My father succumbed to endocrine carcinoid cancer last month, at the age of 63. He was a great dad and a fierce lawyer. The last thing I said to him, before I left for the airport, was “See you Friday.” He died on Thursday. That summarizes what it was like trying to win an argument against him. It was decided that maybe this story shouldn’t be told at the funeral, but it should be shared, so:
Back during college, my dad took me to visit his mother at the nursing home. Whenever we’d visit, he’d always bring lunch, to spare Grandma from having to eat whatever hospital food they normally served. Usually a ham sandwich, a bag of potato chips, and a can of soda, from a nearby deli.
When we arrived to her room, we found that her roommate, an approximately 90 year old woman, was there, asleep, but Grandma wasn’t. The nursing home worker told us that she was in the common area, and she would go get her. In the meantime, my dad unpacked the lunch.
I don’t know if any nursing homes can be considered “cheerful,” because I’ve only ever been in the one, but this one definitely wasn’t. It smelled like a hospital, and may also have been one, for all I knew. The residents sure weren’t spritely. To cheer me up, or possibly to cheer himself up, my dad sat down next to the roommate, put the lunch on the tray attached to the bed, placed a tiny piece of ham on the end of the handle of the plastic fork, and pretended like he was catapulting it onto the woman.
I laughed, quietly. He put a little more effort into the next one, and actually sent it a couple of inches into the air before it landed harmlessly on the floor. Undeterred, he replaced the ham with a potato chip, and mimed it again. Except, this time, he hit it square, and sent a potato chip onto the sleeping woman’s midsection.
“Oh, shit!” he said, almost inaudibly. He reached over and deftly plucked the chip off the woman. She didn’t stir.
After the visit, in the parking lot, I was giving my dad shit about catapulting food onto a comatose woman.
“How would you feel about having somebody throwing ham and potato chips all over you?” I asked.
Dead serious, he looks at me. “Son, if I’m ever in a place like this, and you come visit me, and I’m covered in cold cuts, I had a good day.”
He died way too soon, and nothing makes up for the fact that my daughter won’t get to know him. The tiny bit of solace I can pull from anything is thinking back to him catapulting food onto a sleeping, elderly woman, and knowing that at least he was able to die at home, surrounded by family, instead of in “a place like this,” cold cuts or not.