to bring him home.
Throughout the next year, when they cared for Bryan in their home, their doctor suggested Hospice. The clinical care, comfort and moral support they received from Hospice during the subsequent weeks had a profound effect on the couple.
“I’m not sure we could have gotten through it without them,” recalls Joyce.
Bryan passed away that year at the age of 31. It is a day the couple can never forget and the beginning of a long journey through shared grief. Larry, a retired highway patrol officer, took a job driving a school bus to keep busy. Numb with grief, Joyce was unable to return to her work. She couldn’t eat and lost weight.
“I was angry at God,” Larry admits, “and afraid that I would lose Joyce too.” At a time when many grieving couples drift apart, they came together to confront their loss. “She’s been my beautiful wife for almost 53 years,” Larry explains, “I couldn’t have gotten through this without her.”
Together, they attended a grief support group at the hospital. In the meantime, their Hospice team provided ongoing support and encouragement.
As the couple continued placing pennies in one jar, and then started a second when the jar overflowed, an idea began to blossom.
“We had proceeds from a life insurance policy that we couldn’t decide what to do with,” Larry explains. “We wanted to do something in Bryan’s memory. We thought about the excellent Hospice care Bryan received and how they supported us after his death and we decided he would be proud of such a donation.”
This year, Larry and Joyce donated $250,000 to St. John’s Hospice in Lebanon - a gift of an insurance policy with the purpose to create an endowment in Brian’s memory. It is the largest Hospice gift received to date.
At first, the couple planned to remain anonymous. “But we thought about all the folks who need Hospice care, and we decided to go public with this donation in the hope that others will be inspired to give as well,” says Larry.
The gift will help advance Hospice and Palliative Care in the Lebanon area.
“Imagine,” says Joyce with a sparkle in her eye, “if every person in this area in need of Hospice care could get it, thanks to Bryan’s pennies from heaven.”
If you would like to donate to St. John’s Hospice, please contact St. John’s Lebanon Heritage Foundation at 417-533-6192.