reflections on entering the fray: life, art and politics at 76
Saturday, May 17, 2014
Ten Days Later
Dad died in his sleep ten days ago, just a few months into his 98th year. I feel saddened and also greatly relieved. It appeared to me that for several years, he struggled mightily and without complaint. I watched him time and again lift himself out of a chair, holding on to his walker and pulling up slowly and steadily with his arms. His arms were strong and he kept them in shape by lifting five pound weights. Dad shuffled cautiously and steadily down a hallway or to the dining table or out of doors on the garden pathway. He worried about bowel movements. He wiped his nose a lot and choked often. The print in his beloved daily New York Times was finally too small for him to read. But everyday, a caregiver opened the paper to the business section, circled the Exxon stock report and wrote the stock price in the margin. Dad's twenty-six years as an employee of Exxon is worth something.
For over a year, Dad didn't eat solid food because of choking. His meals were pureed in a blender. That in itself must have been a hardship, because Dad loved good home cooked food. His afternoon beer went by the wayside a couple of years ago, because he said beer no longer tasted good. Last fall, he gave up eating Welch's thin mint patties that we purchased in bulk. He could no longer eat them without difficulty. What he could do was drink a bottle of Ensure. Kate texted me last night to say that by her estimate, Dad downed at least 1200 bottles of Ensure. That creamy milk chocolate protein drink became his standby. And only that particular flavor would do.
Days after his death, Mary B sent the family a series of recent short videos of Dad. In each, he appeared to struggle to say what he wished to say. His movements were slow. One could see his mind working. These videos were hard to watch. Again, I felt relief both for him and for me. No more.
Kate has been busy for several days clearing Dad's belongings from his room at the adult family home. She tells John and me that his caregivers are sad and they speak of how they loved him. They tell her that Dean was such a good and kind man. It can't have been easy for Kate to go through Dad's stuff, especially the drawers of his bookshelf, the ones that held precious bits of memorabilia. There is the box covered with pansies that long ago contained a string of pearls which Dad gave Mom as his wedding gift. Inside that box is the note he wrote and a note she wrote about the box and its significance. Often, when I visited Dad, I would take the box from the drawer and he would carefully read both notes and say, "She was a good woman."
I came across this photo of Dad and his Thompson cousins a day or two ago. It was taken on a trip to upstate New York when Kate, Mary B, Laura and I accompanied Mom and Dad to their sixtieth college reunion and then drove on to visit family in Lisbon, New York. Dad is second from the left in the back row. With Dad's death, that generation is no longer.
And so, three, not four generations of family, move on toward our annual Discovery Park picnic in late summer, when we will convene and celebrate Mom and Dad's lives. I suspect that neither Mom or Dad will miss this event and perhaps they will even give us a sign of their attendance. You think?