I spent some months earlier this year tending to my father, Jacob, on home hospice. He was 97 years old and plummeting from heart disease when I and the hospice team took over last February, and it was anyone’s guess how long he would last. No one, including the patient, expected him to see the spring.
True to form, my rather self-focused father requested a memorial service before he died, so I put one together in early March, attended by about forty friends and relatives, including his grandson Kyle, my deceased sister’s youngest son. In the crowded great room of Dad’s home, my spouse Barbara gently opened and closed the event, and I delivered what would have been called a eulogy, except that its subject was sitting nearby, happily raising his hand a few times to correct me on some details. So I called it a “Life Summary on the occasion of his Farewell Celebration.”
Dad was thoroughly in his element; laughter and affection flowed. We thought we were saying good-bye to him. But he stabilized a bit and March then led us into April.
The days went on into May and June until Dad got really worn out by the loss of functioning and decided to stop eating. I suspect he held on as long as he did to be able to mark the arrival of a great-grandchild, who was due on Father’s Day, June 19, to that same grandson Kyle and his spouse, Mary, in Virginia. Dad had thoroughly defied the odds to make it that far and stopped eating the day before Father’s Day, but Mary’s family had a track record of late deliveries, so we weren’t at all sure he would hold on to see the newest addition.
I was able to spend his last Father’s Day with him. Then Monday and Tuesday go by—no baby. Dad weakened further, but Wednesday afternoon we got the word: a boy!
Dad was exultant at the news. I arranged for the new parents in Virginia to interact with us in California that very evening, bless their tired hearts, via an internet teleconference. I had my dad hold the laptop computer showing the three of them in the hospital room, but with the screen facing me with his head just above it. I snapped a photo to be able to let the little fella know, years from now, that he and his great-grandfather were indeed both alive on the planet together.
On Sunday morning, June 26, Dad stopped breathing and let go.
I’ve been mulling over this experience all along the way, and ever since, but it’s still a challenge for me to be articulate about it.
In 1977, my mother, Jean, died of cancer at age 56. I was a young adult living in Denver, and I returned to New Jersey for the last, very sad weeks of her life. More recently, my younger brother, Jay, and then my younger sister, Judy, each died tragically, both also from cancer. My father’s death leaves me the last one standing from our family of six. (Another sister died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome before I was two years old.)
When one doesn’t have children, one’s family of origin takes on a larger significance, I suppose. And somebody had to be the last one standing out of the six of us, so here I am.