Goodbye Marie

Not everyone can say they’ve buried three mothers.

Okay, technically I didn’t bury any of them except my real mom. As she was cremated, it meant handing a box of her ashes to a cemetery worker who put them underground. The second “mom” to go was my mother in law in 2012. That should have been the end of it, but in a surprise wedding in 2010 my eighty one year old father married Marie, and suddenly I had a stepmom.

Marie passed away recently at age 89. A year or two back she had a stroke. She was not quite the same since then. I did see her one last time last October. I had a feeling it would be my last visit. She was barely mobile and needed help several times a day to do basic stuff. The stroke made her hard to understand. Mostly she spent her days alone in a one bedroom apartment in Riderwood, a huge retirement community in Silver Spring, Maryland.

She went quite quickly in the end. She fell, was diagnosed with a failing heart too old to bother to repair, and spent just two days in Riderwood’s version of a nursing home, the same place my mother died. She was having trouble eating breakfast, was suddenly uncommunicative and a couple of minutes later pronounced dead.

She lived pretty much as long as my father, who died at 89 and a few months in 2016. They had five years of marriage, four of them pretty good before my father’s pulmonary disease became apparent and eventually killed him. Generally stepmothers are quickly forgotten after your parent passes away. Thankfully, our family was the exception. All eight of us made a point to keep Marie in our lives, calling her and visiting her when we were in the D.C. area.

I felt especially blessed because I convinced her to come and visit us in our new Massachusetts digs. She arrived on the Amtrak along with my sister for a weeklong stay. Marie was a good egg, but the spicey kind. Like my dad, she was a dopily devoted Catholic. Unsurprisingly, she first ran into my widower Dad at church. Riderwood has a chapel and a priest comes by on Sundays to perform Mass. It took my father enrolling in a square dancing class at Riderwood for the relationship to bloom in earnest.

The whole having-a-stepmother thing threw me for a loop. I knew my father wasn’t happy as a widower. His five years as a bachelor were awkward and strange. I knew he was chasing a few women. Despite there being few widowers and plenty of widows there, few were interested in remarriage. But that’s how it had to be for my father. He was born to be married. It took time, perseverance and bit of stealth but he managed it.

He flew cross country to introduce Marie to his sister, all on the QT. I had no idea until we learned that he had been hospitalized in Los Angeles with the flu, apparently acquired at 40,000 feet. I remember actually reaming my dad out: how could he do this and not let us know? I guess it wasn’t technically my business, but as my sister and me were the only two local members of the family, we expected to know. But Dad wanted to do some courting his way.

Marie turned out to be a good match, and I believe a better match for him than my mother. Marie was all about family, but sharp and could have an acid tongue at times. No one could roll over her and she would be no one’s patsy. She was also quite conservative, which was very much unlike my dad. She raised ten kids of her own, and helped raise a number of grandchildren. She ended up at Riderwood after her husband died and quickly and happily enmeshed herself in its vast and complex social scene.

Hosting Marie for a week turned out to be easy and fun. We got to know her much better. I walked her around the local park, took her to the local art museum and we all went out for ice cream. Marie, we discovered, was incredibly competitive. Scrabble was her passion. We had a Scrabble board. Not a day went by when we did not play at least one game, and she won most of them.

Once I visited her at Riderwood when my brother Tom was visiting. Tom is also extremely competitive. Watching the two of them play Scrabble was like watching a Jeopardy! championship. The air was thick with tension. The rest of us felt outclassed.

Marie also had a ton of energy, which only slowed a bit in retirement. She was social in ways my father was not. My father was good at glad handing and remembering names, but forgot details. Marie remembered details and the small stuff too, like calling friends just to say hello or sending cards on special occasions.

So I drove to Maryland to attend her funeral. Only three of us on my side of the family eventually made it. Two more wanted to but the logistics got too complicated. Suddenly twelve years later I was amidst her extended family again. I could greet most by name as I had met most of them many times over the years.

We commiserated with them at her wake and sat in the second row at her funeral mass. Afterward, we attended her reception. We helped move some property of my dad’s from her apartment. There were handshakes and hugs with her family, but we all implicitly knew it’s unlikely that we would see each other again. She will eventually be cremated and her remains placed next to her first husband’s in upstate New York.

I grew to love Marie, which is why I made the long drive to be at her funeral. I cried a bit during it, even as it seemed familiar as the soloist and songs sounded likely the same as at my mom and dad’s funerals. She lived a long life and largely on her terms. Life threw a lot at her but she seemed to handle it all with determination, faith and gusto. Adversity seemed to only make her stronger.

Only one relative from my parents’ generation now remain: an aunt who just turned ninety. We visited her some years back. So Marie’s death feels like pretty much the end of a chapter in life. In a way though it was a good kind of grief to experience. I’m a better person for not only having a stepmother in my life, but for having Marie in particular in my life.

What should be done with my corpse?

I’m remembering an old B.C. comic strip:

B.C.: What was I before I was what I was, and what will I be when I’m not?

Peter: You were what you were before you are what you are, and you will be what you ain’t.

That makes sense, sort of. It doesn’t explain anything, but it’s comforting somehow. As a friend of mine who has already met his maker put it: it doesn’t make much sense to worry about what happens after death if you are completely unconcerned about what you were (or weren’t) before you were conceived. It’s all completely logical, but most of us don’t want to die; the idea of death terrifies most of us.

I may be the odd exception in that the older I get the less I think and care about death. It can’t be avoided. It’s going to happen. And the way the world has been going lately, when the time comes it may be that I will be glad. In any event, when its pressing problems aren’t on my mind, I realize that I am blessed being retired and in reasonably good health. This is the time to enjoy life if I can. Like most of you, most of my life was pretty harried and stressful. I found pockets of enjoyment but a lot of it was just hard and a grind.

Of course I’ve done all my homework. There’s a will, there’s a power of attorney and a medical directive should I not be able to make my own decisions. There are estates set up to keep whoever gets our money from having the state take most of it. But there is one decision about death I haven’t quite decided on: what do I want done with my corpse?

It’s trendy to be cremated. In the United States, it’s now preferred to being put in a coffin and buried in a cemetery, perhaps because it’s much cheaper. Both my parents went this way. Their cremains can be found at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring, Maryland. My Dad was born in Washington, D.C., which is probably fifteen miles away, so it’s sort of logical that his cremains are there. My Mom was born in Michigan but there was no room in the family cemetery, so hers are next to Dad’s.

