Thursday, April 17, 2014


I went down to Florida a month ago to see my father. As an industrial-strength smoker and an alcohol-tolerant lover of Scotch, he'd reached the point some years ago where his vascular system had passed the point of self-sustaining health. His arteries were clogged in his legs and he'd have procedures to open them up, to insert stents, etc., but they always closed up on him. Last year he had surgery to open up one of his blocked carotids--it closed up again, too. This year he had surgery to open the other one. This didn't go so well.

My father suffered a stroke during that surgery, but a small one. His recovery sent him to an inpatient rehab center where he spent a couple of days re-mastering his motor skills. And then he slumped over in pain and an emergency bowel resection was called for. There's no way of knowing for sure, but the surgeon thought this might have bee caused by another blood clot.

After that it was back and forth from ICU to a regular room and to ICU again. The hope was to get him well enough to get back to the rehab facility and then back home. Hopefully, if the gods were smiling, back on the golf course.

Unfortunately he developed pneumonia. Evidently this round was managed with antibiotics but then he suffered another bout. This also was treated with antibiotics. When it came back or revived or intensified the third time, based on the fact the bacteria causing it actually belonged in his body but had ended up in the wrong place, antibiotics weren't going to help.

He'd had other issues during his nearly month-long stay, including a persistent ICU delirium that just didn't want to let go for long. In any case, the decision was made to transport him to hospice care and it was at this facility that he passed away quietly yesterday morning.

It's difficult to sort out all the emotions that one feels in situations like this. And if we haven't faced them before, it's just a question of time. Visiting was tough, especially when he was in the delirium, and when he was in pain, and when he was just lucid enough to scream about going home. But those few times this past month where he was present, and himself, and wonderful, were magical despite the tragic setting.

I went down twice. The first time after he suffered the stroke. There wasn't a lot of support from my family but that was more or less to expectation. I know that leaving him every night was hard, and leaving to go home was exponentially more so. When I went back after a week, my family came along and it was so great seeing him interact with my children that one more time.

But then he got worse, and I never had that optimistic feeling. A couple of the doctors were wonderful with their bluntness but of course, no one had the kind of hard answer everyone asks in these situations. I didn't want to hold them to their opinion, I just wanted the benefit of their experience, at least anecdotally. That's not something they're really comfortable giving, however.

We were scheduled to leave on Tuesday night but with him taking a turn for the worse and with the news of the ineffectiveness of continued antibiotic treatment, it made things even that much harder. No one knew how long he could last. Based on watching my grandmother slowly go when her lungs failed her, I didn't think he had long, maybe three days. But they thought he was strong, and could maybe last for weeks.

How do you know when to go? How do you decide to walk away from your own father, knowing it's unlikely you will ever see him again in this life?

There are practical considerations, like if I'm not home, the kids don't get home schooled properly, they can't get to Latin classes or dance classes or anything else. But there are always practical considerations and in the grand scheme of things they don't mean much. I knew that if I thought his passing were imminent, I would stay. I knew that if I were needed by my mother, I would stay. I knew that if my dad were lucid, I would stay. But without those circumstances, would is the right thing to do?

I talked to one of the nurses, who said the same thing as my wife: do what you're comfortable with doing. Compassionate, yes; helpful, not really.

My own brand of logic told me this: if I wasn't going to stay to the end, however long that would be--1 week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks--and that if he weren't going to be aware of my presence, than I should probably look after my own family and go home. The time of leaving under these circumstances becomes more or less arbitrary at this point.

So after definitely staying and then definitely leaving and then definitely staying, I left with with my family home to New Hampshire. Thanks to the vice presidents speaking in Boston (apparently no planes can take off or land while this happens), weather, and mechanical problems leading to two switched planes, we didn't get back home until six o'clock the following morning, which was yesterday.

About five hours later, my sister called me with the news. After this sunk in, my first thought regarding myself was, I should have stayed. But I couldn't have known. Intuition shouldn't always count when making the tough decisions, but it's always present when you second guess yourself later.

So my dad passed away, in the company of a doctor, his wife, and his dog. I believe he wasn't in pain at that point--finally--and that he slipped away gently after too many weeks of fighting and hurting and hoping.

I love you, Dad, and I'm sorry you're not on that golf course today. Whatever I became as a man was either directly or indirectly due to his influence, and while I may not have turned out how either of us would have expected, here I am, and I miss him. I will miss him for a very long time, maybe always. And that knowing, all of the not knowing, is how it is, and for all of us.

He may have been a fan of my writing, I don't really know. But he was supportive and he was proud and since I didn't follow in his footsteps and take over his company all those years ago, knowing that was so was a very grand thing indeed. My first two books are coming out in one volume later this year--the first is dedicated to my wife, and the second is dedicated to my dad. It was this way before this last hospital stay and I suppose I'll keep it that way now. But he's never going to see it, never going to have the experience of having a book dedicated to him (in his lifetime), and that makes me sad because I think he would have gotten a kick out of it.

For all you golfers out there, crush a tee shot on the first hole and hoist a Scotch and soda in the 19th. I will thank you for it.