As one of many sons who lost a father, I was particularly drawn to watch the tribute of the late President George H.W. Bush. I had been moved by several other Presidential passings, but this one was special because it contained a eulogy for a President by his son, who also served as President.
I was reminded of my dad’s final day. It was February 6, 2013
In a phone call I made to him the night before, to bolster his spirits, I told him, ‘Dad, I don’t care if you have one day, a year or ten years to live – I just want them to be the best you can have.’
The next day, my dad, his wife Barbara and I took a ride up to meet with his oncologist in Albany. He had undergone a chemo-embolization procedure for a tumor in his liver on New Year’s Eve past in Syracuse. The prognosis was encouraging and we were meeting with the doctor to see what the next steps would be. She told us that he could receive another treatment in a week or two, and that may shrink the tumor even further, allowing for a possible resection.
Upon hearing the news, dad said, “I don’t know. I don’t want to be a bother to anyone.”
I said straight out “Dad, did you have some other plans, because it’s not a bother to me.”
He relented, so we had a date in mid-February to take another drive further upstate and receive another round of chemo.
It was 1pm and before we left for home, he wanted to get some lunch at the VA’s cafeteria. For some odd reason, that’s when most of the kitchen staff took their break, so we decided to head back to the town of Catskill and have lunch at the diner.
Dad had a simple American cheese omelette. His appetite wasn’t as hearty as it used to be, so he only ate half and had the rest of it wrapped to take home.
He was using a light walker, because since he received his initial round of chemo, he needed something stable to support himself. We got in the car for the ten-minute ride home.
After his original diagnosis of a tumor on his liver, he told me “I didn’t think I’d ever have cancer. I thought it was going to be ‘the big one’, like a heart attack, and I’d be gone.”
That was not the time to remind him that despite taking blood pressure meds for as long as I can remember, his doctors always said his heart and cardio system were strong; it might have killed a lesser man.
The President stood at the podium, and spoke of his final conversation with his father
“Last Friday, when I was told he had minutes to live, I called him…I said ‘Dad, I love you and you’ve been a wonderful father.'”
“And the last words he would ever say on earth were ‘I love you, too.'”
To conclude his eulogy, the President said:
“(W)e are going to miss you. Your decency, sincerity and kind soul will stay with us forever. So through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man, the best father a son or daughter could have and, in our grief, let us smile knowing that dad is hugging Robin and holding mom’s hand again.”
And with that, the 43rd President descended from the podium, and as he passed his father’s flag-draped casket, he patted it gently twice before returning to the pew with his family.
We arrived back at home
Barbara and I exited the car first and I went to give my dad a hand after setting up his walker. He said, “I’m slow and I don’t want to slow you both down.” Barbara and I walked a few paces ahead and went up the three steps to the porch.
Suddenly, I heard a thud. I turned to see that dad had fallen backwards and struck his head. As he laid unconscious for a few seconds, I rushed down to his side and called to Barbara to dial 9-1-1.
He wasn’t breathing, and for the first and only time in my life, I did CPR. He started to breathe again, but he was obviously stunned and unaware of his surroundings.
I said “Dad, dad. I’m here.”
He repeatedly gasped “Help me, Michael. Help me, Michael.” in a muted tone. I held his hand and tried to reassure him as I waited for the EMTs to arrive. It seemed like only a minute or two when the techs got there, but I couldn’t say for sure. In rural New York state, it might have been ten.
They had him packed up on the gurney and were ready to go to the nearest trauma center, which ironically was in Albany – 40 miles north and a just half-mile from the VA hospital we were at earlier. They were meeting the medi-vac at a local field a few minutes away.
I’m sure that as a private pilot, dad would be happy that his last trip was a helicopter ride.
Barbara and I got into my car and we sped off to Albany again. So many thoughts were whirling through my head that I don’t specifically remember anything about the drive. One exception was the call that I received from the attending doctor at the ER when we were only a mile away.
He said my dad had a DNR (do not resuscitate order) and I was the holder of his health proxy. Unless I said otherwise, they were not going to intubate him. I asked the doctor to do so until we got there so he and the staff could properly apprise Barbara and I of dad’s state and prognosis.
Dr. Pacheco said that it wasn’t good. Dad struck his head and was bleeding into his brain. Even if he did survive the procedure to stop the bleeding, he may not survive a long rehabilitation given his cancer prognosis.
Once they stabilized him, we went in to see him. It was exactly the scene he did not want to endure, with the tubes and multitude of monitors.
Although they were his wishes, never underestimate the weight of holding a person’s life in your hands. That weight was placed on my shoulders as I signed the paperwork necessary for the medical personnel to begin to shut down the machines that were keeping him alive.
Within two or three minutes, he took his final breath. There were no words, and no time to converse. All we needed to say had been said.
In the weeks after his passing, I found this tucked away.
Maybe, they were not his words, but they served as a sentiment dad wished to convey. I took it as if he were speaking to me – as a dad to his son.
I know he loved me, his “number one son”, to echo the fictional detective, Charlie Chan.
I love you, too, Dad.