Tag Archives: fatherhood

Lame Adventure 429: A Heartfelt Farewell

Some of you may have noticed that I have been absent from the blogosphere for a while. I was in San Francisco with my family. A week ago today my dear old dad died. Naturally, a part of me is bereft. I am now an orphan and I hate that. But Dad was 87, terminally ill with cancer and had suffered from a serious heart condition that worsened significantly when he reached his ninth decade.

Dad on his honeymoon in 1951.

Dad on his honeymoon in 1951.

Since October 2012, the going only got tougher for him. He was in and out of the hospital several times. After every hospitalization, his dwindling supply of energy further depleted. For much of the past year he told anyone who would listen that every night before going to bed he prayed that he would die in his sleep. Four weeks ago, following a collapse, this ferociously independent man’s decline accelerated at warp speed.

Lovebirds: Dad and Mom.

Lovebirds: Dad and Mom.

Soon, Dad was too weak to get out of bed. My siblings who lived near Dad, Dovima and Axel, made the painful decision to start hospice. Initially, Dad wanted to die at home. My brother, Axel, had checked in on him daily for the last fifteen months. Dovima volunteered to be his primary caregiver during Dad’s final days. I flew out to join her, but Axel was always near.

Fit and trim at 50.

Fit and trim at 50.

Dad loathed the indignity of home hospice. During one particularly rough night when he cried out in pain, Dovima came to his rescue. When he saw his eldest daughter he spoke two last words to her:

Dad: Oh, crap!

His last word to me was about how he was feeling:

Dad: Lousy!

His last utterance to Axel was a monosyllabic, a groan when Axel said:

Axel: Dad, it’s me, Axel.

Still buff at 74.

Still buff at 74.

We shifted into overdrive to enter Dad into a hospice facility. We heeded the advice of our Pathways social worker and got him into Zen Hospice, an oasis of nurturing and tranquility. Dad was so far gone there was concern that he might not survive the ambulance ride from his house to Zen. We knew he no longer wanted to die at home, so even if he bought his rainbow in transit, we decided that we were responding to his revised wish. I was allowed to accompany him in the ambulance, a bumpy twenty-minute journey. Dad, who could no longer speak, looked scared. I promised him that he was going to a place where he’d get great care and we would still be there with him. Dad survived the ride. The wonderful staff and volunteers at Zen backed up my claim.

Clowning for his 4-year-old photographer, granddaughter, Sweet Pea.

Clowning for his 4-year-old photographer, granddaughter, Sweet Pea.

At Zen, Dad was no longer restless, his dignity was returned, and he was comfortable. All of us, Dovima, Axel, my niece, Sweet Pea, brother-in-law, Herb (with a silent h) and Cousin Lou, held his hand and let him know how much we loved and appreciated him. Two days later, with Dovima and I at his bedside, Dad drew his final breath. His wish was granted. He died peacefully in his sleep.

Chirstmas 2012 (l to r) Axel, Dovima, Sweet Pea holding Thurber, Dad, Me photographed by Herb.

Christmas 2012 (l to r) Axel, Dovima, Sweet Pea holding Thurber, Dad and Me photographed by Herb.

Following our father shedding his mortal coil, there was a lovely ceremony at Zen where his caregivers took turns washing his face, hands and feet. They each said words of comfort. Dovima and I were invited to participate, but the pain of losing our father was just too fresh. We sat and watched. When Dad was carried outside, his face was exposed to the sun and he was showered with flower petals. Dad had told Dovima that when he died, he wanted to make his exit under tons of flowers. So, that wish was granted, too.

Dad's flower petals.

Dad’s flower petals.

This past Tuesday, we had a traditional funeral, but it was not a morose affair. We celebrated Dad’s life in pictures, and with many of his own words in a program we created that showed his wit and wisdom. A sample of his wit was what he liked to say to me when he thought I was behaving like a flake:

Dad: You have more crust than a pie factory!

A sample of his wisdom:

Dad: Do good and forget about it. Do bad and think about it.

But I agree with Axel, who wisely said:

Axel: Let’s be careful not to make him bigger in death than he was in life.

Our father was not a perfect man; possibly this was his most familiar expression:

Dad: God damn it!

But he was the perfect father for us.

In conclusion, I would like to share a tale about Dad in his prime, call it an early Lame Adventure. Our father was a very athletic man. In high school he lettered in Gymnastics and he maintained those skills well into middle age. He could be quite a show off; something my siblings and I loved. After Sunday dinner, he would take us out on walks in our neighborhood. He loved to sing an asinine ditty, John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, at the top of his lungs. I recall doing a duet with him on it. It is an understatement that we had nothing on Nat King Cole and daughter Natalie’s duet on Unforgettable.

