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For the second time.

Got a call from my Mom tonight. Her husband, Fred, is dying.

This is not necessarily a huge surprise. Fred is 91. He's been getting noticeably weaker the past few years, and it's been particularly noticeable my past couple of visits. He was still sharp, but tired all the time. It frustrated him.

Fred is, was, one of the best people I ever got to know. My Mom married him about 10 years ago, I guess, after they were together for, hmm, maybe three or four years before that. He lived across the street from her, in the beach resort town where she moved after my father died in '87. She lives in a little cottage her grandfather built in 1911; Fred's house across the street has been there for about as long, from a time when there were practically no other structures on that street, or even in the town. Just miles of empty sand and dunes, and a few little cottages built by railroad employees. The funny thing is, her family never knew his family all that well. Fred was 17 years older than my Mom, a different generation in all practicality. So she knew *of* him, but he was always a dashing, older young man going around with different people, being married (he married young), and all. Later, when I was little, he was "the Colonel". That's how the street knew him. Kind of a mysterious figure, kind of quiet. Always went up to the beach to put a wreath on the dunes on the anniversary of his second wife's death.

But my Mom is a really gregarious person, and once she moved down there, it was inevitable she'd meet him. There weren't that many people living year-round on that street, at the time. Plus, Mom got a job as a cashier at the Foodtown a block over, where eveyrone local did their shopping, and Mom was the kind of nightmare cashier who'd want to engage customers in chatty conversation about their purchase choices. Fred and Mom started "dating", which was cute. Then they got to the point where he'd spend just about the whole afternoon and evening at Mom's, just hanging out, but then he'd go back across the street to sleep, because he valued his space. Mom had one of those electric candles that people put in windows at Christmas time, and she left it in this one window that he could see from his upstairs apartment over there. I don't even know why, except she said they both kind of liked the idea of it. He didn't move in with her fully until climbing the stairs to his place got a bit too hard, and it made more sense for him to sleep at her place with her, because it was all one level. That was when they decided to get married, because they just thought it would "look better". (Also, I suspect, to make things easier, legally.)

Mom was a little worried about how my brother and I would react. Fred's family was all real nice, considering that Mom and Fred's oldest son, Mitch, are exactly the same age. Mitch's daughter, who's my age, moved into Fred's old apartment with her husband (also 17 years older than her; hmm). Really, though, my brother and I couldn't have been more pleased. How could we not, when Mom was happy? I mean, yeah, age difference, and all. Fred was 81 already, though still pretty spry. But Mom had gone through losing Dad, and you look at Fred, and.... But really, you can't live your life not doing things because you're afraid of losing people. Fred could have lasted another year, or another ten. Given the health history of Mom's family, she could easily have died before him.

Fred epitomized the concept of "a real gentleman". God love him, but my Dad? Fascinating guy, but always a bit of a jerk. Fred was just the nicest guy, always. Sweet, and considerate, and polite. Whenever he had to disagree with my Mom, it would always be a sort of mild, "Oh, I don't think that's right, Jo", or something like that. And Fred was always fascinating to talk to, too. He'd been a colonel in the Army during WWII, and had been stationed in Germany after the war. He'd been a professional geneaological researcher. He was heavily involved in the local south NJ historical societies, and had written some books about local history. My Mom was always kind of a kneejerk, Catholic conservative, but like a surprising number of people from the generation above hers whom I've met, Fred was a lot more liberal, and he slowly and sweetly worked on challenging her viewpoints. Whenever we would visit, raqs and I would love talking to him. My Mom told me later that he loved us to visit, because we really *talked* to him and listened to him and had real conversations, about history and issues and stuff. To us, it was like -- well, of *course* we did. Because he's *old* and *fascinating* and he's seen so much, what's not to love about talking with him? I'll probably always wish that I'd gotten to talk to him more.

