Daughter has to laugh fulfilling dad’s final wishes
My 95-year-old father recently passed from life to life after a falling accident that left our 91-year-old angel of a mother with six broken ribs and a list of various other injuries.
She had been lovingly caring for him while his dementia overcame his every waking interval. After our mother was hospitalized, my sister and I were left to care for our failing frame (or so we thought) of a father, dreading his every waking moment.
Somehow over the years, she and I had mourned the loss of our father, recognizing that who had raised us was in fact already lost to a confusing and frustrating way of life where he couldn't recall time, places, incidents or reality. He had become a victim of his own loss and was now left in a state of confused demoralization, to which he reacted with irritation, ill temper, impatience, anger and anxiety.
In other words, he was in a terrible state of mind, his life lived day to day in the darkness of dementia. And we grieved for him during this process.
My mother, however, after being married to him for 72 years, took her vows very seriously and cared for him with every ounce of devotion (and it took a lot, believe me!) she had ... until his fall.
My sister and I were faced with the reality that things needed to change and that our mother would no longer be able to care for our father at home, so we started with a call to their local family doctor. First, he expressed that it had been an honor to be able to care for such a devoted couple who epitomized the values of marriage.
After we explained what had happened, he agreed and advised us to call 911 and have our father hospitalized. He had recently had a case of cellulitis, and it appeared to be resurfacing and to use that reason. So we did.
This was after we couldn't get our father out of the bathroom. His blind inflexibility wouldn't allow him to be guided back to his chair. My sister and I both tried to pry his hands off the railing that was installed to aid mobility, only to find out how strong that old man really was!
So I gave up and put my arms around him and told him how much he meant to us, how much we loved him, kissed and caressed him and just held him. And in a rare moment of clarity, he started crying and said, “I don't know why.” With that, he let us get him up and help him to his chair while we silently waited for the ambulance.
“Hey, John, wanna go for a ride?” one of the blessed local fireman asked him. My sister and I thought they would have to inject him with horse tranquilizers to get him out of there in one piece and save all of our sanity.
But no. In another moment of clarity, he thought about it and said, “Sure!”
This is the last image I have of my dad: He was being peacefully loaded into the mobility chair and wheeled out and freighted into the ambulance — calmly, contentedly — and I swear I could even visualize a small smile on his face.
That’s how my sister and I got out of the way while nature took its course and he never recovered and came home. He went Home.
Now it was time to complete the mortuary instructions: no funeral, cremation and no container for his ashes. Wait. What?
No container for his ashes? How do we get them out of there?
Of course, the funeral home wanted to sell us a container that cost $800; I think the cheapest one was maybe $500. If they can put a man on the moon, they can come up with something better and more financially feasible.
We finally agreed to the simplest thing we could think of: a plastic bag. With that settled, we agreed to taking his ashes at least in a covered container out the door. No problem.
My dad had specific instructions of where he wanted his ashes scattered. It was an obscure railroad siding many many miles off a paved road.
My sister and I GPS’d it and headed for the site. The connecting road was a red dirt, dusty, four-wheel drive, hunting road. We did a tumbleweed turn and searched for the location on this very windy day, conjuring an image of the Peanuts character Pigpen as we trundled along down this lost dirt road.
Somehow, after we pulled over and got red-dusted out by about the fourth hunter, as they zoomed by my Volkswagen bug — and after we bottomed out for the sixth time — we realized the humor in our efforts and began to giggle and tell stories of our dad and how much fun he had provided us during our lifetime. It started to be fun.
After a while, we finally arrived at a location that seemed to fit his story of why this site meant so much to him, and we finally stopped. On that very windy day, we went to the dust-covered trunk and there, in an Amazon box, in a plastic produce bag, were our dear father’s remains. Now, it was funny.
Have you ever been in a mood when everything is hilarious but nothing really is? That was the mood for the day.
We proceeded to take his ashes to where we thought was a good place. I stuck my hand in the bag to grab a handful of ashes and said, “Ewwww! There's chunks!”
We immediately started laughing, inappropriate or not. So we decided to dump the whole bag instead of doing it a little bit at a time because, remember, it was WINDY! And the ashes went everywhere!
Then we picked up some rocks around the site to adorn our mother’s garden with remembrances of our excursion. After that, I said “Now every time I see a pile of ashes, I'm gonna think it's somebody’s dad.” We about died laughing.
Afterward, we celebrated by having a bowl of ice cream in his honor because he loved ice cream. Hopefully, we had fulfilled his wishes, from using limited funds to temporarily store his ashes to locating his own memorial disposal site and concluding with celebratory ice cream.
You had to know my dad to appreciate his ingenuity to be able to pinch a penny and his creativeness to use his hands and skills to build something from nothing. His dry sense of humor would have enjoyed our antics of trying to use the tools he taught us to help him find his final resting place at an obscure railroad siding, all so he could complete the circle that started with a long story of a close brush with death that scared him to LIVE!
It was our honor to have been his children. We were loved by him in his own way every day of our life, and he finished it with love and clarity.
Thank you, Dad. We will always love you.
Marilyn E. White lives in Medford.