When I think of my father, I think "contradictions". He was a bigot in theory yet tolerant in practice. Not well educated yet someone who loved to learn. Impatient by nature yet capable of the greatest patience of all.
Judged by those small actions which truly define us, it turns out he was a pretty decent guy all in all.
That was just over a year ago. He wound up having a quintuple bypass two days later. If the story ended there, he would have been back on the tractor in just a few weeks. In fact, in my neighborhood, bypasses are almost a rite of passage -- seems just about all the neighbors have had them. But his heart fibrillated a few days after surgery and dislodged a clot that found its way to his brain. The result: a devastating stroke.
He fought hard right after his stroke and made some amazing progress, especially once he came home from a 3-month stay for rehab at a nursing home. That was a dark time for him. He hated the nursing home, even though it was his decision to stay as long as he did, knowing he needed the support they could provide as the doctors worked to get his stroke-induced seizures under control. He came back to his home in September, with a complement of full-time caregivers, home health nurses, and occupational and physical therapists. His left arm and leg were heavily impaired, and he'd lost the left field of vision in both eyes. Not being able to process what little he could see and not being able to read any longer were what grieved him most. Still, he was convinced he would be back on his tractor, driving his truck, and doing the chores by Christmas.
At the beginning of this year, we backed him off 24-hour care to 8-hour care, allowing him a few hours of privacy and independence during the day. His spirits improved, his body was getting stronger, and he had two really good months where things were looking up.
Then he had a second stroke.
The seizures returned, he regressed rapidly and his depression deepened over the next few weeks. As the one-year milestone approached and he found himself nearly back at ground zero, he simply gave up. It was only two weeks after that one-year anniversary that he died, 6 weeks shy of his 82nd birthday.
As we did with my mother, we donated his body to a nearby medical school. He didn't want to be a bother or burden to anyone, so by his request, which I fully support, there was no funeral and no service. His surviving brothers, sister, and friends are scattered about the country unable to travel and facing medical challenges of their own, so a service would have served few people.
I often said if I'd met my dad on the street, we wouldn't have been friends. His politics, interests and attitudes were, in general, not consistent with mine. I was, however, privileged to be his daughter. He left me with a legacy that can only be bequeathed by someone who came by it honestly -- two great life lessons: fierce devotion to family and grace in coping with adversity.
I won't forget.
And I will miss him.