My wife has been clear: she wants her body to be cremated. She doesn’t want her cremains to be in a cemetery. Of all the places she’s lived, when likes where she is living now (western Massachusetts) best. She would be happy if her cremains were scattered in a local forest somewhere. So if she predeceases me, if I am faithful to her wishes, my corpse or what’s left of it won’t reside next to hers.

My mother-in-law was also cremated, but her ashes were divided into thirds. She had two kids. One third went to her new husband who didn’t really love her that much and died six months after she did. One third went to her son. One third of her is on our mantlepiece next to a picture of her. There are other cremains there too, including two cats.

Since I’ll be dead and my daughter will likely be alive, perhaps mine could rest above her fireplace, should she have one. There they will likely get as much attention as we give my mother-in-law’s cremains: we wholly ignore them. In truth, my wife didn’t like her mother much if at all, and had all sorts of resentment on how she was raised. In some ways, I think she was relieved by her death: no more nagging from her about her weight. If only she had trimmed down, took up smoking and died from it, as her mom did, maybe she would have risen in her esteem.

Logically I understand that once dead I won’t get resurrected. Emotionally though like many I don’t particularly like the idea that there won’t be some pile of composing DNA that someone could say was me if they examined the DNA. Once cremated, your DNA is gone. So if some ancestor needed to get a sample of my DNA, they would be out of luck.

I could have a DNA test done before I die. Hopefully the results could be put in an electronic repository somewhere. Given how we are overpopulating the planet, I think it’s unlikely such a repository would still be available in a hundred years. Also, since my daughter is not planning to have any children, she’s likely be the only one who’d ever want to look at the record. She loves me very much but frankly I don’t see much likelihood that she will want to do this; she doesn’t care about genetics or genealogy in general.

My siblings are too scattered around the country to organize something like a private cemetery. One of my sisters suggested it, but no one expressed interest in taking her up on it. She hopes to buy some land in upstate New York and use some of it as a cemetery. If she builds one, should I want my corpse to be retained somewhere, it’s as good a place as any to have it planted.

Unlike my wife, I have no place that I feel I’m “from”. The closest probably is Endwell, New York where I spent my formative years. But I can think of only a handful of people I knew from the time I lived there that still reside there, and only one I can call a friend. No one I know would bother to visit my remains there. Also, Endwell has only one cemetery I know of, Riverhurst Cemetery. It may be full by the time I pass on.

Both my parents were cremated either the day they died, or they day afterward. To me, that seems too soon. I’m betting that although technically dead some part of me will still be alive. Perhaps it takes hours or days for the brain to run out of oxygen and some thought remains. Perhaps the nerves still work and some part of my brain will feel the cremation. I suggested to my daughter that if she has me cremated to have my body sit in a morgue for a week first. I want to be dead-dead, not just dead.

My daughter is puzzling through her own preferences. The most ecological way to go is to have your body interred naturally: placed in a sheet perhaps and buried in a forest. Cremation is quick, but it’s polluting. Her other choice is to donate it for medical research. Let some premed student get some use out of it.

I’m still up in the air on it. If they still have cruise ships after I’m gone, perhaps she can dump my cremains into the sea from the promenade deck, then sip a Mai-Tai in my memory from a lounge chair on the pool deck. It may be that being at sea was where I really felt most at home. It’s an awesome place to visit. Its vastness is a lot like the universe in general, which we will always be part of.

When it comes to dying and coping with life, religion probably isn’t helping

I turned 65 recently. This makes me officially old, in that I’m now old enough for Medicare.

The good news is that for the first time in my life I’m on socialized medicine. The bad news is, well, I’m 65. My mother died at 85, my father at 89. That’s pretty long as lives go, but it also suggests about three quarters of my life is in my rear view mirror.

Both my parents were devout Catholics. This was one of the few things they had in common: they liked going to church and the ceaseless rituals their faith provided. For both of them, religion was mainly a way to cope with life, which can be pretty chaotic. It also offered a way to cope with death, as it provided assurances that you were loved by some higher power. Unless you led an egregiously bad life, the afterlife was promised to be much better: free of the pain that is rampant in real life plus external life to boot.

But when it came to actually helping my parents cope with death, the results were mixed. It worked better for my father who took comfort in Catholic rituals for the dying. My Dad also had an easier death, as he could exercise reasonable independence right until the end.

For my mother, dying was something of a horror show. Removal of a polyp in her colon resulted in loss of bowel control, and her Parkinson’s-like symptoms meant she could not move her eyes or focus on much. She confided in me just how terrified she was in dying. All that Catholic ritual didn’t work and seemed to offer no comfort.

She wanted family by her side 24/7, but that simply wasn’t possible as her children were living all over the United States. The best I could manage was a once a week visit. For much of her last year she languished in hospitals and a nursing home. Her fears were entirely rational. In a way, the church made dying much worse. She sensed the falsity of their teachings about an afterlife and took it as a betrayal of trust. She exited the world a scared woman with no sense of control over her life and unable to cope with the reality of death.

In a way, both of them were cheated out of a lot of what life could offer. While religion offered the illusion of certainty, it also imposed shackles on their thoughts and behaviors. Sundays were not for sleeping in, but for going to church. It imposed limits on free thought, introducing guilt or worse if they even considered transgressing those boundaries.

My father picked the wrong spouse. As a result, we got sort of Stepford parents who often seemed unreal or surreal. I hold their religion principally to blame, in that it imposed a set of rules and expectations on them often contrary to their nature but which they could not seem to escape.

It’s not surprising then that of their eight offspring, just one remains a Catholic. It just didn’t agree with us. Coming out as non-Catholics as adults simply added to my mother’s guilt. My father didn’t seem to be very much bothered, as his father was Catholic and his mother Protestant.

The good news is that many of us survivors are getting it. The “Nones” (unchurched) now amount to about thirty percent of the population, a figure that is likely to keep growing. The long term impacts of this trend are hard to know. It’s unclear whether by being unchurched these same people will be as loving and charitable as those who are churched.

As I read the tealeaves, I’d say the Nones are in general more so. Those in the churched community seem increasingly non-ecumenical, at ease only among people who think and behave a lot like them. In many ways their lives seem cloistered, and they seem unable to cope with those who don’t share their perspectives. I think this contributes to a lot of the racism and political instability that exists in our current society.

This results in large sets of “Christians” bearing no resemblance to Jesus Christ. I give Catholics points for at least being ecumenical. The word Catholic means universal, so it’s a faith meant to apply to everyone, regardless of race or creed. But even among Catholics, a lot of them no longer seem to have that ecumenical spirit. I count, for example, my brother-in-law (married to our Catholic sister) who voted twice for Donald Trump and does not want “those people” living anywhere close to him.

If religion is supposed to form your center of being and be the prism through which you experience and navigate through life, then it’s largely failing here in the United States. It’s likely to fail faster for the churched than for us unwashed heathens.

You can see it in the response to the pandemic. Minds trained by religions to be closed are minds that are conditioned to believing crazy things, like the pandemic is a Chinese conspiracy, vaccination is evil and wearing masks is an infringement on personal liberty. Over 900,000 Americans have died from covid-19. While many of these were in minority and marginalized communities, many were also people of closed minds simply untrained to cope with reality and the shared sacrifices modern living requires.

If this is what religion amounts to in the 21st century, the sooner it goes, the better.

The best in life is yet to be: an essay on healthy mortality

Another birthday has come and gone. Since this one did not end in a zero, it did not deserve particular attention. But since I am in my sixties now, most of my life is firmly in the past. I’ll be fortunate if only two-thirds of it is in my past. Aside from a nice dinner of meatloaf and seeing If Beale Street could talk at a local arts cinema, it was like any other day.

Something I find curious about aging is that the one thing that bothered me about it growing up – death – doesn’t particularly bother me anymore. Death should be less of an abstraction at my age. We had our next-door neighbor die about a year ago. Both my parents are dead; my father curiously died three years ago on my birthday. My daughter slips into her thirties this year. We are on on our fourth set of cats. Living in a 55+ community, with most of my fellow residents older than me, it appears that advancing age doesn’t seem to bother them either. The oldest is 93 and he still gets around and enjoys life.

I’m trying to figure out why this is. It could be because I am in reasonably good health and have an excellent chance of enjoying another twenty years or more in good health. Part of it could be because we are both retired and don’t have the hassle of working or worrying about money anymore. But I’m also coming to think that a lot of it is due to not being religious. In my early twenties it’s fair to say I wasn’t religious, but I was still under a religious hangover. In my case, it was a Roman Catholic hangover. It clouded my thinking about death.

With a few exceptions, religion does much more to make us anxious about death than provide a balm to address it. It does seem ironic because if you check off the right checkboxes and have true faith, then eternal life is something of a given, albeit in a different state. And we are promised that in this case our next eternal and spiritual life will be a lot happier than this one.

For many of us, life is more chore than blessing. I don’t have to step far from my home to see it. During the recent arctic blast, two homeless people died of hypothermia in a tent behind a McDonalds restaurant in Greenfield, a town twenty-five miles north of us. The local homeless shelters could not accommodate the overflow crowds. I can see the homeless wandering downtown or holding cardboard signs at some prominent intersections. As miserable as life appears to be for them though, they still cling to it. For retired people like me without much in the way of worries about descending into poverty, life at this stage is exactly what I wanted out of life and finally received. It feels like a blessing. And it is, at least partly. I was able to hang onto a good paying job with benefits long enough to reach a good retirement, and there were no intervening medical complications to strip it all away.

No wonder so many retired people are happy with their lives. Death is unavoidable but so is life. And life is often very complex to navigate, and gets more complex everyday. In my early twenties, my real angst was likely not about some inevitable future death, but whether I could pay the rent next month. It was likely that the latter fed the former.

It used to be that life was a much more miserable experience. Retirement was virtually unheard of. Many of us lived with massive pain and discomfort we could do little to remedy. Most of us died long before we were at a retirement age, often painfully and violently. If we reached old age, we depended on our offspring to tend to us when our bodies grew frail. Medicine though only became useful in the last hundred years. Social safety nets did not exist then; living in general was precarious and scary. Retirement was a luxury for the truly rich, if they survived long enough to enjoy it. Now most of us will reach retirement age and increasingly most of us can enjoy it.

In those darker and scarier times, religion promised not only salvation but also something more important: eternal comfort in some future afterlife, which was naturally appealing because for most of us life was trial and tribulation. These days though many of us can have that comfort right now, or at least when we reach retirement age. Is it any surprise then that in countries with high standards of living that religion seems to be fading away? It’s not just Western Europe; it’s happening here in the United States too, albeit more slowly. It’s fading faster in places that are more prosperous. Hence you find more atheists in New Jersey, and fewer in Deep South Alabama. Prosperity may be what kills off religion.

My devout Catholic mother went to her grave scared out of her mind. Part of it was because her condition was quite debilitating: her case of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy is similar to Parkinson’s disease. In general, it’s a bad way to go. Michael J. Fox isn’t happy about his diagnosis. Robin Williams made what seemed to him the logical choice and hung himself rather than go through a miserable decline. But my mother was also uncertain about whether she would make it into heaven. She alluded to many mistakes she had made in her life, as if any of us get through life without making mistakes. I think what really terrified her was not finding going to hell, but the idea of utter nothingness, which you have to assume happens to you after death if there is no afterlife. It terrified her probably because her Catholic faith had kept her thinking about it, at least until she couldn’t not think about it anymore.

And yet as I noted before, no one worries about their state of nothingness before they were conceived. So logically it’s kind of silly to worry about what you are after death, if anything. I do suspect though that with the right education a lot of us can learn to deal with death in a much more … what’s the word … healthier way. We can choose to be terrified of it, or not. But death cannot be escaped.

I think that’s where my head is right now. Whether my soul survives after death or not doesn’t particularly bother me. For me, what works is to be present in my own life every day, and to do things that I find interesting and meaningful every day. With death the lights may go out or not, but I do take some comfort that I am immortal in a way. Because of Albert Einstein, we know that space-time is real, and that time is an illusion. My mom is still alive somewhere in the space-time matrix. I just lack the ability to slide through space-time like a tape recorder to see her again. Some mediums though claim they can do this.

Given that space-time is a fact and that religion requires faith, knowing that space-time exists tells me that I am immortal in a way, as I am part of space-time which is effectively immortal. It is a sort of faith for the faithless. And I didn’t need Jesus Christ to find it. I needed to understand the implications of what Albert Einstein was telling us.

Scared to death

Did you see the video of Donald Trump’s hair (or more accurately his lack of it)? It looks like on February 6th Trump had a really bad hair day. The camera caught these moments when he was ascending into Air Force One. Trump of course goes through great length to hide his thinning hair. While only his hairstylist knows some of his secrets (and I’m not sure he has one), it looks like he’s getting by by letting his sideburns grow to great lengths and sweeping them back.

