by Kathy Simpson
My father was interred today. He was buried in the family plot in Wallingford, on a lovely shaded hillside among those who died before him: his mother and father, grandfather and grandmother, his Aunt Charlotte, and his son, Jay. All shared the last name of Simpson; all lived on the farm on North Farms Road that had been in the family for generations.
My father passed away two months ago at the age of 86. He had an intestinal blockage that required emergency surgery and led to a yeast infection in his blood. Such infections are often fatal, as my father’s was for him.
Two days before my father was admitted to the hospital, we were together on a grocery shopping extravaganza at the local Walmart. He piled up his cart with essentials, including real butter which he had given up years ago and expensive hamburg that his limited budget didn’t ordinarily allow. We also hunted down his usual treats plus a few extras: churned vanilla ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, popcorn for his air popper, Entenmann’s cheese Danish, and the cinnamon swirl toasting bread he enjoyed with his daily breakfast.
“Dad, you have half food and half junk food in that cart,” I said to him as we slowly made our way to the cashier (his cart temporarily filling in for the walker he needed for mobility). He looked over at me with conspiratorial amusement in his eyes. We chuckled. It was a look and a moment I will never forget. He loved his sweets, and at his age, I was not one to argue.
Two days later, he was hospitalized, and two days after that, his condition required intensive care. I was to never have another conversation with him. I spoke to him and cared for him from the depths of my heart but he could not reply. His body and mind were in a process that I was not privy to from my bedside chair. I could only watch and hope that he heard and felt my love and support.
My father had his share of emergency room visits in recent years, mostly due to pulmonary issues. I had long feared a phone call saying that he was found unconscious in his apartment, but thankfully that was not to be so. Instead, my sister and I had the gift of being present for his transition in every one of its phases. It was wrenching, and frightening at times. There were surges of hope, questions about treatment and not knowing which way to go, and finally much welcomed guidance from the palliative care team whose services I requested when his suffering seemed too great and his chance for recovery ever more remote.
Seven days after he was admitted to intensive care, Dad was taken off the ventilator that originally was hoped to aid his recovery and moved to a “comfort care room.” There were no monitors or machines, no invasive tubes or incessant beeps, and no interruptions to his body’s natural processes. He lay peacefully on an ordinary hospital bed, his breath steady yet increasingly shallow until coming to rest two days later. The sun streamed light and warmth into his room as my sister and I sat with his now quiet body and sent our deepest wishes for his gentle passage into the beyond.
I could write a book about the moments of Dad’s life and death over these last few years: the tender times, the difficult ones, the ordinary ones, even the spats we sometimes had. I was his daughter, but four years ago, I also became his helpmate, his confidante, his accountant, and his advisor. He referred to us as a “we.” His frailties became an opportunity for a relationship that would not otherwise have been possible. It was a gift for which I will be forever grateful.
Today, our remaining family of five laid Dad’s cremains to rest. It was a cool, sunny fall day. The maple trees glowed yellow and red, preparing to give up their own outer signs of life to winter’s inevitable arrival. Together, we shared remembrances and read poetry and verse. Then we watched as the cemetery workers set Dad’s urn into the ground, enfolded it in earth, and replaced the sod that will eventually bear the foundation for his memorial stone.
I felt grief and reluctance at each critical juncture on this journey, none more deeply than at my father’s gravesite today. No physical trace of him remained. Even the grass looked undisturbed.
How strange this human existence is to me. We’re born, grow tall against the force of gravity, make much ado of our lives and then succumb, leaving only memories in our wake. Our impermanence is difficult to comprehend yet irrefutable. We’re fragile beings. Our lives can be taken in an instant and at any time. It’s this truth that makes each moment so precious.
My book about my father would have a beginning and an end, just as his life did. But the small moments described in the chapters and pages in between are what give his story richness and depth. It’s not my father’s accomplishments or failures that matter most to me (though they did make him an interesting fellow). It was the connections of the heart that made a difference, even when awkward, and maybe especially so.
George Wilbur Simpson, Jr. January 20, 1929 August 14, 2015