Faces Behind the Numbers: John Falk
'He had to have something funny, something fun, something over- the-top [in] everything he did,' Suzanne Falk says of her husband, John Falk, who lived from 1967 until 2022.
For each individual COVID-19 death, nine close family members were left mourning, according to one widely cited Penn State study released in the pandemic’s first year.
For the extended Falk family in Springfield, that statistic could be an understatement.
Eleven months ago, the Falk family lost two brothers, both still in their prime, within days.
Suzanne Falk is John Falk’s widow. He was 54 when he died on January 17. John’s brother Joe was 53 when he died five days earlier. They received care in the same Springfield ICU.
Suzanne says, “When — when John was going, you know, [...] I got a call. It was like, it was late morning. And I was actually preparing to go up to the hospital anyway. Because once the staff knew that Joe and John were brothers, you know, and, and that our whole family was being affected this much, they were letting me go in and see him with protective gear and, and everything, and talk to him.”
Celebrating holidays 'made him happy for weeks'
KSMU told the story of Joe Falk during the previous episode of Sense of Community. As in Joe’s case, Suzanne says her husband — Joe’s brother John — started feeling unwell a few days after a family Christmas gathering. Mindful of the pandemic, Suzanne says their Christmas last year was markedly smaller than usual.
But as they celebrated, the virus was in their midst.
“Basically, everyone who was in our house for that small Christmas gathering had COVID," Suzanne says. "Except for me, I got tested, too. Mine was negative.”
Typically, John put on a bigger holiday celebration. That was his style.
“You know, we'd have 20, 25 people in our little house for holidays," Suzanne says. "And that made him happy for weeks.”
By now it’s probably clear — John was one of those people who never knew a stranger.
Suzanne says, “You know, we could never go anywhere, without him running into someone that he had to stop and talk to, all the time. Everybody knew him. I mean, the grocery store that we shopped at, he, you know, Facebook-friended every cashier that was there. And he knew what, who they were, he knew what they were doing. He knew, he knew their kids names, their dog's names, you know, just, you know, everything.”
Suzanne says John was heavily involved in lots of activities, in addition to his work doing property damage appraisals. He was interested in dog rescue and acting in community theater and independent movies. He also did voice work and singing.
“John always had to have a project going on — and sometimes that was what his work was," Suzanne says.
For example, he invented a dog toy, Rover Ricochet, because family dog Jackson was a high-energy pup who needed to be able to entertain himself.
'King of romantic gestures'
She says John was a good family provider, a person with a sense of humor and a taste for grand gestures.
“Oh, he was king of romantic gestures," she says. "I mean, you wouldn't believe.”
Suzanne’s 50th birthday featured a flashmob at Dickerson Park Zoo including 25 dancers, all planned by John. The story of their engagement dinner story has a similar vibe.
“We dated about a year," she says. "Of course, the proposal had to be a big event as well. We went to a very fancy local restaurant, dressed up, the whole nine yards. Had wine and nice dinner. But when I saw I placed my order, and they came out and gave him his, you know, nice dinner on, on China, and they put a McDonald's Quarter Pounder box in front of me.”
“So you're starting to suspect something might be happening?” a KSMU journalist asks.
“Something’s up, yeah!" Suzanne laughs. "So I opened the box, and there's an engagement ring. So then he proposed... so he had to have, he had to have something funny, something fun, something over- the-top. Everything he did.”
Suzanne recalls that a good day with John probably included a trip to the farmer’s market with at least two of their dogs, followed by dinner made from their purchases and Saturday-night classic horror movies.
'Carrying on for the both of us'
She says today, she and their two sons are continuing with their lives, and it’s tough sometimes.
Sometimes she thinks about John and his favorite song, “Forever’s as Far as I’ll Go,” by Alabama.
“I mean, he was my best friend," Suzanne says. "And I loved him dearly. And I absolutely know he loved me. You know, there was no doubt, but, you know, — sometimes, when I am kind of dwelling on it and getting, having feelings about things, and feeling sad, it's... What I think about is, you know, this is not the life we planned. This is not how it was supposed to happen. You know, he was supposed to be there with me. You know, he's saying, ‘Forever's as Far as I'll Go’ and sometimes when I'm angry, I think well, you know, you held up in your forever. How, you know. that that was true: That you, you did go forever.
“But my forever hasn't ended. I'm still here. So... sometimes it makes you angry or sad. And sometimes I feel like I am carrying on for the both of us.”