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Obituary for Dad

(Last LiveJournal salvage job for today. This is in memory of my Dad, who passed away on Super Bowl Sunday, 2006.)

Lawrence Ellsworth Ragan, 11 July 1917 – 5 February 2006.

My Dad died this morning at about 1AM. According to the nursing home, he closed his eyes and just … shut off. While I’m saddened at his passing, I’m more glad for him that it’s over. I’d known most of my life how he dreaded the thought of growing senile and “going to a home,” and when it came true I just felt terrible for him, even if he could no longer understand what had happened. Now at last he’s free of it, and, if there is an afterlife, I’m sure Mom was waiting for him with a hearty “Larry, where have you been? The windows need fixing and…” And he’ll be smiling.

I learned his final decline had started about a week-and-a-half ago, when I received a phone call telling me he had been taken to the hospital. The eventual diagnosis was pneumonia and congestive heart failure. He’d recovered from worse before, but what told me this was the end was his refusal to eat. Even pureed foods were spit back up. Nothing changed through last Friday, until the doctor gave us a choice: we could either have a feeding tube inserted into his stomach and force feed him and hope he recovered, or we could sign off on”comfort care” only, meaning he would be kept comfortable until nature took its course. My sister and I, his last two remaining children, chose the latter. It wasn’t a hard choice to make, as odd as that may seem. I knew in the back of my mind that his refusal to eat was his way of telling us that he wanted to die. To force him to live, I believe, would have been selfish and mean on our part. And I couldn’t do that.

In his life, Dad had been a sailor (served in the 30s in the Philippines and China), a laundryman, a soda jerk (where he met Mom), a railroad brakeman (who once rode a runaway train), a janitor, and a maintenance company executive. He and my mother were married for 63 often-tempestuous years. We were never very close and, though I of course loved him, I didn’t know him very well. I was much closer to my mother and, I think, he never got the emotional part of being a father. He was a damned hard worker, and none of us ever wanted for a thing, but I don’t think he knew really how to “be a Dad.” I don’t blame him for that. Rather, I hold his parents responsible. They were divorced when he was young, and Grandpa spent most of his life in the Navy. Grandma was too busy going through husbands 2-5 to be a mother. From what I understand, she left Dad in a series of military schools. Knowing this makes a lot of my memories of him more understandable.

It was only after Mom came down with cancer that I came to truly admire him. They were in their 70s, retired, and now she was knocked flat with chemotherapy, unable to do anything for herself or to help around the house. So, what did he do? He not only took over running the whole house and caring for her (at times sleeping at the foot of her bed, in case she needed help during the night), but he went out and got another job to bring in extra money. And he did this for years.

Think about it. How many husbands would have just given up, or even walked out? To the day she died in 2001, he refused to surrender to despair. I never knew he had such a reservoir of strength in him, and I only hope I can show even half as much, should the need ever arise. Whatever he had done wrong in the past, he more than atoned for it in those last few years of Mom’s life.

My one real regret is that I didn’t get to know him better in his last years. When I would visit after Mom’s death, he’d tell me stories of his time in the Navy or on the railroad, and I’d be fascinated. I’m sure they were embellished (“Darned Irish fibber” as Mom would say to him.), but, who cares? If he wanted to exaggerate to impress his son, fine. He’d earned that right. I enjoyed hearing them, true or not. That’s why, more than his death, his senility saddened me. It’s onset was only a year or so after Mom died, and it’s like a window into his life closed that will never open again. (Just as with a photo album we can’t find, pictures of him his mother took from the time he was three days old(!) until he was 12 or so. It went missing a few years ago, and I’ll never stop kicking myself for not taking it when I had the chance.) I know we’re supposed to be grateful for the time we do have, but, still….

Anyway, there’s not much more to say. He’s gone and I now find myself in the weird position of being the oldest male in my extended family. It’s a strange feeling I get thinking about that. For those wondering about my state, don’t worry. I’m at peace with what’s happened and, indeed, I plan to enjoy the Super Bowl today. (Dad loved football, and I bet he’d be rooting for Pittsburgh and Bettis today.) I’ll be flying to Sacramento next Saturday for a family and friends get-together as a memorial, and then back here on Sunday.

And then, as they say, life goes on.

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