Today is the fourth anniversary of my father's death at age 87. The last time I saw him, he wasn't able to recognize me. I believe that he thought I was a nurse. For health reasons, my mother had to go home early, so that evening, I was the only visitor.
Dad's distress at being alone in a strange hospital room, not remembering why he was there, kept him from sleeping. He felt abandoned and would call out for help. I stood next to the bed so he could see that I was there. His eyes were wide open with anxiety, and he complained of insomnia. I suggested that he might be able to sleep if he closed his eyes and let his body relax. I promised I would stay with him until he fell asleep. So he said, "I'll give it a try," closed his eyes, and dozed off peacefully. Those were his last words to me.
Here is the eulogy I delivered at his funeral.
One of the things that was really important to my father was education. When I complained about having to go to school every day, he told me how much he had appreciated the opportunity. He claimed that even when he broke his leg, he was so determined not to miss any classes, that he got his friends to carry him to school on a stretcher. This is Southern California, so at least it wasn't five miles in the snow.
His education was interrupted by World War II. Just getting into the army required a lot of determination. The first time he tried to enlist, he was rejected because he was seriously underweight. So he spent the next few weeks trying to fatten himself up, and on the morning of his second attempt, he bought ten pounds of bananas, which he ate during the streetcar ride to the enlistment office. That worked. But because he was nearsighted, he wasn't eligible for combat duty. Instead he went into the medical corps. Of course, as he pointed out, the only difference between the medics and the regular soldiers, was that the medics didn't have any guns to defend themselves. And that big red cross on top of the truck looked like an excellent target.
After the war, the GI Bill made it possible for him to attend the University of Redlands, where he majored in English. In 1952, when he wrote his master's thesis, he wanted it to be about his favorite author, P.G. Wodehouse. But his advisors said Wodehouse wasn't an important enough writer, so he chose Somerset Maugham instead. Today Wodehouse is acclaimed as a great master of English prose, and is the subject of many master's theses, which shows that Dad was right, and ahead of his time.
Coming of age during the Depression, security and stability were important to him. He took a frugal and focused approach to the American dream: a family, a suburban home with two cars in the garage and plenty of food on the table. He was married for over 60 years, fathered five children, and lived to see his grandchildren and great grandchildren. He taught for over 40 years, sending countless teenagers into the world with verb conjugations dancing in their heads.
One of his aspirations was to be a professional writer. It's an overcrowded field where success is hard to come by. Over the course of a few decades, in his spare time, he worked on a couple of novels inspired by Wodehouse's style. I don't think they turned out quite way he had envisioned, and when he self-published them, he told me he didn't think anyone would read them, but at least they were finally finished.
Nobody gets everything they want out of life. All that really matters is achieving what's most important to you, and I think he did. And that can give us all a large measure of satisfaction and comfort.