I just realized today that my age is half-way in between my mother's age when she died (she was 63 and never recovered from a stroke she had a week before) and my father's age when he died--83.
Two very different deaths.
When I was in college I noticed my mother taking tiny little pills.
I checked the bottle and it was nitroglycerin.
She had had a heart problem for years and hadn't told me.
I visited her in hospital the last few days. It was a 5 1/2 drive from Morgantown, where I was in college, to Bluefield, where she was in the hospital. I wasn't sure I could do it so I went to see the Episcopal chaplain. He put on full eucharistic vestments to give me communion and anoint me with holy oil. I made the drive fine.
I fed her vanilla ice cream but I wasn't sure if she knew me.
Lots of relatives around and the day before she died, my Aunt Elsie Ours said to me, "Happy Birthday". Only she remembered. I hadn't even remembered myself.
My dad and I were with her when she died. The doctors had warned us she might try to set up, even though she was unconscious, before she died.
She did and my father started shouting her name, but she laid back down and died.
My father's death was different. He had gone senile without me knowing it and called me in the middle of the night to tell me 'my friends' were going through his stuff. I flew out the next morning to Charleston and rented a car to make the 100 mile drive to Princeton, across a snow closed West Virginia Turnpike. Mine was the only car I saw on that long, slick drive.
I made arrangements the next few days and he flew back to Hartford with me. He lived with us for 5 months or so until he started wandering away. I put him in a nursing home five miles away and he kept trying to escape in his wheel chair. He wasn't sure who I was and often talked with me 'about me', thinking I was his cousin, Ralph LaFon.
The last talk I had with him was in St. Rapheal's hospital in New Haven where he was being treated for a bowel blockage.
He was as 'with it' as he had been in two years. He knew who I was and asked about Bern and Josh and Mimi. It reminded me of talks before all that happened.
I said, "Dad, I'm going home."
And he replied, "I'm going home too."
If he had been a member of my parish, I would have sat down and stayed with him. But he was my father and I didn't.
When I got home, ten minutes later, the hospital called. I just missed being with him when he died.
I went back to the hospital and sat with him for an hour or so.
The Black nurse who had been shaving him in his last moments, told me his last words.
"He sat up and said, 'I gotta get out of here!'"
Not bad last words.
He was a 'hard-shell Baptist', though I never knew what the adjective was about, and a mild racist. He died in a Catholic Hospital being shaved by a black woman. Irony is not dead.
I even let a Catholic priest bless his body. He might have scolded me for that, but he surely didn't care at that point.
Bern and the kids and I flew back to WV on the same plane with his body to be buried beside my mother, whose death he had been mourning for almost 20 years.
When your parents die, being an only child aches as in no other moment.