Neighbors, friends gather outside South Loop condo to say final farewell to 83-year-old man with cancer
More than 50 people congregated Saturday outside a South Loop condominium to say what will likely be their last goodbye to William Hession.
A family waved an Irish flag as children drew a green shamrock in chalk on the pavement. At one point, someone began singing, “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.”
More than 50 people gathered at noon Saturday outside a South Loop condominium to say what will likely be their final farewell to 83-year-old William Hession, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Many of those who came were neighbors and friends whose lives had been touched by Hession. They brought their dogs and held handmade signs reading, “We will miss your stories at the dog park” and “thanks for your friendship!”
Hession, who entered hospice care last week, wasn’t able to get to the window to see the kind tribute. So his wife, Joan Hession, and his daughter, Katie Hession, stood out on the sixth-floor balcony to thank the crowd for him.
When Hession did learn about the gathering, he was moved and repeatedly whispered, “Oh my God, oh my God,” his family said.
“That’s the remarkable thing,” Katie Hession said by phone Saturday. “He’s really been in a deep, deep sleep, almost coma. He’s heavily medicated, and after it, my mom and I went in to see him and I recounted, ‘Everybody, Dad, is out front with their dogs, and they’re all paying tribute to you, and they’re going to miss you and they love you,’ and he opened his eyes.”
William Hession, who often goes by Bill, is a beloved figure in his community. The former high school teacher and counselor could spark a conversation with just about anybody and was a great listener. During the summers, he was often found seated on a bench in Dearborn Park with his dog, Veronica.
“He was a loving human being,” his daughter said. “And he loved people.”
Hession was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia on Oct. 31. It’s a therapy-related cancer, Katie explained, meaning that it’s a direct result of the chemotherapy he received during his treatment for colon cancer the year before.
At this point, Hession’s time is limited. He’s stopped eating and continues to drift in and out of consciousness, his daughter said. Earlier this week, Hession, a devoted Catholic, received his last rites via FaceTime with former Loyola President Michael Garanzini.
Due to restrictions on large gatherings because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Hessions won’t be able to put on a proper wake and funeral.
So, Katie Hession looked for another way to pay homage to her father — an idea that came to her at 3 a.m. — and she printed fliers and posted them at the two parks where her father had met many of his neighborhood friends.
“[I] just thought it would be a little tribute,” she said.
The event garnered more attention after someone shared the flier in a South Loop neighborhood Facebook page. Katie Hession contemplated canceling the event after Mayor Lori Lightfoot closed the lakefront, parks and trails in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“I just thought, ‘I gotta do this,’ it’s for my dad, and I just love him so much,” said Katie Hession, who encouraged everyone to practice proper social distancing. “And I wanted to do it.”
The response was overwhelming, as evidenced by the crowd Saturday.
“I thought I would get a few people, and then it exploded on social media and people just turned out,” Katie said. “I stood on the balcony with my mom, who loved it, every minute of it.
“It was just a wonderful tribute.”