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A daughter remembers her dear father

February 09, 1997

This column is about my dad, who died at home in Ohio on Jan. 27. Dad died as he lived - quietly, peacefully and uncomplaining. His family was with him. He was in no pain, and on no drugs.

My father was one of those strong, quiet guys who didn't like a lot of fuss made about him. He almost always made a face when you tried to take his picture.

He had an incredibly dry sense of humor, which is probably why he was able to survive two crazy kids and a wife who fed ants and considered spiders house pets.

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Dad was generous, even to the last. About a month before he died he hid $60 of the money mom had given him when his pension check came.

Seems mom had dipped into dad's wallet once too often. "Your father was a little peeved," mom said later.

We eventually found the money tucked into a sweater pocket in the bedroom closet.

Since he had his stroke seven years ago, dad had sort of been at mom's mercy. Physically, he was restricted from right-side paralysis. And he couldn't talk. Occasionally he would swear, which he'd never done in his life, but you could hardly blame him.

To dad's credit, he didn't complain too much when she put him behind the wheel of a car, and didn't object a whole lot when she put him on the riding lawn mower and sent him off into the yard without any way of stopping. (The brake was on the right side).

But dad could think clearly. And he took control of his life where he could.

That meant hiding cash so he could give me gas money to get home after a visit there, and to buy Coke for himself and my brother Ralph when they went walleye fishing on Lake Erie.

That meant getting on his electric cart and riding to the store through rush-hour traffic to get himself a Coke when mom refused to give him anymore on the grounds it wasn't good for him. (Mom later relented on this rule).

That meant he dressed himself every morning (until four days before his death).

That meant that dad, who once said he didn't want to live if he couldn't golf or fish anymore, kept fishing one-handed as long as he could.

That meant that when his cancer was diagnosed last summer he chose to go on the family's annual fishing trip to the French River in Canada, rather than immediately start chemotherapy.

Fishing was dad's passion. It's not that he kept a lot of fish. He threw back 99.9 percent of what he caught, revived more than a few fish, and smashed the barbs on his hooks to keep from hurting them.

He reveled in nature. Casting his line into the green blue of the French River was perhaps his greatest joy. It didn't really matter if he caught anything - although it was great if he did. What mattered was the loon cries, the fresh air, the bowl of stars overhead on a clear night...

That meant when doctors told him the chemotherapy wasn't working, and they'd give him no more, he chose to die.

This summer on our family fishing trip, we'll honor dad's request and scatter his ashes in his beloved French River.

It would be an understatement to say dad was strong-willed. Stubborn is actually probably a better word. But he didn't impose that will on anyone, and he lived his life in modest dignity.

From the beginning - from the time he had his stroke, my father never complained. He never expressed anger or self-pity or fear. He never asked for special treatment. He kept his sense of humor.

When I think about it, dad was always in control, even when it seemed his life was being taken from him, bit by bit.

When he decided to give up, he stopped eating and he laid down and smiled that sweet smile of his. And he kept smiling until he was too weak to smile. Even then his eyes smiled.

Dad died four days after he decided to do just that.

As the minister said at his service, dad had his priorities right. I figure right now he's fishing up a storm on the most beautiful river out of this world, with no deer flies to torment him.

I'll miss dad terribly. After all, he'd been there all my life. But if mom, who was married to him for 51 years, can survive, I figure I can too.

A friend once told me that when one door closes, another opens. I believe that, because the day dad closed the door on his earthly life, another swung open.

Our family was in the living room. My brother Ralph was too upset to insult me even a little bit. It was uncharacteristic. I put my arm around his shoulder and told him I loved him. He said nothing.

"I just can't get him to say that," I said to my sister-in-law, Gail.

Then Ralph spoke. Actually, he growled. "Of course I love you. Why else would I put up with you?" he said in obvious irritation.

Like I said, another door opened. Well, sort of.

I think dad probably got a kick out of that.

Terry Talbert is a Herald-Mail staff writer.

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