Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Happy Birthday, Dad
My father would have been eighty-seven today. My sister took this photo on his birthday four years ago, when he was still living in Ocean Springs MS. I don't think I was there then; I'd gone to see him that Christmas, and I don't think I went out during the summer, too. I was there for some of his other birthdays, though.
(Have I posted this photo before? If so, please forgive me.)
Behind Dad, you can see a small portion of his beloved music collection, which was color-coded by genre and alphabetized by artist. Note the birthday candles in the cans of Ensure, a joke Dad would have appreciated, and also the plaid shirts. He loved plaids, the louder the better. Just last night, going through a bag of his things, I found his all-time favorite plaid shirt, which had once been very loud indeed but became more and more faded as the fabric grew thinner. He must have had that shirt for well over twenty years. I folded it and put it carefully in my closet.
Here's my favorite recent picture of him, taken October 18 of last year, the night he arrived in Sacramento. That was the last night of his life he wasn't on oxygen (although, in retrospect, he should have been even then). We stayed at a hotel in Sacramento that evening and drove home to Reno the next morning. As we crossed a particularly scenic section of the Sierras, Dad said happily, "Oh, I'm going to love living in the West!"
But as soon as he got out of the car in my garage, he collapsed, and Gary and I called 911, and Dad went to the hospital. Between then and March 21, when he died, he only spent two months in any space he could call his own: one month in an apartment and one in an assisted-living facility. The rest of the time, he was in hospitals or nursing homes. He always told his nurses and doctors -- in Reno, San Francisco, and Palo Alto -- "I started moving to Reno on October 18, and I'm still moving."
He routinely nagged me about my writing. "Have you finished your book yet?" Almost four months after his death, I still haven't been able to bring myself to write his obituary.
In my Tolkien class this afternoon, we'll be talking about the first two chapters of The Lord of the Rings, including the famous birthday party when Bilbo vanishes. That seems very apt, today (or, as Tolkien would put it, applicable). "I regret to announce that -- though, as I said, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to spend among you -- this is the END. I am going. I am leaving NOW. GOOD-BYE!"
Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you. I'm sorry you never fully arrived here, and I hope that wherever you are now, you're at peace.