Frankly it looks stupid. It’s rumored that Trump has had scalp reduction surgery, presumably to pull back and make the most what he has left of his hair. It’s obviously dyed and lacquered with something to make it thicker than it is. It’s also obvious that Trump wears dentures. No one has quite that perfect teeth. But when you are 71 all you can do is make the best of what you’ve got or in Trump’s case, fake it … bigly. Trump wants to pretend he’s much younger than he is and full of vigor, but if anything he looks older than his age.

Since two posts ago I turned 61. I’m doing relatively well hair-wise, at least compared to my younger brother. But like Trump I have a lot less of it on the top of my head and what’s left is a lot thinner as well. My former hairstylist assured me I would always have a full head of hair, but I doubt it. In the sun it’s pretty obvious it’s going. Like it or not I too am aging. And while like Trump I don’t particularly want to look older than my age and would prefer to look younger than my age, I don’t intend to fake it.

Still, Trump and I share one undeniable fact: were both aging and it’s only going to get worse. I have no illusions that I’m handsome enough to attract some younger babe. Unlike a lot of the men in the news these days I’m not in the mood to try. I like the woman I married 32 years ago, faults and all. She loves me. If I were to hitch up with some younger babe I’d never really believe she loves me anyhow.

I can’t read Melania Trump but I really doubt she loves her husband. She now has more reason not to love him if these Stormy Daniels rumors are true. Even if not true, she surely knew she was marrying a man with issues and infidelities. My guess is Melania knew poverty as a child, or enough discomfort that she wanted to be kept warm and in opulence for the rest of her life. At least she got that with Trump. If he dumped her like he did with his other wives there would be a fat alimony and a big bonus: not having to endure her husband anymore.

Aside from 46 chromosomes, humans share one important thing: we are all destined to die. One way to measure a person is to see how they respond to this knowledge. I try not to think about it too much but I live in a strange family. My daughter says she is not death-phobic. She’s converting my wife who is spending her time on YouTube watching the Ask the Mortician channel, and enjoying it. For the last few years my main way with dealing with death is to live robustly. Make every day count and stay engaged. For me life is about living. Death will take care of itself, since it is inescapable.

I do get this much from listening to my wife and daughter: many of us are trained to fear death. It’s not like this in all cultures, Japan for instance. But here in the west we are in the death-denying business. Some take it to crazy lengths, and Donald Trump must be near the top of the list. Trump’s reputed recent physical was crazy. He’s 239 pounds, and was probably holding helium balloons while he was weighed. He also inflated his height to 6’3” so he can technically claim not to be obese. His doctor, the White House physician, said he was in fabulous health. But the doctor was clearly lying. You don’t need to be a doctor to see it for yourself. Trump looks terrible, gets no exercise of note, requires statins to keep his cholesterol in check and has a diet that consists of a lot of McDonalds takeout food.

Many religions teach us there is an afterlife which if true is a good reason to not be worried about death. The problem is that most of us in our hearts don’t believe it. We can’t acknowledge to ourselves that we don’t believe it and that feeds a lot of anxiety, anxiety that seems to grow worse as we age. Trump is denying his mortality bigly. So did my mom when she was dying. Her faith was pretty useless to her. She was scared out of her mind.

Only two aunts (one of them in a mental hospital) stand between me and everyone in the generation before me related to me dead. Both my parents are gone, my father most recently two years ago on my birthday. The one aunt who is still of sound mine is taking lots of supplements, is carefully watching her nutrition and is getting lots of exercise. She is the youngest of twelve. All the rest are gone. She reports it’s sad and scary to see all those you loved die. What are left are mostly children and grandchildren if you are lucky to have them. She’s got the children, but both her husband and daughter are dead and died just weeks apart in misery. Of the three boys, two are married and none produced heirs.

Being a middle child I am likely to see some of my older siblings die before me and they will experience my absence from their lives when I die. That too is part of aging and dying, at least in a large family (I have seven siblings), if you live long enough. In some ways it is better to die sooner so you don’t have to go through that crap.

With six decades to ponder death though I’ve realized a few things. Death does not scare me. I don’t want to die by having my head chopped off with an axe or from a gunshot wound but that’s a logical fear to a particularly horrible way of dying. Having watched two parents die though death is no longer a mystery. It’s natural and it’s a consequence of living. I should no more be afraid of being dead than I should be scared that there was no me before I was conceived.

I am afraid of dying a miserable death like my mother endured. I can and will take sensible precautions to avoid those kinds of death. The major cause of her death was Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. I am taking COQ-10 to make it less likely that this will kill me, although it might. Parkinson’s runs in her family. My father died primarily of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Basically his lungs died before the rest of him. I have a physical in two weeks and on my agenda is to ask my physician how I can avoid COPD. (Obviously I don’t smoke, and neither did my father. This is often where it begins.)

Something’s going to get me though and it will get Donald Trump too. You play the game, you do your best to stack the odds in your favor so you can at least optimally enjoy what time you have left, but a certain amount is left to fate. COPD is not a bad way to go if you have to go. My father was able to stay at home until nearly the very end.

So perhaps watching Ask the Mortician is not a bad idea. Maybe we have such phobias about death because we don’t want to confront our mortality. And yet there is nothing more natural than death. We will all experience dying but I suspect even in dying there is some living there. We will all find out in time if we can get suppress our fear of dying enough to enjoy living. That’s how I intend to go.

I don’t know how Donald Trump will go when his time comes, but I am confident he will fight it, lose like all of us do and maybe for the first time in his life feel humbled by forces outside of his control.

Is marriage naturally better the second time around?

Our next-door neighbor Suzanne passed away unexpectedly six days ago. On Monday she was complaining about her gut hurting. On Tuesday she had a four-hour surgery to try to repair an intestinal blockage. She moved from surgery to critical care. On Wednesday afternoon she was dead, her husband Bill became a widower and everyone on our little cul-de-sac was in a state of shock and grief.

Yesterday I went to the local funeral home to pay our respects and to celebrate her life. We’ll be trying to come to terms with this for a long time because Suzanne was a terrific neighbor: always friendly and helpful. She made our little street a real community. Her New Year’s Day parties were renown here in our 55+ community.

