He had dozed off in his chair when I arrived mid-day Wednesday to take him to his doctor’s appointment. He had all the curtains drawn and the whole house was dark. I really hated to wake him.
But we needed to go. His appointment was an hour and a half from then and we had at least a 45 minute ride ahead of us up a hopefully unclogged I-75 to Ocala.
He says he’s feeling tired these days. His sleep is interrupted at night by needs to dash to the bathroom. Sometimes he can go right back to sleep. Sometimes he’s up all night.
At nearly 90 years of age, none of this is terribly surprising.
He hasn’t shaved this day. That’s pretty unusual for my Dad. He says his skin is so sensitive these days he hates to run a razor over it. “Do you think I should shave, Son?” he asks? It’s not that important, I tell him. I say that he can just tell folks it’s a fashion statement. “A fashion statement?” he says. “A real slave to fashion, Daddy. That’s you.”
Fortunately, he finds that amusing. He’s lost so many things at this point in life but he still has his sense of humor.
Good News from the Doctor
He tells the doctor that his stomach is bothering him. Dr. Rama says it may be gall stones and perhaps he’s developed a little ulcer. Given all the chemo and radiation he’s endured, that’s hardly a surprise. She also tells him to go get some iron supplements to give him some energy.
But, compared to the original presenting concern, the non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, these are small fish to fry. Wednesday, Daddy got good news:
“There is no cancer in your body as of today.”
He’s very happy about that. And he’ll feel a lot more like eating this night over at Aunt Fannie’s, the soul food restaurant favored by the locals across the major highway from his doctor’s office. He splurges on some fried eggplant in addition to his bowl of clam chowder. The fact his oldest son, his only daughter and two of his grandsons are there with him helps, no doubt.
Ten years ago when my Mother had died, Daddy sought to reassure the older grandson that he wasn’t leaving any time soon. He promised him that he’d be there to see him graduate from high school.
One of the most joyful moments of my life was seeing my Dad standing on the sidelines of the arena where his grandson, graduating with honors, marched by in cap and gown enroute to receiving his diploma. A kid who rarely registers much of any emotion at all, he suddenly broke into a huge grin when he saw his grandfather waving and cheering. He pointed to his gold honor cords and waved back.
Tears welled up in his uncle’s eyes.
After the commencement the younger grandson quickly implored his grandfather to make him the same promise. He’s two years behind his older brother in school and now halfway through his junior year. Daddy had agreed to do his best. Wednesday, the once little one reminded him of that.
“Looks like you’re gonna be able to do it, Granddaddy,” he said. My Dad smiled. “It’s looking pretty good.”
He keeps saying he doesn’t want to be a burden on anyone. He worries that we have to take time off from work and drive at least an hour from any of our homes to be with him. I remind him that we are his children and that he was the one who taught us our values – loving relationship, self-sacrifice for others, compassion for the less fortunate, and, oh yes, a sense of duty.
“Where else would we be, Daddy?” I ask. He just smiles.
But I know he still worries.
Making Final Plans
Thursday we attended a sales pitch for cremation services at the Red Lobster in Ocala. Daddy got a free meal and paid for mine and my sister’s. There is no small amount of surrealness to making decisions about Caesar or regular salad and what dressing after an hour’s presentation on embalming, cremation and burial.
Nothing like the talk of charred bones and ashes in an urn to whet an appetite!
But Daddy wants to have all this taken care of. Truth be told, he’s done a marvelous job of getting his papers together, listing his assets and liabilities, writing a will that should be easy to probate and laying out his directives for what little personal property he wants to give to his family. I wish half of my clients whose estates I handled as an attorney had been so easy to work with.
He’s pretty clear about not having a funeral or memorial service. He wants his ashes interred just above my Mother’s casket in the VA National Cemetery in Bushnell. He will rest in peace in a stunningly beautiful place among rows of inscribed white stones interspersed among islands of pine, palmettos and scrub oaks. The deer, fox, owls and the occasional bobcat with whom he grew up will be his regular companions.
The cemetery is about five miles down the road from the site of the house where he was born, just outside the town where he grew up and returned to after WWII. It’s where he served as the local high school driver’s education teacher for three decades teaching the southern half of the county’s children how to drive.
He’s amazingly at peace with all this. No fear of death that I can tell. While he’s not anxious to go anytime soon, I don’t think he’ll be afraid when that time arrives. I now carry a copy of his living will with me to his appointments just in case we ever need it.
The only time he shows any emotion at all is when he speaks of being laid to rest above our Mother. His voice cracks, his eyes well with tears. “That’s all I really want, to be with your Momma.” She has been gone 10 years now but for him, it seems like yesterday….and forever ago.
The Good Fortune of Being his Oldest Child
I have come to cherish the drive home through the rolling hills and horse farms south of Ocala where most of his doctors are located and where my Sister lives. The afternoon after his doctor’s appointment, we decided to avoid the interstate, taking the back road through the woods south to Bushnell.
Periodically we would marvel at the orange and golds of the setting sun, the pastel pinks and lavenders of what few clouds dotted the horizon. The fading sunlight twinkled through the live oaks and pine trees as it set across pastures with piebald horses and the slightest hint of fog beginning to form around unseen watering holes.
“Isn’t it beautiful, Daddy?” I ask?
“It really is, Son.”
And it is at that moment that I realize once again how very fortunate I have always been to be this wonderful man’s oldest child.
Harry Scott Coverston
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. – Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Ages, Commentary on Micah 6:8