On this particular Sunday in 1966, as we were walking down Holloway Avenue at Denslowe Street, I begged Dad to do “the flag” as we approached a signpost.

An historic place in  family history.

An historic place in family history.

The flag was an extraordinary feat of physical dexterity. My dad, who had phenomenal arm strength, could extend himself completely perpendicular to the signpost.

Historic signpost.

Historic signpost.

It was quite a sight to see.

Witness's rendering of quite a sight.

Witness’s rendering of quite a sight.

As we were marveling at Dad’s truly awesome feat, a motorist slammed his or her brakes and we heard an awful screech. Looking back, the sight of a 39 year-old-man suspended completely perpendicular from a signpost into the street must have been discombobulating in 1966 … or maybe even today.

The father of Lame Adventures.

The father of Lame Adventures.

Lame Adventure 200: Dad’s Day and Location Scouting

When I woke at noon on Sunday, after brushing the sock taste off my teeth I called my dad out on the West Coast to wish him a Happy Father’s Day.  I also told him:

Me:  I thought I’d let you sleep in today.

He was in good form and said he received my snarky card about a lazy loafer progeny and that it amused him.  He asked me:

Dad:  Do you need money?

Me:  I’m getting by.  I’ve got my bills covered.

Dad:  Do you need money?

Me:  I need a job that pays me better or a gig that offsets this job that pays so pathetically.

Dad:  Yeah, you do.  So do you need money?

Me:  It’s Father’s Day!  This isn’t the day when the offspring hits on the father for a check!  This is your appreciation day.

Dad:  Oh.  Good point.

Later that sunny and warm afternoon when I joined Coco to location scout another YouTube music video featuring my sidekick, Greg, my father accompanied us symbolically.  I brought along this great picture of him.

18-year-old Dad as a member of the DDYC (Draft Dodgers Yacht Club aka the Coast Guard) in 1945.

When Coco and I spoke on the phone earlier, she was quite sure that she had found the perfect spot for filming and added:

Coco:  It looks beautiful at funset.

Me:  What’s that?

Coco (confused):  Funset?

Me:  What’s funset?  What the hell are you talking about?

Coco (daylight moment):  SUNSET!!!!!!!

Fortunately Coco is very used to my being hard of hearing – something I did inherit from my dad.  The location, a pier in lower Manhattan, does seem to be the perfect spot, and she’s right, it surely must look magnificent at sunset.

Lady Liberty on a beautiful Sunday in spring.

What baffled us were the many fishing rods leaning against the pier’s rails with lines dipped into the toxic brew that is the Hudson River.

Death wish fishing with fisherman on verge of collapse.

Me:  Would you eat a fish caught in these waters?

Coco:  No, never!  I wouldn’t even go kayaking in the Hudson for fear I’d somehow fall out.  The second I’d hit the water I’d die just from the shock of finding myself in the Hudson River.

Cruise ship and sail boats holding their own in the Hudson.

I took more photographs, shot a test video, but unfortunately Coco forgot to bring her singing saw so it was music-less.  To her credit, she knows my taste in modern art well, Modigliani nudes and lawn gnomes.  She did remember to bring me a miniature lawn gnome so that offset my disappointment with not hearing her play her specialty, We Will Rock You, followed with an encore of trimming a two by four piece of pine.

Miniature gnome with gnomenclature book.

Coco has been grousing about her “milky white” skin the second spring turned warm some weeks back, but when I photographed our arms side by side, it dawned on her that if I did not look so much like my dad, I could have easily been the spawn of albino rocker Edgar Winter.

Coco, looking Tahitian, in barbed wire bracelet on left and me, looking like Casper crossbred with Cheeta in Timex Indiglo on right.

The one thing I failed to inherit from my own pere is his olive skin.

Edgar Winter

As we sat on a bench talking and broiling, we noticed something that looked like it might have once been among the living floating towards us but it was still too far for us to determine if it was a dead possum or some variation of the Loch Ness monster.

Floater in mid-frame.

As dehydration and heat prostration set in, we headed back down the pier for a beverage when we saw this ferociously ugly side of this idyllic location.

"Bring out yer trash!"

Maybe the luckier people that are fishing will catch a plastic water bottle instead of an eight-finned bass with two heads and fur.

If my symbolic dad were actually with us he would surely shout:

Dad:  Don’t you two touch anything in that water!

Coco might be able to fight anything attacking us with her bracelet.

Dual purpose barbed wire bracelet -- jewelry and Hudson River water pollution slasher.

Or, my dad just might ask:

Dad:  Do you need money?