It seems kind of crazy to feel loss, as we knew her only two years, but we do. The night of her death, I slept fitfully at best. She and Bill were an item and were one of those crazy, always-together, supremely happily married couples that are actually hard to find. When not traveling they could be found daily on bikes or long walks, and when walking were hand in hand. There was a tangible intimacy between her and Bill that just radiated from them. When Bill told me the story of his first date with Suzanne ten years ago, his voice picked up and his face glowed. At her funeral he said without a doubt that their ten years together, eight of them married, were the best years of his life.

The truth is I was more than a little jealous of Bill and Suzanne’s relationship. It was the sort of marriage most of us aspire to have but don’t have. It was also second time around for both Bill and Suzanne, having divorced or lost spouses. I’m 32 years this month into my first marriage and don’t plan to change the situation. Still it’s obvious that my marriage can’t compete with theirs. I married a fellow introvert. We love each other and now that we are retired obviously see plenty of each other. We share some passions like Star Trek and politics but mostly inhabit our individual universes, intersecting mostly in the morning and at meal times. I’m hardly alone in thinking this way. Yesterday at the wake I chatted with many of the couples present. Without exception they agreed that Bill and Suzanne were exceptionally well matched. Their marriages could not compete.

I have noticed of those couples whose marriages I think are exceptionally intimate, they all seem to be second marriages. Thinking through the marriages I know well, like those of my siblings, all still on their first marriage none of theirs resemble Bill and Suzanne’s. Bill and Suzanne were an older couple (I was shocked to learn Suzanne was 81; she certainly didn’t look it) that nevertheless seemed eternal newlyweds. There was such an honest passion and intimacy between them that it seemed somewhat surreal. And it carried over to their larger lives. It touched us as next-door neighbors. It was like their house at the end of the cul-de-sac radiated happiness and warmth.

The cause of her death appeared to be due to an earlier cancer that went into remission, but which left her intestinal wall thin. She had the bad luck of having an obstruction at the spot, which tore the wall, which caused peritonitis. These days you sort of expect people to die slowly, at least from natural causes. When I heard she was in critical care I figured it was nothing to worry about. Someone with such spirit of life as Suzanne would doubtless pull through.

But she didn’t. Bill seems to be handling her death pretty well, expressing deep gratitude for their time together and hope they will meet again in some nebulous afterlife. Here’s hoping, Bill. Ten years of the kind of relationship you and Suzanne had should have more than filled your cup to overflowing. Perhaps that’s why Bill is handling it so well. He knows he was blessed to have these years together with her. What remains is a sense of profound gratitude rather than the deep loss I expected. Perhaps the loss will manifest itself in Bill in time.

There may be something to this second time around being better. It makes a lot of sense when I think about it. What are the odds that a first marriage will actually last a lifetime? Consider that most marry young and that both are thrust into adulthood, usually with children to quickly follow. There are so many natural tensions to deal with in a first marriage: jobs, kids, aging parents, aging people with changing needs, likely unemployment somewhere along the journey, general societal stress, siblings, toxic coworkers and maybe bad neighbors. That so many first marriages survive at all is amazing, although it gives us no insight into the quality of these marriages. I know in my case, having a life partner is deeply gratifying. With our daughter all grown up and with both of us retired, this phase of our marriage is quite sweet. We are hardly alone. It’s a phenomenon psychologists know well. Remove a lot of the stressors from a marriage and its overall quality will likely improve.

Still, I think there must be something about a second marriage that by its nature will make it likelier to be better than a first marriage. It’s likelier that fewer marriage stressors like kids and jobs will exist in a second marriage. Hopefully you have a chance to reflect on what you did to stress the first marriage and take corrective action in the second one. Most likely you will be more focused on shared interests and compatible natures than beauty, Donald Trump being the exception. Those of us in first marriages deal with the marriage as it has evolved over a very long time. We know our partner as intimately as you can possibly know someone. What you eventually end up with is someone imperfect and with foibles just like you.

Perhaps in a second marriage these imperfections become easier to overlook as they take a long time to discover. Maybe that in some part explains Bill and Suzanne’s good fortune together. Or perhaps you get a better sense of the spouse you need now since the rose-colored glasses are off. The spouse you had then doesn’t quite fill your criteria anymore.

My own father remarried late in life, and had five years together with my stepmother before passing last year at 89. I don’t know if it was a better marriage than the 55 years with my mother, but it certainly was a different marriage. It allowed my father to grow in his last years, which was good, and gave him the companionship he craved.

Should I also suffer my father’s fate of being a widower and choose to remarry, I won’t be surprised if I find that it sweeter. By no means would I say this is because there were things about my spouse that were unlovable. But just as a plant that is repotted in fresh soil often perks up, I suspect people can too. Should I predecease my wife, I certainly hope she finds a new love. It would give me pleasure to know that someone else would have the joy of her presence if I cannot.

As for Suzanne, you are already missed and have left a hole in our lives. It will never quite be the same.

Happy Fathers Day to me

This year for the first time in my life there is no father to call. No father to send a card to. No father to give an unneeded tie to either. So today has become something of a bummer of a holiday for me. Yet it is a bridge we all must pass in time if we live long enough. I can’t say that I like it.

So far 2016 has been a bad year for deaths within the family. I lost my father on my birthday (February 1). I learned recently that my Uncle Lou passed away a few weeks ago. I had plenty of uncles, but Lou was the closest to being a present one in my life, even though we had to travel to see him: either Michigan where he lived with my Aunt Penny or some state park somewhere where we met with our larger families when we were growing up. Life has been especially cruel to my Aunt Penny this year. She lost two to cancer, not just her husband of fifty plus years, but also her daughter (my cousin) Beth this week. Beth was an adventurous free spirit. She had two stints in the Peace Corps and wasn’t intimidated in the least by the poverty, heat, disease and high mortality of those regions where she worked. She died after a long bout with ovarian cancer.

A fatherless Fathers Day does make me ruminate on the importance of a father in your life. As I wrote in his eulogy my father was exceptional, at least in the role of being a father. I’m quite confident he would be in the top .1% if there were a way to rank fathers. Given my cousin Beth’s adventurous nature, my Uncle Lou was probably a similarly highly ranked father. We were both blessed to have them as nurturing presences in our lives.

Mothers tend to get most of the credit in childrearing, perhaps because they tend to do most of the work. I wasn’t keeping track with a stopwatch, but I can say that I at least pulled my weight with the parenting. While challenging at times, mostly it was deeply satisfying. We had one child, our daughter Rose who I may have recently embarrassed by publishing a video of her at ten months. The research is quite clear: an engaged father can be transformative to his children, as my father certainly was with us. Moreover, a father who lavishes love and support on his daughters is especially important in their ability to make their marks on the world.

