Thursday, October 1, 2009
Robert F. Fermazin Dad, Opa, Grandpa, Great Grandpa
Driving into the driveway, I saw Dad sitting on the wooden bench on the front porch with Rusty, our 100 pound yellow lab, at his side. Rusty seemed to follow Dad everywhere these days. Where Rusty was, Dad was. Rusty was Bill’s dog but he had taken a special like to Dad the last few months. Maybe, because Dad was home all day and Rusty had a companion. Dad was wearing a long sleeve blue plaid shirt with a western bolo tie around his neck. His shirt was wrinkle free and neatly tucked into his Levis. He was wearing the brown leather belt, with the large silver buckle with RF, his initials engraved on it. This belt was special to him. Bill and I gave it to him for his birthday last April. As I was getting out of the van, he greeted me. “Hi Daughter. We’re going out to Mimi’s for dinner tonight. Bill says it’s okay.” “Well, let’s go inside, and I’ll get ready.”
‘Dapper Dan’, as Bill fondly called him was ready. Walking towards the front door, Dad pushed Buddy behind the recliner chair. Buddy was the name, Dad gave his oxygen tank. He wasn’t planning on taking Buddy tonight. There was no sense arguing about it. Dad didn’t much like Buddy. Many times he left Buddy home when he went out. Bill picked Buddy up and put it in the back of the van. Buddy was dad’s constant companion and sidekick that accompanied him everywhere this past year, since being diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF).
Out the door we went. Dad with his brown Stetson hat. Pinned on the rim were two buttons, “Your Barn or Mine?” and “Damn, I’m Good.” Dad wore this hat to the American Legion on Friday nights. Walking in the Legion doors, he would tip the rim towards the ladies, saying, “Your Barn or mine tonight?” Dad had gone to the American Legion every Friday night for the last forty years. He used to drink vodka and orange juice, then beer, but the last three years it was plain orange juice. Now, Friday nights were Mimi’s with Nancy and Bill.
CHF was taking its toll on Dad. He was losing weight. Most of his calories were used for breathing. He slept throughout the day while we were out, giving him a surge of energy in the evening. He tried to conceal how much the disease was taking its toll, but we saw his weight go from 160 to 120 pounds this past year. Bill and I tried to lead as normal a life as possible. We continued to work, took hikes, dinners out, and a few short trips and in general tried to deny dad’s disease progression. The month of October, 2005, found Dad feeling weaker. He was still doing a little work, but feeling very tired and having trouble eating. . We tried to deny Dad’s deteriorating health, even though we were his primary care givers.
The four of us, Dad, Buddy, Bill, and I, arrived at Mimi’s Café , Dad’s favorite restaurant, on Friday evening about 7 PM. Sliding into the large round red booth with the black and white checkered tablecloth, Dad looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and an impish grin on his face saying, “I’m going on a trip.”
“What kind of trip? Where are you going?” I prodded.
Laying his knife down he looked at me with a big toothless grin, saying“You’ll know soon enough.”
“Tell me, where are you going? C’mon, tell me.”
Dinging his fork against his glass, Bill said, “Leave him alone. He’ll tell you when he’s ready.”
Dad was jubilant. His toothless smile stretched from ear to ear. He carried his partial plate in his shirt pocket, putting it in to eat. It didn’t fit well since his weight loss and the metal of the plate irritated his gums. Mom died three years ago. Mom and dad were married 59 years. Dad missed her so. We hadn’t seen him this happy for a long time.
Jason, our waiter, walked over. “Hello, Robert. Nice to see you and Bill and Nancy. What can I get you tonight, Robert?”
“The usual. Top sirloin skirt steak, well done and baked potato with extra butter, no sour cream and lots of onions. “
“Two cups of clam chowder for us. We are going to split the fish and chips.”
Tonight, Dad’s appetite was voracious. Over the last few months, his appetite waned. He was lucky to pick at his plate and eat an ounce of roast beef and a quarter cup of mashed potatoes. At one time he could put away four pork chops, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, bread and dessert.
Dad was a creature of habit. His daily routine since Mom passed and he came to live with us was jam packed until two months ago. He rose at 5 AM, dressed, showered, shaved, drove to Amigo’s for coffee and toast, come back at 7 AM to take off his email, and then drive to Ford Electronics “to work” from 8 AM to 12 noon. Scott Ford had given Dad a bench and some tools to fix TVs and radios. Dad’s last position before he retired was Audio Visual Technician at the Fullerton UHSD where he bought parts from Ford Electronics. Scott and he had remained friends. This was Scott’s way of giving Dad things to do that stimulated his mind. Dad arrived home at noon, checked his email, and at 3 PM started preparing dinner by peeling potatoes and putting a roast or chicken in the oven. On Tuesday evenings, he went to the Senior Center with Mary Ann, Wednesday was TV night, Thursday was rest day, Friday was the American Legion, Saturday was dinner and a show with Mary Ann and Sundays were church, pool and dinner at Mary Ann’s. (Mary Ann was a friend of mom and dad’s from the Legion). Lately it was just church on Sunday out to dinner on Fridays and occasionally, he went to Ford Electronics or the Legion. Buddy had a lot to do with this change in habit and Mary Ann had died in September.
A lifelong church goer, Dad still wasn’t a man for a lot of God talk. God was a given presence, a fundamental fact of his eight-decade life. He continued to pray and attend church. Tears would stream down my cheeks as I passed Dad’s room in the middle of the night, hearing him praying, “Dear Jesus, come get me. Please come get me and take me home.”
After dinner on Friday night, we fell back into our routines. Monday morning arrived after an uneventful weekend“
“Are you going to work now?” dad pleaded with me at 5 AM. “No, not until about 8 AM.”
“When is Bill leaving to play golf?”
“I don’t think he is playing golf today. He wants to stay home and work on his garden.”
“No, no, no. He has to. Tell him, it’s okay with me. I will be fine. Have him play golf. I might go over to see Ford today.”
Bending down, I kissed dad on the forehead as I left for work. Bill left for golf about 830 AM that morning.
An overwhelming feeling of having to go home came over me about 10 AM. I can’t leave yet. I called home. No answer. Back to calling my patients.
1030. I better go home. No I can’t leave yet. It’s too early for lunch. I called home again. No answer.
1100 AM. I better go home. No, I better call a couple of more patients. I just got here at 9 AM.
At 1130, I went home for lunch to check on dad. I arrived home at 12 noon. Dad’s van was in the driveway. That’s strange. He said he was going to Ford Electronics.
Unlocking the front door, I glanced in the den. No dad. No Rusty. “Dad? Dad?” No answer.
“Rusty? Rusty?” No answer. Rusty must be outside. I better let him in. I raced through the house, from dad’s TV room to the kitchen, through the living room, calling, “Dad? Dad?”
I didn’t see him anywhere. I came down the hall to dad’s bedroom. Dad was lying on the floor, on his side with his arm under his head. Rusty was lying next to him. I knelt down
and touched him realizing he was not sleeping but was cold and had died. There was a big toothless open mouth smile, frozen on his face. Screaming loudly, I ran to the phone and called Bill and 911. I told them I found my dad and he was dead. I called Pastor Tim. The paramedics, the coroner, Pastor Tim and Bill arrived home to comfort me. Bill was crying while holding me in his arms, saying, "It’ll be ok.” The coroner comforted us saying, “It looks like your dad could not get up on the bed so he laid down on the floor to rest.” The coroner estimated that Dad passed about 10 AM. Dad passed peacefully. Just that little statement from the coroner offered consolation to us and relieved our guilt for not being there.
Reflecting back, Dad indeed, had prepared for a trip. He wanted us out of the house that day. He planned it that way. On the 10 inch by 6 inch side table in his den, methodically arranged were his wallet, toothbrush, toothpaste, car and house keys, and his check book. As a former Hospice nurse, I did not recognize my dad’s plan to take a trip. Planning a trip is a very common occurrence in the elderly about three days before they pass. They are always saying they are going on a ‘trip. People die the way they live, only more so. Dad lived by the schedule; now he had scheduled himself for death. I didn’t realize it on Friday night. Angela, the Hospice, nurse brought it to my attention. Angela comforted us saying that she felt that mom had been Dad’s angel and came and helped him pack for his final trip. I would like to believe that.
Epilogue: We lost both Dad and Rusty within nine months. Dad passed peacefully on November 5, 2005 at 10 AM. Rusty died July 31, 2006 of Congestive Heart Failure.
Copyright © 2008 by Nancy Fermazin Peralta von Reyn