It seems even death couldn’t part Bob and Barbara Pettis, of Holdenville. At least not for long.
For more than two years, Clay and Jana Pettis acted as caregivers to Bob and Barbara Pettis, Clay’s parents, who had been married for 63 years.
Clay would visit the dream home his folks had built on 40-acres in Holdenville in the mid-1990s, twice a day, to make sure his parents had taken their medications and were doing OK.
Bob Pettis had been in poor health for some time, recovering from a quadruple bypass, a stroke and a bicycling incident in which he broke his pelvis in 13 places.
Barbara Pettis’ illness snuck up on the family, Clay Pettis said. “I didn’t realize she was going downhill until she was well on her way.”
Needing a lift
Barbara’s two home health workers had so much trouble moving her, eventually, Pettis had to make a decision he knew his mother never wanted him to make. He had to put her in a nursing home.
“That broke my heart because Mama had always made it very clear she never wanted to go to a nursing home,” Clay Pettis said. “I remember that day, driving there, I was just sick in my heart. I don’t know if she really comprehended what was going on.”
But Pettis started thinking, if lifting his mother was the main problem, he probably could find a way around that. So online he looked and found a patient lift that operated like a jack, pumping her up to be lifted.
“We got her a lift, and a month later to the day, we were able to bring her home. And oh, I was thrilled to death,” Clay Pettis said.
The day they left
Clay Pettis’ father’s health slipped again. Bob Pettis developed a bad case of pneumonia and had to be admitted, released, then readmitted to the hospital.
Barbara Pettis’ night nurse turned her about 3 a.m. June 30, to help her avoid bed sores. When the nurse checked in at 6 a.m., Barbara Pettis had died.
Clay Pettis called the funeral home and stayed with his mother until she was picked up.
Later that day, Clay and his son went to the hospital to visit Bob Pettis.
“I couldn’t carry on a conversation with him, but I got responses to questions sometimes,” Clay Pettis said.
He left the hospital at 7:30 p.m. His son left at 7:50 p.m. At 8 p.m., Bob Pettis had died.
“I don’t believe in coincidences, and I didn’t sit down and tell Dad that Mama was gone. But I’m sure he knew,” Clay Pettis said. “Just knowing them, you wouldn’t be surprised that Dad decided to check out, too.”
The Pettis couple were a special breed, Clay Pettis said. They had three children — Clay, Leslie Neeley and Jim Cole Pettis.
“We had something growing up that a lot of kids don’t get. The thought of them divorcing was inconceivable to me. We had that kind of security with them that it never crossed our minds growing up.”
Barbara and Bob were both schoolteachers at the end of their careers. She taught at Butner, Skiatook and Wann, and he taught vocational agriculture at Sperry, Copan and Wann.
“They lived just ordinary lives, but you get closer and start looking, and you realize that what you thought was ordinary was very extraordinary,” Clay Pettis said.
His parents loved each other deeply, and there is some relief to the family that the two joined their maker together.
Their love was bigger than this life.
“They weren’t all ‘smoochy-woochy, touchy-wouchy,’ but in their voices and the way they looked at each other, you could see their love” Pettis said. “Just in the little things.”
Life goes on
As caregivers, Clay and Jana Pettis still have their hands full, caring for another in need. Macee, or “Sweet Pea” as she is called, is a 9-year-old member of Jana Pettis’ family whom the couple have cared for since she was an infant.
At 59 and 58, Clay and Jana Pettis have a lot to live for, including watching Macee grow up.
“Half the time in life, you don’t see the biggest blessings until ‘Bam!’ I can’t imagine life without her,” Clay Pettis said.
“She takes care of us,” Clay Pettis said. “Somebody said once she’s real lucky to have you, and I said we’re luckier to have her.”