I saw this in my own family where arguably all of the women have succeeded at least as well as the men in the family. My father never treated his daughters differently and set high expectations for them. The oldest has a degree in nursing like our mother. The next oldest has a long and successful career in the space industry and a masters degree in biophysics as well. My next sister has an MBA and is a chief buyer for Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. The youngest has a PhD in audiology and has been teaching it professionally at many universities over her career, most recently in Florida.

Seeing positive fatherhood modeled in my own father meant it was natural for me to do the same with my own daughter. She had the bonus of more attention because she had no siblings. It’s hard for me to know the extent I influenced her, but by virtue of being her parent (and an engaged one) it was clearly a lot. As I noted a few years ago as I watched her transform into a fully functional adult, she’s a lot more like me than I thought. We get along famously and often have more to talk about than she does with her mother, perhaps because she has become political like me. And she writes her congress critter, just like me.

I never tried to overtly make her like me. Math and logic don’t interest her, and I don’t see software engineering in her future. But I do see a woman with an exceptionally agile mind. She was born into a very complicated world, a world much more complex than the one I entered. And somehow she has successfully put it altogether, with help from a lot of teachers over the year as well as a liberal arts education. My contributions in the end were not just to coach her (when she was open to being coached) but to infuse her with the notion that when she put her mind to it she could, like Superman, leap tall buildings with a single bound. A mind after all is a terrible thing to waste.

Today at age 26, she is busy defining her adult life. It looks quite a bit different than how I defined mine. But she has grabbed the reins of her life in a way that pleases her. She has all the potential in the world. I am looking forward in the years ahead to see how she realizes her potential. I recently read her self-published novel (self-published only because two sets of agents had concerns she hadn’t make her fantasy world hetero-normative enough) and was both awed and humbled by the quality of her writing.

Given our often-patriarchal reality, for women to achieve their full potential it seems to require their fathers not just to give them consent but also to mentor them on how it can be achieved. It requires fathers to suspend traditional gender roles, to be unconditionally supportive to their daughters and to fearlessly champion their potential. Or not. It’s entirely okay for any child to pick any path they want. If a father though opens a door it is so much easier for the daughter to look out the door and if they choose make that leap of faith into the unknown.

This was a gift I got from both my parents, but which I perceived that I received more strongly from my father. It was a gift I gave my daughter too. So on this first father-less Fathers Day, it’s a way for me to acknowledge my father’s gift and foresight. I also acknowledge that I played my role quite well and with much love, enthusiasm and aplomb. It makes the loss of my own father easier to bear. In many ways I have replicated his model and am passing it on to her. And doing so feels immensely satisfying.

Happy Fathers Day, Dad wherever you may be. Today especially but always you remain just next to my heart.

Eulogy for my father

Grace: (in Christian belief) is the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.

My sister Mary related an anecdote about my father, who passed away on Monday at age 89. Two days before his death, she had to return to Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland to retrieve her cell phone. He was rapidly losing his war on pneumonia and pulmonary fibrosis. So she trudged back through Washington’s daunting traffic, through security and back to his room on the sixth floor. Dad looked zonked out but she did explain to Dad why she was there just in case he was listening. As she was heading out the door he heard him say in a calm and soothing voice, “Good night, dear.” It was the last coherent thing he said to her.

My father at his 80th birthday celebration
My father at his 80th birthday celebration

That was my father: so full of the milk of human kindness that even on his deathbed with hardly enough breath to form a sentence, he took the time to be kind. This was actually my father all through his 89 years and nearly four months of life: a kind, gentle and heartfelt man. It was who he was and it was apparently as reflexive as breathing.

He was this way with everyone and harsh with no one. When you were with him you felt special, heard, listened to and deeply appreciated for the unique soul that you were. It didn’t matter whether you were related to him, whether you were some momentary encounter on a bus or saw him every day. That’s the kind of father I was fortunate enough to grow up with, a true Mr. Rogers who took honest joy and interest in everyone he met, warts and all. While you were with him you thought here’s someone who really gets me and when you left him you felt the warm glow of connection.

Such empathy is sometimes expected in women, but it often feels forced. It is rare to find this in a man, but he took real joy in your presence. He was never judgmental, but always accepting, always open with a loving heart, and always happy to pass on his love to whoever he encountered in life.

A devout Catholic, he was catholic in the best sense of the world. The definition of catholic is universal, but you rarely see this kind of catholicism from Catholics. Instead you get dogmatists. Do this, don’t do that, avoid sin, lead a clean life and you will get into heaven. And my father did all of that, just absent the in-your-face dogmatism. He was about modeling the religious life than preaching it. He was abstemious to the point of fanaticism. Communion wine was as close as he ever got to drinking, and most of the time he only took the host. He never smoked. Despite having served in the Navy, he never learned the art of swearing. I only recall hearing him swear twice in his whole life, and only under the greatest duress.

He might have been seen as queer or effeminate but as best I can tell he was never perceived this way. It was not that he did not enjoy sports: he could toss the football with us and often coaxed us to do so. He was more interested in spending time with us than being outdoors or getting exercise. He was an engineer by trade, quiet and bookish, freakishly sober but gentle beyond words. Dad had to be experienced, and once experienced you rarely forgot it or him.

Dad never had grand ambitions. He never ran for political office or spoke that much about politics in general. One of the great mysteries of his marriage is where he fell politically. All we knew is that he and my mother were in different parties, but they wouldn’t discuss their feelings on candidates or elections with us. Late in his life I deciphered his quiet political leanings. He was where I thought he was all along: a Democrat, not so much because of its ideology but because he aligned with candidates that felt we needed to be compassionate to people. Curiously, in his second marriage he married a Republican, a woman who admired Bill O’Reilly but who was also a devout Catholic. They made it work somehow. My mother was the submissive in his first marriage. In the second one, his new wife was the brass and outspoken one. Dad just kept being dad, but I think he enjoyed the change of pace.

