(I wrote this several years ago but today—the day before Father’s Day, seemed like a good time to post it. Thanks to Paula Morrel and the good people at Tales from the South for allowing me to share it on their program and including it in their book, Tales from the South: Volume 2).
It is the 10th of August, 1994. I have just taken over for my two brothers who stayed with Dad during the night. The sun is shining, the dew is evaporating, and it is shaping up to be another hot August day in Alabama. I am watching “In The Heat Of The Night” when my wife comes into Dad’s bedroom. She stands behind my chair and I stretch my arms out behind my head to hug her. She notices that Dad’s breathing has stopped. I’m not alarmed because he has done this before and after a few seconds he will begin a pattern of rhythmic breathing. This time it is different though. He doesn’t begin breathing and goose bumps cover his neck and shoulders. He is losing color. I tell my wife to turn off the television and get Mom and my sister.
He had been diagnosed with cancer four years before. It was followed by the usual litany of treatments—surgery, chemotherapy, but no radiation. He had seen what it had done to his father and made the decision that some treatments weren’t worth the price they exacted. It was a quantity of life vs. quality of life decision and Dad, an aerospace engineer, analyzed it, made up his mind, and moved on. It turned out to be a good decision for him. He enjoyed good overall health despite his illness and was able to do just about anything he wanted.
It was mid-June when Mom had called and told me that the treatments were no longer effective. It was the same day that Ryne Sandberg, the all-star second baseman for the Chicago Cubs, announced his retirement. Of course, news of Sandberg’s retirement paled in comparison to that concerning my father, but it bonded to the news of Dad and formed one of those permanent connections in your mind like JFK’s assassination and whatever you were doing when you heard about it.
I had seen him in early July and then made another trip up in late July when he started to take a turn for the worse. Both he and Mom chided me for coming since such lapses were to be expected and I couldn’t take off work and come every time something happened. It turned out to be one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. I was able to spend some quality time with Dad, who by that time was on oxygen with the lines strewn throughout the house. I remember him telling me to take care of Mom. I also remember us eating what became our last supper—barbequed chicken with white sauce. I’d never been a big fan of barbecued chicken up to that time, but for some reason it tasted great that day and it has ever since. We both ate heartily. Afterwards, he sat in a chair, doubled over in discomfort—from a combination of too much food in his stomach and too much cancer in his lungs. I remember placing my hand on his back and asking if he was in a lot of pain. No, just uncomfortable. That’s all he ever said on the matter of pain, just uncomfortable. He may have told Mother something else but that was all he ever said to me. The next night, he wasn’t able to eat at all. My dad took great pleasure in simple things and eating was one of them. When he was too sick to eat, I knew things were bad.