Saturday, January 21, 2006

In Memory of . . .

Today would have been my father's 90th Birthday. As I have done ever since I left home, I would have called him sometime today and had a very brief conversation with him. I will not do that this year, nor did I do it last year. My father passed away September 10, 2004. Last year was a strange, melancholy day. This year is pretty much the same. I wonder, though, how long such feelings will last on January 21. Will time erase the melancholy? More importantly, will the day soon hold no significance what-so-ever? I think that is what I fear most, that my life will move forward and soon January 21 will be just any other day. I will not raise a glass that night each year in silent toast to my father. I will not remember that once upon I time I used to call him and wish him 'Happy Birthday' on January 21 each year. January 21 will be just any other day.

I am not psychic nor omnipotent, and I do not know for sure what will happen. I can only hope that I always remember and that a year does not come when suddenly it is the end of January and I have totally forgotten about my father's birthday.

As I write this blog, this entry into my life, and a remembrance of my father's life, I think back to an earlier time - not so long ago - in the Spring of 2004 when I was taking a class called The Psychology of Aging. It was a neat class with a fantastic professor, and I learned a hell of a lot in that class. It was a fairly easy class with only two assignments: a journal and a term paper. The journal was fairly easy because throughout the class the professor mentioned topics that could be included in the journal and each student only had to write ten journal entries.

Below is the first entry of the journal. This entry holds great irony for me, and sadness, for in many ways, I think it was almost a psychic moment.


April 2004 - The Day Old Came for a Visit and Did Not Leave

For the majority of his eighty-four years my father lived a good and active life. At the age of sixty-eight he finally retired (his last child having graduated high school - that would be me) and began to truly enjoy life. He played golf four to five times a week, took long walks on the days he did not play golf, and stayed active at night with his wife in various bridge groups (and even took up square dancing). If you asked him about his age, if he felt old, he would just laugh and say 'no'. He was definitely an active and energetic man and it seemed that age truly had little effect on him.

In January 2000, the year of the false Millennium, my mother and father got a bacterial/viral flu that pretty well put them both in bed for a week. My mother recovered just fine, but my father was a different story. He will tell you today, four years later, that he never felt old until after that strange bout with the flu. From that point on, old came for a visit and would not leave. He never regained his energy and never again played eighteen holes of golf. Within six months of the flu he was no longer playing golf at all. If that was not bad enough, other problems began to settle in - neuropathy of the feet, among other things - that began to diminish his once active and energetic life. He had to have special braces made to help him walk.

During the course of the last eighteen months, my father got to the point where he was barely eating and needed a cane (sometimes a walker) to get around. The children - myself, two sisters and one brother - came in more frequently; sensing, perhaps, an inevitably, a prelude to death. Well, stubborn as my father is, death might be knocking at the door, but my father is not answering. He is currently on prednisone - the miracle drug as my mother calls it - and his appetite has returned and he rarely needs either the cane or walker to get around. He still feels old, will now admit that he is old, and he will tell you that he misses playing golf everyday of h is life, and yet he seems in no hurry to answer that faint knock on the door.

Lastly, in my most recent conversation with my mother she said, "You're father is now looking for things to do. He even cleaned up the kitchen the other night." I guess miracles do happen, and old dogs can learn new tricks, for my father never cleaned up the kitchen after a meal . . . until old settled in and would not leave.


In a strange way, I could not know that I was eulogizing my father in the months before he would die. I wrote the journal entry in April. My father entered the hospital in July and never came home again, going from there to a nursing home and then on to the great beyond. The journal entry became a legacy of sorts, an ode to my father. I could not have known when I wrote the journal how soon death would claim my father. I only knew that the class brought many things to mind and all I could envision at the time was my father's determination to survive. He promised my mother he would make it to their 50th anniversary. He did.

On June 26, 2004 my parents celebrated 50 years of marriage. Within two weeks my brother, sisters and myself, along with our mother, wondered if that was Dad's last hurrah. My father was in the hospital, unable to walk and his mind slipping away. It is a horrifying reality to see a once vibrant person strapped into a hospital bed. It was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life to spend the night in the hospital with my father, trying to make him understand where he was and what was going on. In his mind, he was anywhere but the hospital. It was a strange and terrifying time and one I will not soon forget. He was not the man I saw two weeks before on the weekend of his 50th wedding anniversary.

My father was a more vibrant man that weekend and I truly don't think any of us realized how soon he would be gone from our lives. My mother commented on the day of their anniversary how alert he was that day, and how long it had been since he had been taht alert. The greatest memory I have of that weekend is the afternoon of their anniversary. We were all sitting on the screen porch late that afternoon, having a glass of wine before dinner, and Dad was in his usual spot: the living room getting ready to watch the news. He came out to the screen porch and sat down with us and then toasted my mother and wished her a happy anniversary. Dad was not old that day. He was the father I remembered, maybe not as spry as he once was, maybe a little older looking, but at that moment I could not imagine him not being a part (distant, but still a part) of my life.

Now, more than a year later, I struggle to hold on to the hope that I will always remember his birthday, and that it will not just become another day. I have learned that life is too precious and that most people do not live their lives, but rather exist through the days of their lives. We do what we have to, more often than not, and not what we truly want to do. We put off the phone calls and visits, the invites out to dinner, because there will always be tomorrow. We fail to tell the people that mean the most to us, that we love them. If my father taught me anything, he taught me that life is what you make of it and that you must live life, not just exist through life. He might have failed to do many of these things during the course of his life, more concerned with providing for his wife and children, making sure there were no debts and no worries if something were to happen to him. It was only after the last of his children graduated high school that my father truly began to live his life and do the things he wanted to do. So if this blog serves any purpose, let it be to teach people to live life today and not wait for tomorrow, because there's always the chance that tomorrow just might not happen.

This blog is in memory of my father:

Vernon Smith Mitchell
January 21, 1916
September 10, 2004