As I said in this post, Dad was saint-like, but not a saint. He did have some human foibles. Gluttony perhaps was one of his sins, although he was never obese. He enjoyed chocolate and baked goods too much, although it seemed to have no effect on his lifespan. My mom was the submissive in their marriage, but the dominant with the children. She was a harsh disciplinarian. She was in fact emotionally and physically abusive to some of us. For some of my siblings it simply washed over them like rain on a duck’s back. In my case it hurt and nearly crippled me psychologically, perhaps because I never saw it modeled in Dad. It took months of therapy after my Mom’s death to make sense of it. I was a victim of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); at least I had all the symptoms. Perhaps Dad should have stepped up to the plate and stopped my mother’s behavior, or maybe he was unaware of it because it happened when he was at work.

When Dad came home from work all his children were tickled pink to see him. We’d yell “Daddy’s home!” and run around the house excitedly. My mother was jealous of the attention he got. Sometimes a few of us would hide in the back of his closet and pretend to sneak up when he came in the bedroom to change clothes. (Our giggles generally gave us away.) We loved Dad with an honest and sincere intensity, counted our time alone with him as precious, and looked up to him.

I certainly looked up to him. Compassion forms a major part of whom I am, although I inherited a lot of my mom’s judgmental ways, so I am quick to scold. I will never be as good a man on my best day as my father was on his worst. But he taught me volumes: how to be thrifty, how to plan our finances, an engineering outlook where you make your future predictable, the importance of science and the value of empathy. I picked up some of his passions too: musicals, theater in general and an appreciation for classical music.

My friend Tom whose own father passed away recently related his relationship with his father, which was much different and much more challenging. I took my father for granted but he always wowed me. I just assumed most fathers were like mine. They were not. My father was exceptional in just about every way a human being can be exceptional. His religion gave him a frame for living his life that fit him like a comfortable glove, and amplified his native tendencies. He was not saintly but he was saint-like who intuitively and effortlessly touched people’s souls. He is a tough act for anyone to follow.

He lived a long, happy, healthy and productive life. I am convinced his life was so long in part because he was at peace with himself, and so few of us are. Like all of us, he was one soul adrift in a sea of many souls; he was just never lost. He reveled in the love all around him and drew it near him effortlessly. He lived the life that matters: not of power, or material possessions but of character, of love and the value of relationships.

I am so blessed to have spent 59 years with the man. His passing of course is a great sorrow, but bittersweet. He touched my soul so many times and I am an infinitely better and more humane person because of him. He was a gift of grace to all who knew him. I am humbled and full of gratitude to have known him.

What a man! What a life! He was a father indeed, a father in deed.

Searching for the exit

Dad is lying on his bed, half human and half ghost. He is not as pale as he was during his last bout with pneumonia, but he certainly looks ghost-like. His companion machine with its steady pulse is squirting oxygen into his nostrils with each breath. Dad is wearing pants in bed, a linen shirt and a felt shirt on top of that, despite the open door to the balcony letting in the warm moist Mid-Atlantic summer air outside. It doesn’t take much to make you cold when your body fat is gone. My father, who once towered six feet tall, was now diminished, and now weighs about 140 pounds.

He is lying flat because it is hurts less to lie, but also because standing takes work, which means using oxygen. Standing also requires muscles to move and right now it hurts to move his muscles. It probably hurts because he is not eating much, so to stay alive his body is looking for energy elsewhere and is busy converting the protein in his muscles into energy. All his muscles hurt, he tells me. Dad has the appetite of a bird, except that I suspect a bird eats more. A spoon or two of food makes him feel full, and then he wants to lie down. NPR news fills his bedroom while he lies, but mostly he is not listening. He sleeps a lot: all night and most of the day.

Frankly, there is little incentive for him to get out of bed. When he does he hurts and even with oxygen going into his nose it’s easy to feel winded. His left lung is still there but essentially it is non-functional as it is full of fibrous tissue. His stomach hurts a lot, particularly when standing. The good news is he can still stand. Dad can sort of take care of himself. In reality though he has lost a lot of his agility, so he needs someone to help him into clothes and out of clothes. He gets through the night by keeping a urinal next to his bed. Dad is not so much living as he is existing. His wife (my stepmother) provides companionship and helps in the nursing duties, that is until I arrived.

My father is scared but cannot seem to admit it, and depressed, which is something he will grudgingly admit. The Lexapro may help with the depression, but he just started taking it and it takes a few weeks to have an effect. The psychiatrist cannot see him until mid July. Dad needs lots of things, but mostly he needs to eat a whole lot more. It’s not clear if his stomach can process it.

What Dad needs even more is family and that’s why I made the four hundred mile journey to see him and spend four nights with him. I was there out of love and concern, but also because I am retired, so I can spare the time. He needs someone to listen with compassion. He needs someone who understands his whole person. I can do that, as he did the same with me many times growing up. I can hold his hand. I can make gentle suggestions. But mostly I listen. It’s pretty clear that Dad wants to leave his mortal coil. His way of doing so strikes me as passive aggressive: eat very little and spend much of his time in bed.

While he can walk, he walks haltingly. And he cannot walk too far and he walks somewhat unsteadily. When he gets out of his apartment he needs to be in a wheelchair, and generally that means Marie is pushing him. But at least for four nights it can be me. His oxygen bottle is slung from the back of the wheelchair. There is not much to look forward to in his condition, but there is at least dinner in the dining room of his retirement community, where almost everyone knows him by name. He looks diminished but when asked how he is doing he says “okay”.

It’s in the evening when something resembling life reemerges. He is energized around people and can maintain a conversation and at least for a while forget his pain. He eats little of what is on his plate, but takes sustenance from participating in the conversation around him. Returning home, with me there he will sit on the living room sofa and engage in conversation, but most of the time he hurts too much and wants to return to bed.

Getting him ready for bed is a time consuming and tedious process, which involves disrobing him, re-robing him, and cleaning him in between these states. It means assisting him with flossing and brushing and when not his shower day washing his chest, back and face. It means laying out clothes on chairs, shuffling shoes around and getting his urinal ready for night, all while tethered to a fifty-foot oxygen line. For me it means seeing his 88-year-old body so gaunt, with bones practically protruding from his skin and waiting to assist when he stands and sits. It means buttoning and unbuttoning shirts, helping him on with boxer shorts and pajamas. It means getting him a glass of water to use when brushing his teeth. It’s a ritual that varies little every night.

My presence means a lot but it is hard to quantify. On Friday I noticed him eating a little more and felt a bit cheered. I tried to be nonjudgmental as he tells me how he feels. I encourage siblings via email to call him and cheer him up. On Friday after dinner he goes to his desk and sifts through papers for a little while. This small act is actually a hopeful sign.

