By Lynn Paris
My father died on November 4, 2012. It was not unexpected; his health had been declining rapidly in the last year of his life, his 93rd, and when I visited him three weeks before his death, he wasn’t really there. Still, I was so grateful that I’d seen him while he knew who I was, while I could still see that twinkle in his eye and make the few precious connections that we made. On that visit he was able to sit in a chair and eat what his wonderful nurse/companion, Rico, fed him. He was still gazing adoringly at his loving wife, Eve; he looked at her that way since the day they met 36 years ago. I’m told that after my visit he became too frail to get out of bed, even with Rico’s help, and that his breathing became more and more labored. Finally, it became more like a death-watch. I booked a flight for Sunday, hoping to be there for his final hours. But I was too late . . . he died before I boarded the plane.
His death made me think about so many things. How he loved to make people laugh and how I inherited his keen sense of humor and his outgoing personality; he was the life of any party. I also inherited his love of sports and his devotion to the New York Giants. I often say I was born a Giant fan, and it’s true that I learned how to tailgate at a tender age, as well as how to endure a football game on an unbearably cold winter day, my breath freezing in my nostrils and my hands and feet numb.
He had a remarkably strong work ethic, and treated everyone fairly and with respect; likewise, he was admired and respected by all who worked with or for him. After serving as a captain in the army during World War II, my dad went to work in the textile industry and never stopped until he was past 85. Sixty years of his life working in the same industry, being loyal to the same company for most of those years; that was an admirable trait in his era. It wasn’t about being bored and moving on; it was about being loyal, working hard and building enduring relationships. I used to say I always got A’s because I liked earning my father’s respect. Now I know it was more about inheriting his strong work ethic.
On a funny note, it was my dad who taught me to be punctual. He was so strict about it that I remember being anxious if I was as much as five minutes late to his house. That explains why I am always early to everything . . . no matter how hard I try to be fashionably late. But I also realize that it wasn’t really about punctuality with him. It was about being considerate of other’s time, respecting and not wasting it. I wish more people were as thoughtful now.
I spent the week in New York with Eve, beginning on the Sunday he died and ending with a beautiful, almost festive “celebration of his life” on Friday night. It wasn’t an easy week, with two very strong-willed women living together in close quarters; there were a few miscommunications and some stressful moments during a raw, emotional time for us both. But there was also poetry in the fact that I was the one who was there to hold and comfort her when she broke down with grief; I could write the obituary and accompany her to the funeral home and help plan the service for Friday night. I was able to be of some help and support, and it was a gift to be there for the woman my father adored beyond belief. For that alone, I will always love her.
The gathering at their home on Friday evening was perfect; all that was missing was my dad hosting the party with his customary style and panache. He had touched so many people and it was a beautiful thing for a daughter to see. There was close family, extended family, exes and in-laws, dear old friends and friends he’d made in his personal and professional life. Everyone paid tribute to the man he was and acknowledged the gentleman he was.
During his last months, when he was utterly dependent on Eve and Rico to care for him – a situation he would have grown severely frustrated and impatient with even a year ago – he became, instead, incredibly grateful. He was sweet and patient and accepting until the end, knowing he was well loved.
My dad was not a religious man and claimed not to believe in God. But Rico told me that during those final weeks, my dad had confided in him that he wished he had faith. I hope that admission, along with his acceptance of the love around him, may have meant that in the end he found it. Rest in peace, Daddy.
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