By Robin Walling, Mother of Chris Bohnett
Chris was ecstatic when he heard that the Hospice Angels Foundation (through Hospice Advantage of Lansing, Michigan) was sending him to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Because of his interest in history, he has quite a bit of knowledge of the Civil War. And, Gettysburg is a place he has always wanted to visit.
Chris was packed for the trip four weeks early and every day he would say, “I can’t believe I am going to Gettysburg”. The trip gave him so much to look forward to and just seeing and hearing his excitement was good for all of us.
You see, we had planned a similar trip for the spring of 2012. We were going to take Chris and his son Christopher to the
Hershey’s Chocolate Factory and to Strasburg, Pennsylvania. Since we would be close to Gettysburg, we decided to add this to our trip as well. In the midst of our planning, young Christopher, who also had Huntington’s disease, began to decline very quickly. He passed away on February 14, 2012. In those days following his death, none of us mentioned the trip again.
After a very tough year dealing with grief, Chris began watching his Civil War movies and documentaries during the long, winter months when we couldn’t get out of the house. For the first time in over a year, he said, “I want to go to Gettysburg more than anything”. Hearing those words was a sign of his moving forward.
Our main concern surrounding the trip was the possibility of Chris having a medical problem while we were in Gettysburg. However, our fears were put to rest when Hospice Advantage made a connection with a local hospice in the Gettysburg area.
As the day of our trip approached, Chris’ excitement could not be contained. We ended up leaving a day early and took our time enjoying the beautiful scenery. The day we arrived, we took Chris to the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitors Center, the Presidents Hall of Fame Wax Museum, the Soldier’s National Museum, and finally to the American Civil War Museum. In the evening, we walked around the town of Gettysburg and saw the David Wills House where Lincoln stayed the night before writing the Gettysburg Address. Needless to say, it was quite a busy day!
The next morning, we got an early start. We told Chris that we were taking a ride to the woods and, of course, he wondered “why”. When we arrived, he kept asking why we were just sitting in the woods. After a while, General Robert E. Lee rode boldly out of the woods on his horse Traveler. At the sight, Chris’s eyes got so big and he yelled, “It’s Robert E. Lee!” We asked him how he knew and he said, “Because I know.” It was of course a pre-planned surprise and it was amazing! That morning, the General officially invited Chris to be the Guest of Honor of the General and Mrs. Lee at that evening’s festivities at the Windham.
After we left McMillan Woods, we went to a few more museums and also to the Cyclorama before we finally made it the much anticipated Battlefield Tour. Led by a private guide, Chris said he learned a lot of history that he never knew. The guide was absolutely amazing. Chris just kept saying, “This is so awesome.” That evening we took Chris to meet with the General and Mrs. Lee. It was wonderful to see Chris as he sat and talked all things Civil War with the General.
Chris was up at the crack of dawn each morning and he was able to take in so much of the history at Gettysburg. It was a wonderful trip for him. Everyone connected with the Gettysburg Foundation was so generous with all of the memorabilia for Chris and we thank everyone from Hospice Advantage and Hospice Angels Foundation for all of your hard work in making this possible for Chris.
These memories will carry Chris through and we will have this special memory to help us when Chris is no longer with us. As we have learned, part of healing after a loss is the precious memories you create. All of you will become a part of our memories as well, because you are so special in what you do. Not realizing it, you do have a hand in walking your people through the gates of heaven. We will never forget!
Editor’s Note: Chris, who has Huntington’s disease, was joined on the trip by his mom, Robin Walling, and step-dad, Chuck. Huntington’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects muscle coordination. It typically becomes noticeable in mid-adult life. However, Chris’ son (also named Christopher) suffered from a juvenile variation of the disease. He passed away in 2012 at the age of 10. Here, Chris’ mom Robin kindly shares the story of the family’s trip to Gettysburg with our Advantage readers.