Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Don's Final Days and Planning a Memorial

 On the drive from Ft Worth to Tucson phone calls from Kelly (his caregiver) kept coming.  Don was getting worse, no drug had stopped the pneumonia, plus he was experiencing a lot of difficulty breathing.  By the time I arrived home Don's diagnosis had changed--it was a virulent cancer that had settled in his lungs and he was asking me to come to Florida.  My dilemma--do I empty the house, complete the sale, then fly to Florida, or attempt the reverse? 
I elected to fly to Florida for a week then  return to Tucson and clear the house--and accomplish it all in three and a half weeks.  If I had been 30 years younger this might have made sense.  Did I think I could still muster that kind of energy? I was about to find out.

I did have some wonderful help.  Kelly was with him constantly as he moved from the hospital to Hospice House, always holding his hand and encouraging him.  

And Loretta flew from San Diego to meet me in Florida where she provided wonderful support, literally waiting on me nonstop the entire week (this is one daughter-in-law I plan to keep).  It also gave her a chance to meet Uncle Don for the first, and sadly only time.  They instantly discovered a  mutual admiration connection--Don always did have an eye for lovely ladies.  (Look at that smile)

Each morning I would drive to Hospice House and sit with Don while he described all I was to do after he was gone.  As executor of his estate it was up to me to handle all his financial affairs, to liquidate everything, and finally to empty his apartment.  But, for him at this time, the thing he was most concerned about was his memorial.  One morning he gave me a list of those friends he wanted me to invite, another morning he told me what to serve for refreshments and who would do them; and my favorite, what flowers and what music (Tony Bennett) he wanted. He was adamant that there be no formal service, no minister, no schedule of speeches.  He wanted everyone to have fun and especially to take something from the apartment as a reminder of their friendship.

His final days were remarkable.  He would talk to his nieces, nephews and sister on the phone and tears would come but otherwise he was cheerful and uncomplaining.  Except for the food.  I asked him each day what he ate the day before and he always said, "A cheese omelet".  To which I thought to ask, "Did you want something else?"  His reply, "That's all they have."  So I went to the nurse in charge and asked why there was nothing else.  She laughed, "We tell him he can have anything he wants, we will gladly provide it, but cheese omelet is what he asks for."
When I confronted Don with what the nurse said, he grinned at me.  "The cheese omelets are good." That's all he said, and all he ate.
One day five of his 'lady friends' were all packed into his room at once, (me included) and he was thoroughly enjoying the attention.  There were peals of laughter and teasing and clearly a lot of love.  Whereupon a nurse poked her head in the room and reminded us that we were in a Hospice.  But she was smiling when she said, "This is the first time we have had such a ladies' man as a resident."

Saying Goodbye was very very hard.  I knew I would never get back in time and only 10 days after I left he was gone.  I talked with Kelly by phone each day and within a day or two of my leaving Don's mind began to shut down.  My decision to go when I did was right, and I have great memories of those last days.  He was my brother-in-law. who became my brother, for over 50 years and I miss him. 


  1. So sorry to hear about Don. Cherish those wonderful memories of him in the days ahead. He sounded like a remarkable gentleman.

    Happy to hear from you and hoping things are beginning to look better for you. Our RV is currently up for sale at a local RV consignment shop ������

    1. Thank you for the comments, Linda.
      I am so sad to hear that you and Jamie are selling your RV. With Jerry and Cheri now on the road I had great plans for a "Cousin Caravan". Even Mary and Jim were entertaining the idea of renting one and caravanning sometime. Maybe you will look for another.

  2. Thank you for sharing him with us Toni. Sounds like a great guy.