Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Leavetakings, Part II

In some ways, I'm still having trouble believing that I'm writing such a similar essay just a few months after writing about my mother's death.

Mom had been kind of frail for a long time, was diagnosed with terminal cancer February 2016 and died in late July 2016. During those months, I drove up from Pittsburgh five times to visit her. Would also visit my Dad (they were long divorced but friendly and he lived nearby). He was a little low about my mother's illness and had some minor memory lapses, but still lived on his own and hung out at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he'd worked for many years, as often as he could. Yes, he had a persistent cough but he had some tests and they kept telling him not cancer, which was great news. We spent a few hours together in mid-February just after Boskone, chatting and looking at some old photos.

So as older people often do, he wound up briefly in and out of the hospital a few times. We finally understood there was really nothing that could be done for him. He went to stay in my mother's old apartment (off the back of my brother and sister-in-law's house), where they took care of him. But it didn't sound immediately bad, and we thought he had months left. As sometimes happens with elderly people, even Energizer bunnies (as my other sister-in-law called him), things can go terribly wrong terribly fast. My brother messaged me on a Sunday morning to come up right away. I made the drive in 11 hours and found Dad asleep. I did get to talk to him very briefly Monday morning (and heard one last Tuna-ism "Beggers can't be choosers"), but later that day he slipped into a comatose state. He died early the following Saturday morning. He had amazing care from my brother and sister-in-law and Robin and Melissa and the Worcester Jewish Home Hospice. His body just quit after an interesting and active 87 years.

Other than his brother who's 90, Dad had lived longer that any of his family for at least 4 generations. In many ways he had characteristics of an SF fan - book collector (mostly mysteries but I found a copy of V in his library and he also had the first legit edition of Lord of the Rings published in the US), non-standard dresser (wore the same pair of casual shoes for over 40 years, eschewed shoe laces) and had over 200 t-shirts from various college events. He and Mom were married for 31 years, divorced for 31 years and died 8 months apart. I'd hoped he would die like Dave Kyle, in his 90s after attending one last party. But I'm glad he was playing cards with friends up until about a week ago and he died at home.

Dad, AKA Tuna, was a huge fixture at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The whole community really reached out. Especially on Facebook, people posted pictures and told funny stories. You can check his Facebook page (he last posted there 12 days before his death) - Tuna Trask, or check the support page some students set up for him - Bill "Tuna" Trask - Make him smile! Some students also organized a card signing which were delivered to the house and the family really appreciated all of these things. Over 200 hundred WPI students came to his funeral (which was on April Fool's Day--I suspect he would have been amused by that); the church was SRO. Dad's WPI obituary, and the newspaper obituary I wrote for him.

The best Tuna-ism now: "You only live once and you ain't coming back so you may as well live with all the gusto you have!" And he did.

No comments: