The loss of a husband, father, brother, and dear friend…Jeff’s story…

Jeff and his UTV, utility task vehicle, at their farm in Howard, South Dakota.

Can a single blog post fully appreciate a person’s life and lifestyle? It’s not an easy task, but today, a  week since a dear friend, husband, father, and brother Jeff Blanchard passed away while staying at our holiday home in Marloth Park, we’re making every effort to fully appreciate and revere the life of this fine man, whom we’ve known for 30 years.

Jeff had a dream to visit Africa to see the wildlife he’d only imagined for a lifetime. Knowing his final days were on the imminent horizon, he knew time wasn’t on his side to postpone it another day. When they decided to come to South Africa to fulfill their dream, we offered them to stay with us with the utmost enthusiasm.

In a recent photo, son David, daughter Lindsey, wife Connie, and Jeff.

Having the opportunity to share this magical place with our dear friends and their adult daughter Lindsey was indeed a gift for us. We were anxious for their arrival on September 17, and when they arrived, our hearts filled with joy to share this special time with Jeff, Connie, and Lindsey.

It was evident this awful disease seriously struck Jeff, but he was alert and fully capable of enjoying the adventure before him. Arriving on Saturday, with holidaymakers in the park, the steady stream of wildlife was hindered, as always. But, we’d arranged for two deliveries of lucerne from Daisy’s Den for both Monday and Thursday, hoping to attract more animals for Jeff to see.

. Connie and Jeff in front of the renovated farmhouse in Howard, South Dakota.

On Tuesday, the five of us headed to self-drive in Kruger National Park, during which we sighted countless wildlife. We could see the joy on Jeff’s face each time we witnessed another species. We never saw lions, but we saw cheetahs, an exciting sighting in the cat family. We’d planned to return to Kruger several more times during their two-week stay, but Jeff passed away early Wednesday morning, September 21, before we had a chance to do so. We were all grateful he’d had a chance to see as much as he did.

As for Jeff’s life, we share the following;

Jeff spent most of his youth in Howard, South Dakota, a small farming community. He and Connie met in the town during their school years. They first interacted as cast members in a  school play, Twelve Angry Jurors, in 1969.

In 1972, Connie and Jeff married in Howard at her home church. Recently,  they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on August 12, 2022.

Connie and Jeff attended college in separate cities in South Dakota but were able to build their relationship since Jeff commuted daily. Immediately after marriage, they both began working in a group home for autistic children, where they worked for a year.

The farmhouse before the renovation.

Later, Jeff got a position on KELO TV as a writer in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he worked until 1988. In 1992, they moved to Minnesota, where Jeff worked in data security as a technical writer until 2018 and retired at 66. Connie’s career revolved around sales, marketing, and information technology consulting. In 2010 she turned a hobby into a career and became a professional caterer and chef.

Jeff possessed a fantastic sense of humor and was quick-witted with delightful, non-offensive sarcasm. He was a man that chose family and adventure over a focus on career aspirations. As an avid outdoorsman, he loved to hunt and fish, which kept him away about three months of the year, but Connie busied herself with work, family, and occasional travel.

The farmhouse, after Jeff and Connie had it remodeled.

Jeff loved Alaska and took every opportunity to visit the US state that attracted the most passionate outdoorsmen. He relished in the Great Frontier and challenging drives on the Alcan Highway.

Connie’s family were farmers and owned an old farmhouse in Howard, and over the past ten years, Jeff enjoyed spending as much time as possible at the farm to hunt and work on maintaining the farm. No other family members lived in the house over these past years.

Jeff, with Connie in France.

Connie and Jeff had two children, David, born in 1984, and Lindsey, born in 1990, with whom he had a close and loving relationship centered on mutual interests, including sailing, water sports, horseback riding, and outdoor activities. They eventually purchased a lovely home in Deephaven, Minnesota, in 1995 on the gorgeous, highly revered Lake Minnetonka. They’ve lived in that home and treasured all the social and boating opportunities lake living in Minnesota offered, including sailing and motorboating. The views from their veranda provided a peaceful and calming environment which we enjoyed with them on many occasions.

Jeff was close to his dad, David, who lived with Connie and Jeff part-time from 1998 until 2018. (His mother, Kathleen,  passed away on February 14, 1997). He leaves behind one sister, Holly, who is in the process of moving to Florida. Jeff also enjoyed close relationships with many longtime friends, including Greg and Matt.

Jeff’s dad, David, Lindsey, and Jeff, together on a day of horseback riding.

In 2018, Jeff was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Still, after about two years, they visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he was further diagnosed with MSA, Multiple System Atrophy, described on the Mayo Clinic’s website as follows:

“Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a rare, degenerative neurological disorder affecting your body’s involuntary (autonomic) functions, including blood pressure and motor control.

MSA was formerly called Shy-Drager syndrome, olivopontocerebellar atrophy, or striatonigral degeneration. MSA shares many symptoms with Parkinson’s disease, such as slow movement, rigid muscles, and poor balance.

Treatment includes medications and lifestyle changes to help manage symptoms, but no cure exists. The condition progresses gradually and eventually leads to death.”

Jeff, at his 70th birthday party on July 11, 2022.

And now, the grief is palpable as Connie and Lindsey spend their remaining days with us in Marloth Park, South Africa, where the wild animals still come to visit, reminding all of us of the reasons Jeff wanted to visit Africa and how much he may have missed after he left this world only a week ago today.

We’ll send Connie and Lindsey back home to the US with compassion and love in our hearts and this special memory ever-present in our minds. May they find comfort in giving this precious gift to the man they so dearly loved and cared for…the gift of the fulfillment of a dream…one that we call “experiencing Heaven on earth” in this magical place.

Photo from one year ago today, September 28, 2021:

This female kudu was somewhat dazed, with two oxpeckers working on her ticks, fleas, other insects, and hide-related conditions.  For more photos, please click here.

A heartbreaking loss at our holiday home in the bush…Human, not animal…I had to pretend…

Jeff, sitting at the table on our veranda on the day before he passed away, getting ready to take a photo of the wildlife in the garden,

Today is Saturday. On Wednesday, our dear friend and houseguest Jeff, husband of friend Connie and dad of adult daughter Lindsay who arrived last Saturday (and dad to son David, who wasn’t here), passed away in bed at our holiday home in Marloth Park, South Africa. When Connie awoke on Wednesday morning, she assumed Jeff was still asleep.

Checking further, she realized he wasn’t breathing. She came to our door (they were staying in the two guest cottages on our holiday home property), and Tom rushed out to help. As a former fireman, he knew exactly what to do. He confirmed Connie’s assessment. Our friend Jeff had passed away in bed.

Jeff suffered from a fatal disease called MSA, Multiple System Atrophy, described as follows from this site:

“Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a rare condition of the nervous system that causes gradual damage to nerve cells in the brain. This affects balance, movement, and the autonomic nervous system, which controls several basic functions, such as breathing, digestion, and bladder control.”

Jeff’s dream was to come to Africa to see the wildlife, and he did. On Tuesday, we all went into Kruger National Park, and Jeff, sitting in the front seat of their rented van, could see many species throughout the day. That night, when we returned, we had a nice dinner, after which he and Tom watched a Minnesota Vikings football game, enjoying every moment.

When we initially invited them to stay with us, we knew we wanted to do everything we could to make the visit memorable and meaningful for him, Connie, and Lindsey, who were loving and diligent caregivers, never burdened by the challenges, only burdened by the severity of his illness and how little time was left for him to cherish those he loved and his passion for coming to Africa.

Although Jeff’s speech was impaired due to his illness, his brain was sharp, and he and Tom chatted endlessly.  It was rewarding to witness how much fun he had been having in the place he longed to see before it was too late. Tom and Jeff always enjoyed lively conversation during the 31 years we’ve all been friends.

Over the past ten years, we’ve been friends; we’ve stayed in touch and had a chance for a few get-togethers when we visited Minnesota. They lived only a few kilometers from our home in our old lives. With Connie as a professional chef and me loving to cook and entertain, we often got together over great food and drinks.

In tomorrow’s post, I will share the process of a foreigner’s passing while in South Africa and the wonderful people who supported the process in the past few days.

I apologize for not mentioning this in the past several posts, which I struggled to write, having to alter some of the text to avoid letting anyone know. I didn’t want to put it out there for the world to see when family and friends needed to be notified of Jeff’s passing instead of seeing it online. Connie had posted a few links to our site before their arrival, and many of their loved ones could have been reading our posts. Now that most of their family and friends have been notified, I can reveal the sorrowful passing of Jeff on our site.

We’ll be back with more tomorrow.

Be well. Cherish the day.

Photo from one year ago today, September 24, 2021:

Young kudu on the veranda at the old house. For more photos, please click here.