I was hosting a marketing conference in Atlanta when my younger sister Maggie called me, to tell me that our father had taken a turn for the worse and was now in intensive care at his hospital in Palm Beach. He had been fighting leukemia for the past three years, losing weight and patience along the way. My mother had been at his constant side, loving him through the periods of anger and frustration that his body was failing him.
My father had been a health food fanatic all of my life, long before Pritikin was "Pritikin," and took the diet world by storm. Maggie and I rather amicably caught the earliest flight that we could out of Atlanta into Fort Lauderdale. We had had completely different childhoods. I had absolutely adored my dad and once had been one of his closest confidants, but my sister and my father seemingly had never had anything in common. The plane ride down was tense, although we did our best to break the tension with a glass of wine.
My mother met us at the airport around dinnertime, and instead of taking us straight to the hospital, insisted that we stop off at her house first to wait for news from the hospital, explaining that my father had since gone into a coma. She promised us that the hospital staff was on orders to call us if he took a turn for the worse. I really wanted to go straight to intensive care and see him to give him a hug.
We sat on the patio of the Wellington house that my father had built from scratch for my mother, and smoked copious amounts of tobacco and drank inordinate amounts of rum and white wine. We talked about the man that my father had been, and the men that our husbands were, and how everything was about to change. My mother and sister cried a lot, and I just sat thoughtfully, hoping against hope that my father would come home again.
Around midnight, the hospital called. My father had passed away twenty minutes earlier. My mother, sister and I sped to the hospital, while I silently fumed that my father had died alone in a sterile hospital room in South Florida. We parked the car, and sped into the emergency room.
The nurse on call ushered us into my father's room, where he lay prone, on his back, with his mouth open and his eyes wide open. I gently closed his eyes, while my mother and sister screamed at me to get away from the body.
The nurse came in and very matter of factly started to ask as to cremation arrangements, as our entire family belonged to the Neptune Society. My younger sister started yelling at the nurse to leave us alone with our father and give us some privacy, but my mother stepped in and ushered the nurse out of the room. My sister followed her.
I looked around the room at my father's things settled in plastic hospital organizers throughout the room, including several boxes of his favourite ginger snap cookies. I took two cookies out of the box, and placed them in his hands, which had frozen into prayer position. I gave him a kiss on the cheek, and said goodbye. I wondered what it was like to have died alone, and wanted to make sure that he wouldn't be hungry.