I lost my father last week. He was elderly and in poor health, and it was not entirely a surprise, though it was difficult and sad, as death almost always is. He'd left instructions that no extraordinary measures be taken to prolong his life if the end seemed imminent, so a week ago Sunday, we took him off life support when the doctors said it was time. They said he might last a couple of days.
Removing life support means taking away feeding tubes and water. My father lived eight days off life support, the last few under heavy sedation. Suffice it to say, I now think Dr. Kevorkian was onto something. Letting a loved one starve and dehydrate for a week feels inhumane, no matter how sedated they may be.
Early in the week, he appeared to be comfortably sleeping. Nothing in his appearance gave away the fact that he was dying. He looked as though he could awaken and begin a conversation about Mizzou football or the damn Democrats or my mom's cinnamon rolls. But he couldn't and hadn't been able to for months. His mind had moved on. His body lingered behind, shrinking before our eyes.
I heard a joke on the radio as I drove from Memphis to Mexico, Missouri, for my father's final week: A well-dressed elderly gentleman walks into a bar, sits down, and orders a vodka martini. After a sip, he turns to the woman sitting next to him and says, "So ... do I come here often?"
I laughed when I heard it and thought of my father, who would have loved the joke, as he loved all corny jokes. And as he loved his wife of 57 years, who at 90 was the only one who could communicate with him in these last months and who fed him and bathed him and picked him up when he fell — every time, until last week, when her magic finally ran out. The doctors made their pronouncement, and his family watched and waited, marking the last days of a good, kind man who played trumpet in big bands, fought the Japanese across the Pacific, drove a jeep through the ruins of Hiroshima, came back to his hometown, bought a house, fathered four children, joined the Kiwanis, played lots of bogey golf, and loved his wife to the end of his 88 years on this earth.
They're not making men like that anymore. Get some rest, Dad.