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Posts Tagged ‘obituaries’

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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Obituary for Mom

(Another post saved from my LiveJournal account. This is an obituary I wrote for my mother, who died several years before I ever had a blog. It was originally posted February 24th, 2007.)

Today would have been my mother’s 88th birthday, had she not died on Memorial Day weekend, 2001. I didn’t have an LJ account at the time, so I couldn’t do a eulogy for her, as I had done for my Dad. Today seems a good day to correct that.

Mom was born Edna Catherine Parr in 1919. She hated her first name, so her friends knew her as “Catherine” or “Kay.” She came from English and German stock. Her English family, the Parrs, I’ve traced back to the 18th century — a village in Suffolk called “Exning.” Her German ancestors, the Zelts, apparently came from Bavaria or Alsace early in the 19th century. My great-great-grandfather, who came to America, Jacob Zelt, was a brewer in pre-Civil War Pennsylvania. Near as I can tell, he lied about his age to avoid being drafted into the Union Army. Sneaky devil. 🙂

Unlike her older brother and sister, Mom wasn’t an extraordinary student in school. By her own admission, she was “too interested in boys.” She was the editor of her senior class yearbook (San Bernardino High, 1937. I have a copy!), however. She met Dad soon after graduating, which lead to their marriage in 1938 and four children after that. (In case you’re wondering, my siblings Rick, Sharon, and Larry were 19, 15, and 13 when I was born in 1958.)

I can’t speak for my brothers and sister, but Mom and I were best friends. With her children grown and gone, I was a chance for her to have a second family. She had a very nuturing nature, and often said she wanted nothing more than to be a mother. (Those who slag stay-at-home moms, take note.) At the same time, she loved meeting people so, when we were old enough to be in school, she took part-time jobs in retail, which she loved. She had a marvellous way with customers.

She didn’t have the varied careers Dad did, but she was a rock of steadiness for us. A good Catholic, she refused to get a divorce, even though they were separated several times before I was born. (I should be grateful, since I wouldn’t be here to write this, otherwise!) She loved the Church, and always nattered at me that I should start going again. Sorry, Mom. 🙂

Mom was always very supportive of me, paradoxically being both over-protective and yet encouraging me to push myself. Her philosophy of raising children, “You don’t have to be the best. We’re proud of you if you just always try your best,” is something I want to pass on to my own, should I ever have any.

Lest anyone think she was a demure Donna Reed-type, forget it. Mom always encouraged her children to stand up for themselves. More than once in grammar school I was told “You never hit someone first. But, if someone hits you, you him them right back. Even if it’s a girl.” And if someone in any way threatened or attacked her family — watch out. The German in her came out, real quick. She may have been short, but she could have intimidated Andre the Giant. (What is it about our parents that, even when we’re bigger and stronger, they can put us in our place with one word or look?)

To give you an idea of what she was like, let me relate one story. When I was in the 6th or 7th grade, after we had moved to Sacramento, I was riding bikes with a friend on a Saturday afternoon. I don’t even remember the kid’s name –  let’s call him “Mike. ” We got to my house, and I brought Mike in for lunch. Mom wasn’t expecting us, but she made us sandwiches and chips and sat and talked with us. Just doing the “Mom thing.” When we left, as we were getting on our bikes, Mike turned to me and said “I wish your Mom was my Mom.”

It didn’t hit me until years later, but, think about that. How sad was his life that he wanted someone else for a mother, and how lucky was I? I don’t have a quantifiable answer, but I do know I was damn lucky. Even late in her life, when I published my first book, she made over it like it was something she wanted to pin to the fridge with a magnet. And, you know what? I was glad.

So, happy birthday, Mom. I hope there were daffodils on the table and all your collies, from Queenie to Melody, were there with you.

Miss you.

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