My Father

By Bob Wrenn, Tucson, Arizona

My father died three months short of his 100th birthday. During the last five years of his life he became blind and his mobility and mental agility decreased noticeably. As his only child I had the opportunity to talk with him at great length duringthe last 10 years of his life about his views on death and on the after life and I realize now what a privilege that was that many do not have with a parent.

Since we were both psychologists one would think that communicating would be an easy matter. It wasn't. Neither of us wanted to hurt the other with questions and comments that would leave a "bad" memory with the other. Nonetheless, given our own tendencies to be less than direct on occasions, we could "read" each other well - and loved each other well.

We would frustrate each other at times with his need to never show his anger and my need for directness and disbelief of some of his Christian beliefs. But, we understood this about each other and "worked" with it. We also had disagreed about the war in Vietnam but he had the integrity to change his point of view and tell me so later on.

My Dad was a loner in the sense that many people knew him and loved him, but very few really knew his personal fears and tremendous need for the concerns of humanity and for the future of mankind. He was always looking to the future with a tinge of rose coloring in his glasses - always wanting others to have the good things in life that he had. Some would call him a "softie" for his inability to turn away any cause that came along for assisting those who were down and out.

I was saddened to see him suffer toward the end with an inability to communicate what he felt and wanted to say. He had been a College Professor, a Teacher and a Communicator (with a capital C) all his life and toward the end of life he was rendered incapable of expressing himself as he would have liked. This was very frustrating for him but he never complained about it. You could just tell that he was frustrated by it, as we all would be. He, more so, I believe since communicating had been his tour de force.

I had specific knowledge of what he wanted for a memorial service and my Mother had trouble realizing that he had confided these details in me for what to do when he died so as to save her from having to worry about it. She still wonders how I knew what he wanted in such detail.

At his memorial service my three children spoke from the heart about their grandfather and did so in an articulate and meaningful way. When it was my turn to speak, I did so - haltingly. I was looking down on my mother as I spoke and just lost it from time to time. I know he meant a lot to me - and still does. He left us all with a better sense of what it is to be human, to be kind, to be gentle.

He died, on December 28, 2001 after 75 years of marriage, with the knowledge that I would carry on in taking care of my mother when he was no longer with us. I was surprised when my mother did not want to see him after he died but later realized that he was her job to complete and since she had done her job up to the end, she was satisfied that he was in a better place and did not need to actually see him any more. I, on the other hand, needed to see him after he died and to also see him later at the mortuary. It was harderfor me to really believe he was dead so I kept wanting to see him after he died.

It is now October, 2002, 10 months after he died. My mother turned 100 in June of this year and has steadily declined in weight and vigor since his death. She is now bedridden, receiving excellent care in the health care center of a retirement community that they moved into 23 years ago at the tender age of 77. She is in good spirits but is slowly dying. I go up from Tucson to Phoenix to see her each week and she is increasingly forgetful - but still recognizes me.

I am a 69 year old, only child, who has learned to take care of my parents as they did me when I was young. There is something satisfying about that for me. At the same time I feel quite alone in the fact that I know no one of my age still dealing with their parents - trying to please and take care of them, and I sometimes wonder if it will ever end.