My father was born on December 20, 1919. This Sunday he would have been 101 years old. I had made travel arrangements and intended to be with him for his birthday over the weekend. Unfortunately, we will not be celebrating that day, and he will not get to see that milestone.  My father passed away two days ago, on Tuesday, December 15th. I feel so fortunate that I was able to get to him in time to say goodbye.

He has been under Hospice care since September, and with his home essentially locked down during the COVID crisis, our family has been conducting a group Facetime call with him every Sunday morning for several months. This Sunday he was very quiet and appeared to be having a little trouble focusing on the conversation. We cut the call short because he appeared tired. Sunday night the nursing home called my sister to say he appeared to be failing, and they thought his time was near. Early Monday morning, I was on a plane, reaching his home by mid-afternoon.

I am being intentionally vague about where this was, as his nursing home, while taking very prudent measures, was violating draconian COVID regulations currently in effect in their state by letting us in to see him. I really wish I could say more.  His caretakers were simply outstanding, and I would love nothing better than to sing the praises of these heroes to all. 

But alas, that might cause them more troubles than I would care to be responsible for.

I’ve written a fair amount about my father over the years. A member of the greatest generation. World War II Vet. D-Day survivor. Man of character. Husband and father. Outstanding sense of humor. Drove and worked to the age of 99. As an electrical engineer and manager for RCA he traveled the world for business, visiting every continent except Antarctica. Then at the age of 51 he risked everything by moving west and buying a restaurant and motel. And I’ve well documented the undying devotion he showed my mother in her battle with Alzheimer’s. 

Yes, he led a full and fascinating life. And while I’ve struggled to put a focus on this tribute, I believe it his final two years on earth that say the most about who he really was. There is even a bit of a lesson for the workers’ compensation industry in this tale.

My father had lived on his own until a fall shortly after his 99th birthday. The injury, while minor in the greater scope of things, aggravated a condition from an earlier injury and left him wheelchair bound. We had no choice but to place him in a home where he could be properly cared for. He could be a stubborn and fiercely independent man, and none of us who knew him anticipated a smooth transition in this process. He certainly proved us wrong. 

We were extremely fortunate that my sister, with very little time to make a move, found a small home that offered full nursing services. With fewer than 20 residents, each having a private room, it had much more of a “home like” feel than other large facilities we had seen. And the people in this center were what really made the difference. 

That, and my father’s positive attitude; something he surprisingly maintained to the very end. 

He really liked the people who cared for him, and they adored him. Whenever I would visit, they would effusively tell me how much they loved my father, and rave about what a sweet man he was. He repeatedly told us how good they were to him. When we would tell him that the feeling was mutual, he would say, “They like me because I don’t complain.” On one visit, one of the nurse’s aides was telling us how he likes to get hugs from the staff, and he responded with, “I like getting lady hugs.”

I of course cautioned him to make certain he was hugging them in the appropriate places….

Perhaps for me the most touching moment came on Monday night, the day before he passed. With the exception of some challenges to his memory, he had maintained his faculties and was completely lucid until this past Sunday. By Monday he was essentially non-responsive. When I arrived he was staring blankly at the ceiling. When I entered I said, “Hi Dad.” His gaze did not change, but he surprised us all by shouting “Hi!” in a very loud voice. It was the only thing he really said that day. That evening, as we were preparing to leave for the night, one of the aides who has been particularly attentive to him came into his room to check on him. She was sweet, positive and upbeat, talking to him as if everything was quite normal. She asked him to give her a smile, and to our pleasant surprise he did. She gave him a hug and told him she was getting ready to go home but assured him she would see him tomorrow. The entire exchange was positive and professional. We (my sister and I) did not think anything unusual until we left the room. We found the aide in the hall, just around the corner.

She was crying. 

My father passed Tuesday at 12:35PM, with my sister and I by his side. It was quite peaceful. That was followed by a parade of people, owners of the facility, hospice nurse and employees, coming into the room to comfort and share their stories. We stayed and talked for almost three hours, until the funeral home came to collect his body. We cried a little, but we laughed a lot. All because this elderly wheelchair bound, and eventually bedridden man had touched their hearts and souls. 

And he would have loved every minute of it. 

My father accomplished many things in his life. He supervised the construction of microwave communication systems all over the world. It is a technology now largely outdated, but whose systems are still in use for some applications in some parts of the world. He was a successful businessman who employed many people. He was a father who loved his children and wanted the best for them. But his final legacy may his demonstration that kindness and understanding can affect people in large and unexpected ways. If that type of care and mutual cooperation could be injected into workers’ comp, it would be a happier world for all.

Goodbye and Godspeed, Dad. We love you – and say hi to Mom for us. And by the way, the family took a vote. We credited you with the five days. You made it to 101.

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