My family is a little strange when it comes to communication.
Nora got an email from my stepmother a week ago Friday, August 17th. She said that my father had been in the hospital since Monday as a result of pneumonia gotten from aspirating some food or something... he had been in intensive care, but was in a regular room now. I called my sister and half-brother to find out what was going on, and they said basically he was up, talking, still had an infection and could have had some sort of heart attack, but was able to communicate and they'd visited him.
I debated going up, but didn't. There was a lot to do last weekend and they didn't make it sound particularly urgent... he'd had episodes over the years (since his stroke in June 1991) where he'd been in the hospital, but had been home shortly enough and I figured this was another such episode.
Monday afternoon, I got a call from my sister. She was extremely upset. My father had taken a very bad turn, and nobody knew what was going to happen. He was no longer aware of what was happening around him, and she was trying to explain when I lost my wireless signal.
When I got it back, I called my half-brother, Brian, who works for the county sheriff's office and is well-familiar with medical issues. He explained that the infection wasn't responding to drugs, even the strongest they had, and he was no longer responding to those around him even though he'd been up and around that morning. He had talked to the nursing staff and the doctors, and they said, "could be hours, could be a couple of weeks."
When I'd talked to my sister, I'd been thinking I might go up. After talking to Brian, I knew I had to go up.
"You tell that old bastard to hold on till I get there," I told him. I threw some stuff in the TDI, called Nora to say I was leaving, closed up the house and left. It was raining hard. It continued to rain hard all through Pennsylvania, not relenting until I was near Corning, New York. The iPod was on constantly all the way up, on a playlist of Fifties jazz containing more than four hundred tracks. Didn't feel like listening to words, just complex music. I had taken four packs of cigarettes along, not sure when I'd be home, and went through one of them on the trip up.
My father was in a hospital in Brockport, New York. I arrived at 1:30am, and they buzzed me through and took me up to the room. By this time, my siblings had all gone home for the night, figuring they'd come back in the morning.
I'd told him to wait for me, and he did.
He died the moment I got there.
He was three weeks short of his 71st birthday.
"Daddy just stopped breathing," my stepmother told me.
He looked terribly small and pale, and still. It's a very strange feeling to feel the warmth slowly leave someone's fingers, then hands, then arms. He slipped away and took his energy with him.
My stepmother stayed with him for a long time. She asked me to call everyone, and three or four separate times, I had to tell a tired, half-awake sibling, "he's gone."
They were all back within an hour, each of us spending a little time with him and my stepmother. Finally, there was no one left to call except to make arrangements for a funeral director to come and pick him up. I did that. My stepmother left, and finally, the rest of us left as well. I won't be seeing him again.
The following days broke away from normal timekeeping. Tuesday morning, we met with my stepmother to hear what plans she and my father had made for his service and memorials, which were to be small and private. No calling hours, no big ceremony. He was cremated and his ashes were to be placed next to where my mother, killed in 1968, have lain for nearly forty years.
I spent Wednesday and Thursday wandering around the town in which I grew up. Everything looked the same, but was completely different. All different people in the houses, all different businesses in the building downtown. It's been over 25 years since I lived there, and that long since I spent more than a day or two there. Now, a connection to the place was gone, or at least had changed. I drove around to every street I remembered (and I remembered all of them), noting what had changed, what had grown where, which houses were different colors. I met up with a couple of friends at various times -- my old band director, with whom I spent an afternoon catching up over lunch and looking again at 30-year-old pictures (some of which I myself had taken), and a woman I graduated with and have stayed in touch with.
Everything felt quite out-of-time. I was staying in a hotel in Batavia, New York, and wasn't eager to rush back there to sleep alone. Nora drove up on Thursday with Ben, the megawabbit, and Thursday evening she and my siblings and their spouses and partners all went out to a place in Batavia to have dinner. Seemed like a much better way to get together than at some service, and it was. There was plenty of storytelling from the past, but also catching up on what we're all doing now. Fishing, gas mileage, work, and rabbits all came up as topics of conversation over the evening. Afterward, Nora and I went around the corner to a new place that opened up, to hear a couple of musicians who'd been playing around the area for years. Again, anything to keep from going back to the hotel and thinking.
Friday morning opened gray, but aside of a little rain on the TDI's windshield on the way to LeRoy, it cleared off. We gathered at the cemetery for a small graveside service, my stepmother placed the urn in the small grave they'd prepared, and within fifteen minutes it was over.
My stepmother stayed to watch them place the earth back over the hole.
For the rest of the morning and well into the afternoon, the rest of us were back at the house, having something to eat and talking. Talking a lot. My stepmother came out to be with us intermittently, but mostly we were left to ourselves. The dog ran around a bit, Ben hopped around and sniffed everything, we constantly rearranged chairs to get out of the sun, and we all gradually learned to breathe again.
There's no mistaking the presence he had in that house. My parents have lived there for 42 years, and there's no missing the marks he left, both tangible and intangible, on that place. To adjust to the idea of opening that door and not having him sitting there in the blue chair, growling at the dog and occasionally ringing a small silver bell to call for my stepmother when he needed help with something, is something we didn't much want to consider, but we'll have to.
It's what one does.
I feel considerably older.
We left on Friday afternoon, and drove straight through to get home here late Friday night. The cards from co-workers and neighbors had already started to arrive, and I didn't open any of them until this afternoon, knowing the finality they bring. You know someone is gone when the cards, the flowers, the people bearing casseroles arrive. My father had gone through that in 1968, and I think a big part of the plans they'd made for the day they'd need them grew out of my father's wanting my stepmother to not have to go through it.
Forty years later, yes, what I remember about my mother's death was the people bearing casseroles. If my stepmother didn't have to go through that, good. Wish she didn't.
Wish I didn't.
And so we move on.
And I lose some stories I'll never hear.
1. ChangeWarrior (Deb)09/24/2007 09:04:23 PM
I'm so sorry,
I've been out of touch with just about everyone for a while dealing with life's little challenges. I just heard about your Dad. I hope you're o.k.
You're in my prayers.
2. Kelly Grimm09/14/2007 06:32:01 PM
Please accept my belated condolences on the loss of your father.
3. Turtle09/04/2007 11:02:56 AM
As far as I know, my stepmother has no immediate plans to do anything like move or sell the house or anything, and she's only 58, so not likely she's interested in a retirement community yet. Right now she's just starting to sort stuff out.
4. Harleywench09/04/2007 10:21:39 AM
Lost my Dad suddenly back in November. It still doesn't seem real. I feel really old. Mom moved to a retirement community, and is selling the house we grew up in. It's truly numbing, even when you haven't lived in a place for over 20 years...
5. judy ringle08/29/2007 10:05:08 AM
Scott -- I am so sorry for your loss. Please take it easy and know that a lot of people are thinking about you.
ps -- that's an awfully large rabbit. Tell Nora I said Hi.
6. Betsy Thiede08/28/2007 04:24:23 PM
I'm thinking of you and am sorry for your loss.
7. Mary Whalley08/27/2007 10:58:06 PM
I was so sorry to hear of your loss. My thoughts are with you, may your memories bring you comfort.
8. Richard Schwartz08/27/2007 09:14:12 PM
You are in my thoughts with sincere condolences.
9. Paul MOoney08/27/2007 05:27:31 PM
You have my deepest sympathy. It happens differently to everyone, but I do know your loss.
10. Ray Bilyk08/27/2007 04:08:24 PM
Peace be with you and your family at this time.
11. Adeleida08/27/2007 04:01:03 PM
This is a touching memory you wrote down. I am sorry for your loss.
12. Don McNally08/27/2007 07:53:47 AM
My condolences, Turtle.