This week, an epiphany of sorts. For the 100th + time, I heard someone refer to an Assisted Living Facility as ‘God’s waiting room’. It wasn’t funny the first time I heard it and it’s not . . . Hey, wait a minute. There’s some truth to this quip. Just enough to drive home a single salient point, but true nevertheless.
My father, just two years ago, called me at 4:00 AM., frazzled and out-of-breath. But before I tell you about the call, a little backstory: My father, Howard Kenneth Bayne, was afraid of nothing. At age 29, the last of his seven children was born. Imagine that. Could you have handled seven children when you were 29? Me neither. In all the years he worked (a District Manager for the Prudential), he never took one day off. Not for a migraine, or a UTI, or more than two dozen kidney stones, or for anything. Sorry. I forgot. He took two days to recover from cancer surgery.
Anyway, when I was young (8-18) we didn’t get along. At all. In fact, when I called on my data storage units while writing this piece, one of the more graphic memories is one in which my dad and I were standing toe-to-toe over the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. It was a nasty fight. But all things pass. When I turned sixty, I could honestly say my dad was my best friend. Until he died at 85, we spoke on the phone every day. And not just a pro forma call, either. We usually talked for an 30 or 40 minuites.
Here’s the cut-away: One of the characteristics of a member of The Greatest Generation is their reluctance to generate drama when it’s not called for. An example: the two of us were driving down to Virginia about 25 years ago to attend a family reunion, he tells me in a calm, even tone: “I’ve been an alcoholic for 40 years. ” And I say, “But Dad, I’ve never seen you with a drink, my entire life.” To which he replies: “I was a ‘functional alcoholic,’ the whole idea was to drink without detection.”
“Well, it worked,” I said.
And like two little boys who lifted a bag of Oreos and a bottle of milk from the neighbor’s house, we smiled and never said another word about our little secret.
OK, back to the phone call.
I’m holding the phone in my hand, listening to my father pant as if he had just run the Boston Marathon.
I didn’t know his lymphoma had caused his immune system to go south and he was very, very sick. He never mentioned to anyone in the family that he was quite ill. And it never even occurred to us at the time. In retrospect, I can see it now, but back then, he’d managed to hide the fact that he was dying.
“Read to me.” he said”
“Of course,” I said. “What should I read.”
“It doesn’t matter, Son” he said, “Your voice is a tonic to me.” Twenty minutes later he was asleep, the first time, I found out later, in nearly a week.
Later that day he was taken from his apartment in Westchester, PA to a hospital, and subsequently transferred that same day to a hospice where he died three days later.
Back to God’s waiting room . . .
I’ve seen fear, panic and terror in the mind and hearts of elder care residents who die without ever having the opportunity to talk about it in an open forum. Let’s give them that forum, make it freely accessible and encourage its use.
Almost forgot. The number 5,253? It’s the number of days I’ve been a resident in assisted living communities. Roughly 14 years.
I’ve watched a great number of people transition from this life to the next during my time on this planet.
May all our journies be filled with blessed awe and joyful reunion.