The last few visits, I always kind of knew that it might be the last time I'd really see him. I just got down there for a quick overnight in May, and I'm really glad I did. I always made sure when I was leaving to really take a moment, and hug him, and look in his eyes and tell him I loved him. The last time, my Mom was out getting dinner ready and he and I were sitting on the porch, and I forget what brought it up, but he mentioned he'd been stationed in Australia in WWII. And I said that surprised me, for some reason I always thought he was in the European theatre, and he said oh no, he never went to Europe until after the war, and he was actually at a base in Queensland. We talked about that for a good 20 minutes or more, me asking questions, him remembering. It was good. Again, I'll always wish there had been more time to talk.

He went downhill rapidly this week, apparently. He's in a hospital bed, but it's set up at home. He doesn't even recognize Mom, she says.

I offered to go down right away, but she said, not yet. She told my brother not to go down yet either. She's surrounded by people, the whole street is pitching in to help, and I got the feeling she doesn't want to be distracted from concentrating on him. Or something.

I feel like I'm maybe just a little too ready to hear that I don't have to go down there yet.

When my Dad died, I was 19. It was cancer. At the end, he was in the hospital, and the cancer had moved into his brain. I hated going to the hospital anyway. The last time I went in to see him, my Mom took me in, and he didn't recognize me. He still knew her, but asked her who the nice girl she'd brought with her was. That freaked me out completely. When I left, I didn't *want* to go back. By the end of the next week, he died, so it wasn't an issue. Do I wish I *had* gone back? Not... really. He still wouldn't have known me. But even knowing that -- I *still* feel badly for the fact that I didn't *want* to go back, that I was scared to.

I feel bad right now that there's definitely a part of me that doesn't want to go down to my Mom's house, and see Fred as he's dying, and see him not know her or me. As awful as it might be right now (and from what Mom says, it sounds pretty awful), if he was aware enough to know me, I'd go in an instant. Or, regardless, if Mom said she wanted me to, I'd go. But if Mom is going to give me an out right now, whatever her reasons are, a large part of me *wants* to take it. For the same reason I didn't want to go back and see my Dad in the hospital. And I still feel bad about it.

I know from that experience before, and others since, that I'm feeling so sad because of *my* loss of Fred; and also, for my Mom. It's not that I feel terrible for *him*. He had a great, long life. He had three great wives, and many loving children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and then he got an additional family late in life who loved him too. I know he was tired, and he was really frustrated by his body failing him. I don't want to lose him, but that's for me, and for Mom and all the rest of us. For him, I really *do* want him to go as peacefully and easily as possible. I'm so glad that he's at home. I don't know if he can recognize it at all, but if he can, I know it'll make him happier.

Maybe there's never enough time with people we love. But I'm glad we got to know him and I'm glad Mom married him. Every minute has been worth it.



( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 14th, 2005 08:23 pm (UTC)
I'm so sorry. I've heard so many little snippets about Fred over the years. He always sounded like a nice old guy, and good for your mom.
Jul. 19th, 2005 07:14 pm (UTC)
Yeah. Thanks. The funny thing is -- I never really felt like Fred was a stepfather, of course. Because Mom met and married him so long after I'd moved out and was on my own. I always hesitate to call him my stepfather, but sometimes saying "my Mom's husband" doesn't convey the closeness *enough*. In an odd way, though -- because of his age, what Fred was really like for me was the perfect grandfather. And that was something I didn't really have, either, so I really valued that. (My Mom's father died long before I was born; my Dad's died when I was, like, 7, and I barely remember him.)

