On May 25, my Dad died. He was 94 years old. He fought to the very end. Not by taking extraordinary measures to stay alive, but by simply staying alive.
Of all the ways I could memorialize my father, I want to talk about what an efficient man he was. He did nothing to excess. He ate when he was hungry and finished when he was satisfied. He didn’t drink to excess, except in the heyday of his social life and even then, only on social occasions. He used to smoke back in the fifties – but then again, who didn’t? He never indulged himself with things. He had what he needed. And the most efficient thing he did was to prepay for his final arrangements through the National Cremation Society.
All my siblings and I knew about these arrangements but it wasn’t until we had to put them to use did it dawn on us what a precious gift he left. I believe Dad lived as long as he did because he lived efficiently. He managed to survive on the meager amount he received from Social Security and an even smaller survivor benefit from my mom’s pension. And still he was able to save a small amount of money that was just enough to pay for the home health aides we employed in his final three weeks. He didn’t have arthritis or any other ailment of inflammatory nature. He was steady as a rock until the day he died. He liked to hold out his arm to show me how steady he was. Safe for a bout of glaucoma and late in life high blood pressure, he was in great health.
My mother preceded him in death 30 years, so it is me, my three siblings, our partners and our five children who survive him We joke and wonder who inherited the longevity and thrifty Eu-Gene (my dad’s name and a play on words). It was most likely because of my mother’s death that my father made sure to prepare for his final arrangements. My mother’s passing took us all by surprise and we were unprepared. We scrambled to arrange for everything and ended up using an available space in a plot that belonged to my father’s cousin. My Dad made sure he didn’t burden us with those details. Because of that, all that was left for us to do was to be with him as he lived his final days. And there is no real preparing for that. Sure, hospice gave us a binder full of information and a one-pager of ‘what to expect’ toward the end, but this was new territory.
Dad claimed he was ready to go and knew his time was near. Even still he would say ‘goodnight, hope to see you in the morning.’ For that reason, nighttime was hard for me. I thought I would get that call in the middle of the night. Why is that? Why did I associate death with darkness? I was working at my home office. It was around 330p on Wednesday, May 25 and my sister, Liz called, as she does, often. She said, “Dad’s home.” It took me about 3 seconds to realize what she meant. Death didn’t come for Dad in the middle of the night. It came while the sun was still high in the sky. He went to the light in the light of day, with my sisters by his side.
The hospice service took care of contacting the National Cremation Society which identified the nearest funeral home. The director came to the house to explain the details. I listened in by phone. Everything was in order. All that was left to be done was to order flowers, supply clothes for my Dad and set a date and time. When we arrived at the funeral home my siblings and I signed the required documents. It was just 11 of us for services. The funeral home set up the room in a traditional way, with rows of seats. It seemed strange to be so formal, so we got rid of the extra (and uncomfortable chairs) and took the arm chairs and settees and brought them close together and shared our thoughts and memories of Dad.
We said our ‘goodbyes.’
Dad’s ashes arrived at my house about one week later. They are contained in a simple box. There are no lingering bills to pay. No fuss, no muss. Efficient.