Fathers Day means company and phone calls, dinner provided by my sister and cookies provided by my nephew. It means love and companionship and, being my family, a discussion of contemporary politics in the living room where my conservative stepmother offers me reasons why she hates President Obama. My father mostly listens passively until I critique Fox News when he offers me a handshake. My Dad makes a point of being apolitical in front of the children, but occasionally a liberal viewpoint will leak out.

By Monday when I leave he is eating more. I encourage him to keep doing so. To start he needs enough calories not to lose any more weight, but his traditional passion foods like chocolate do little to engage him. I leave him with my stepmother who won’t coddle him and wonder if he will improve or regress again after I am gone. I can’t stay with him forever. I have a wife back in Massachusetts with chronic issues that also needs support.

There is always hope for a recovery, but realistically the best we can hope for is that he does not slide further. His pulmonary fibrosis won’t go away. He will be tethered to an oxygen container for the rest of his life. If things get much worse it will be more than my stepmother can handle. Nursing assistance will be needed and perhaps a nursing home. It’s not hard to predict that if he gets into a nursing home that he won’t live too long. He needs a social life to survive and there is none of that there.

Meanwhile, I hope that he will retain enough muscle mass not to fall, and I hope that some infection does not quickly fell him. He is doing far better (at least so far) than my mother did in her decline. Dying however slowly and incrementally is still an ugly process. Love and companionship help, but it’s not quite enough. He slips a bit further away from me with every passing day. It leaves me sad and melancholy.

Dying is not fair, but it must happen. There seem infinite paths for dying and my Dad seems to be choosing his way through it somewhat. All I can do is try to make things better, which may be giving Dad a sponge bath, holding his hand when he is low and letting him know how much I love him.

Dying well

Dear old Dad is dying. It’s been an inference most of us have made based on his condition, which has been slowly but steadily worsening. Yesterday it became more explicit in his email to us. Dad’s left lung basically doesn’t work anymore. In his case it is due to a condition called pulmonary fibrosis. With just the right one working, he doesn’t get as much oxygen as he used to. Consequently he is frequently tired. He now joins a dubious but rather large club at his retirement community of men getting supplemental oxygen. His wife (my stepmother) now gets to wheel him to and from the dining rooms for his evening meals.

That’s not the half of it. He’s lost weight and is continuing to lose weight. For a man that was once six feet tall, he is down to 146 pounds. He looks gaunt. He has little appetite. In fact, his stomach hurts most of the time. It hurts more when standing and less when lying down.

When we saw him last toward the end of April he could walk unassisted. He can still walk but of course it will tire him so it’s not a great idea for him to do too much of it. He could also engage in conversation, although my stepmother was the more articulate of the pair. That he can still type an email means he retains motor skills.

If you have to die he is doing it pretty well. He is still at home, which is his apartment in his retirement community. He may be able to avoid assisted living altogether before he goes. How much longer he has is a mystery, but his time is likely in months, if not weeks. He has clearly given up trying to prolong his life. At 88, his body is simply wearing out. Even if he had extraordinary surgery like a lung transplant, he is very susceptible to infection. Visiting his dying sister last year involved flying cross country, which meant he caught pneumonia somewhere across the country at 35,000 feet. He informed us last month that he won’t be coming to a planned family vacation in July. His driving days are likely over. Unless he needs to see a specialist or go to the hospital, he’ll probably remain inside his retirement community until he dies.

Dad is pragmatic about death. In a retirement community, death is hardly a stranger. It is all around you. It is simply a matter of wondering when your number will be called. The community mailboxes have new death notices posted nearby pretty much every day. People drop out of your life rather mysteriously. It usually means they have passed on but didn’t want to make a fuss over it. You either accept death pragmatically or you let it rule you. My Dad has opted for the former.

His will has long been in order, along with end of life directives. He tries not to look too far ahead and take each day as it comes. He is gracious in his decline and grateful for his life. He realizes his dying could be much worse. He probably won’t lose his motor skills, like my mother did. He probably won’t end up in a nursing home, except possibly at the very end. If he needs hospice there is a good chance it could be done in their apartment. He could die in his bed, which is probably how he would prefer to go, the same bed (moved many times) that he and my mother inhabited over their fifty plus year marriage.

It probably won’t be the pulmonary fibrosis that kills him. Most likely he will succumb to some sort of virus or infection. In the end it was not the Progressive Supranuclear Palsy that killed my mother ten years ago, but a common bladder infection that she could not fight off. At this stage of life, what once you could fight off now is more likely to kill your overwhelmed body. His last bout with pneumonia required a hospitalization, but he survived it. Another one would likely kill him.

Still, he is grateful. He is grateful for his long and mostly healthy life. He is grateful for all of his eight children who turned out to be all good eggs. He is grateful for my mother and grateful to find a new partner in marriage late in life. He is grateful for having his wits together, being able to speak, being able to think clearly and being able to participate in much of what makes life enjoyable. He has lived a long life but he senses his end is not too far away. He neither wants to postpone it nor accelerate its end. He is tired of fighting what he cannot change. He is dying and he is content to die when he is called.

I can’t speak for all of his children but in general we are content to let him go in his own way and his own time. Of course it saddens us that he is dying and of course we will grieve when he is gone, and probably a lot before then too. But he has lived a long and rich life. He has done all those things that good people are supposed to do and much more. While my mother was dying, when he wasn’t caring for her he was tutoring one of the staff in the nursing home in math. Until very recently he ushered at church. He gave generously of his limited treasure. He loves us all and treated us all with kindness and respect, which we returned. He retains a serene confidence in his Catholic faith and his belief that he will be in heaven soon. His issues are not so much dying, which is inevitable, but day to day issues. Like most aging men he has an enlarged prostate. He needs convenient and frequent access to a bathroom.

Still, it is hard not to feel some grief as he declines. Some parts of him simply are no longer there. He took enormous comfort in food. Chocolate cakes used to be his passion. Chocolate anything was largely unsafe in his house. With so little appetite, chocolate is no longer a passion. He most likely has eaten his last slice of chocolate cake. He hasn’t the interest or the appetite for it.

I’ve urged my siblings to go see him and tell him what he has meant in their lives, although I think he already knows. I need to see him again soon too. Now that I live in New England it is not as easy, but I can probably drive down monthly to spend time with him. It’s unclear to me how much handholding he needs. It may be that I simply need to hold his hand a few more times. He is serene in his decline and accepting of it, seemingly without apprehension, taking one day at a time and eking out whatever remaining joy it will offer him in the time he has left.