My Dad died two weeks ago. It was very sudden. I wasn't with him, but, essentially, it was a replay of what happened at Christmas - he choked on food - only, this time, none of us kids were right next to him to save him.
He choked at a picnic, outdoors, eating a hamburger. This, I truly believe was/is a good thing.
My Dad was 90. When I was a kid, he was an incredibly active man, doing hours of calisthenics every day, walking to work AND playing tennis. He did it because he'd suffered a lot of injuries, some in WWII, some before, and he felt that if he didn't keep active, he'd lose the ability to move.
By the time he hit 80, he was definitely having trouble getting around. He and I went to Oaxaca for my 50th birthday, and he could barely walk around a block, but he tried. In the airport, we needed a wheelchair. Two years later he got ill with C diff, and was hospitalized for two months. I don't think they thot he was going to make it, so they didn't do physical therapy while he was abed. When he was finally well, he had lost the ability to walk, and so he spent his last five years using an electric wheelchair as his primary means of moving around.
He never once complained about it. He wasn't happy about it, but he didn't complain. For the first three years, he could do transfers to and from the chair with a little help by himself, but he eventually lost that ability, too. When I would ask him how he was doing, he would usually say 'Good,' or 'OK,' or, if it was a bad day, there'd be a pause, and he'd say 'Más o menos.' Up until his choking incident at Christmas, he was able to 'swim' a couple of times a week. He used quotes when HE said it, because, it was really therapy with a person with him, supporting him when he needed it. The buoyancy of the water offset his weight and he could walk around. He loved it.
He never really recovered from Christmas. He was sick for a couple of months, and very confused mentally about timelines and dates. He got better. He got C diff again. He got better. He got a nasty bedsore. He got C diff. Our conversations - my Dad and I talked every night almost - dwindled. Before Christmas, we would often talk for over and hour. After, sometimes five minutes was pushing it, and it was me doing most of the talking. On a good night, I could engage him for twenty minutes, but that was it. He wasn't interested in things like he had been before. He watched television, for pete's sake!
I went to see him each month, each time for about a week, and finally, in August, he seemed better, more alert mentally. But his alertness would come and go. Once every three days he would have a good day. The only thing he ever complained to me about in all this time was that he didn't get to go outside anymore. Most days he wasn't put in his wheelchair, but sat in a more comfortable recliner. No one thot it was really safe for him to be driving around loose. He tended to fall asleep at the wheel, or run off the sidewalk.
So. The day he died, he was in his wheelchair. It was a bright sunny beautiful day. He was at a picnic celebrating Carol Wood's 30th anniversary. Someone took a picture of him a minute or two before he choked. It's not a good picture. He's sitting, holding the hamburger he's about to choke on. Someone's sitting next to him and someone's leaning over talking to him. He's not looking at them. He's about to die. He doesn't know it... It's only us who know it, and only now.
And I can only think I am glad he died before he got any worse mentally or physically. I am glad that my active, sporty Dad is free of his uncooperative body. I will forever miss his mind and humor and love but I will only be sad for me... Not for him.
I love you Dad.