I feel sad, too, because there's just something about the people from that generation, at least the ones I've met. Like Fred, and Judith's Nana. Something really interesting and very unlike the generation below them. And they're almost all gone. Like, I never did get to ask Fred about his cryptic comments re. FDR. There's a lot of knowledge in that generation, and some particular viewpoints, that's going away so fast. Ah, well.
Jul. 14th, 2005 08:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks for telling us about Fred - he sounds like an exceptional man.
May his passing be peaceful.
Jul. 19th, 2005 07:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks. It was, and that's a good thing, really.
Jul. 14th, 2005 09:37 pm (UTC)
Not that this is useful, but *hug*.
Jul. 19th, 2005 07:02 pm (UTC)
Thanks, hon. I'm bad at convincing myself that it's okay to express things like this, and I'm bad at accepting others' reassurances or good wishes or sympathy. But it does help, a little. *smooch*
Jul. 14th, 2005 10:30 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad it was worth it. *hugs*
Jul. 19th, 2005 07:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks. *hugs back*
Jul. 15th, 2005 01:49 am (UTC)
I'm really sorry to hear this. Fred sounds like he was(is) a great guy, and it's always hard to lose a loved one.
Jul. 19th, 2005 07:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Yeah, all in all, I don't regret much of anything for *him*. I have regrets for myself and my Mom and everyone else who valued him.
Jul. 15th, 2005 03:47 am (UTC)
Fred sounds like a wonderful man. I hope his passing is an easy one, for all your sakes.
Jul. 19th, 2005 07:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks. It was, actually, and for that I'm very, very grateful.
Jul. 19th, 2005 09:47 pm (UTC)
God bless him and keep him.

::hugs:: to you and your family at this sad time.
Jul. 15th, 2005 05:14 am (UTC)
Beautifully said (I'm teary, for real). My heart goes out to you and your family.
Jul. 19th, 2005 07:05 pm (UTC)
Thanks, hon. *hug*
Jul. 15th, 2005 07:27 am (UTC)
Maybe there's never enough time with people we love. But I'm glad we got to know him and I'm glad Mom married him. Every minute has been worth it.

It sounds like the time you spent with Fred was good for both of you, made both of your lives happier and richer for it, and that's about all you can hope for. Thank you for sharing that, and a big hug for you in this tough time.
Jul. 19th, 2005 07:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks. *hug back* It's true, the 14 years or so that I was able to know him were more than I necessarily could have expected, and I'm really glad that I had that. And I'm glad that he and I were better at telling each other how much we valued each other, while we could, than I was with other people I've lost over the years. That was the lesson I learned from those losses, and I applied it in Fred's case, and I feel really good about that, too.
Jul. 15th, 2005 08:33 am (UTC)
{{{{hugs}}}} and best wishes. sending you good thoughts, and wishing for useful words. barring that, more *Hugs*
Jul. 19th, 2005 07:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you, sweetie. It's hard to find useful words, but hugs always help. :)
Jul. 20th, 2005 03:57 am (UTC)
thinking of you, take care. {{{more hugs always available}}}
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 19th, 2005 07:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks, hon.
Jul. 15th, 2005 11:30 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this. If you can judge a life by the love left behind, Fred must have been an incredible person. I hope he goes gently.
Jul. 19th, 2005 07:16 pm (UTC)
Thanks. He did; I think he went in the best possible way anyone can go, really. Just about. And I'm really grateful for that, for him and for my Mom. I'll always feel like there was probably more incredible stuff about him to discover, if only I'd had the time and known the questions to ask.
Jul. 15th, 2005 11:54 am (UTC)
I'm so sorry. My thoughts are with all of his loved ones.
Jul. 19th, 2005 07:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
Jul. 15th, 2005 03:40 pm (UTC)
How wonderfully evocative. I'm glad you saw him not long ago; I'm sorry this is so hard right now.

*Another hug for you*
Jul. 19th, 2005 07:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks. *hugs back* I'd probably be a bit more messed-up about it, if I hadn't had that visit just recently. I mean, we've all known that it could be Any Time, for years now. And there's never a *good* time. But I didn't have the regrets that I might have.
Jul. 17th, 2005 10:08 am (UTC)
I hope he passes easily, it sounds like he was some kinda guy. I feel for you and your family and wish you all long life.


As for going to see him I can completely sympathise, but ask yourself if it's better to regret the things you've done, or to regret the things you haven't done.
Jul. 19th, 2005 07:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks, hon. *hug*

I feel okay about not going. Especially since he couldn't have known I was there. I've definitely done things in relation to losing people that I regretted, and still regret. But that's not what I regret in relation to my dad, or in relation to Fred. I just... feel bad for feeling afraid, I guess.
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )