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November 27, 2021

Window on the World Column | Tomorrow Is Not Promised

The last time I saw him he was sitting in his favorite bar in Las Vegas with a large cold one beside him and a game of Keno in front. He was comfortable in his space. No matter that he still could hardly eat a thing except through a feeding tube and was obviously in some discomfort, he didn’t complain about his lot, as he hung out with his family, listening to his oldies tunes and adding to his top hundred faves. In fact, he smiled a lot and was a pleasure to be around.

My friend and her husband had rescued him a few months prior. He had been diagnosed with cancer and they felt the need to move him to be closer to them — into their house to be precise. I told her she wouldn’t regret it. Regardless of the fact that he had been quite the fixture in the house for the past couple of decades, never quite managing to get his own place or a secure front door of his own, he was her dad, and she was going to do right by him.

She and her hubby juggled appointments and work to get Pops whatever it was he needed. When he went into hospital for the last time with pneumonia, I somehow had a feeling he might not leave this time. The cancer had spread to the spine, and he was in some considerable pain. Though he had started to be able to eat a little at last, the outlook was not good. When she told me that he had suddenly endured two large strokes and passed away, I was somehow relieved.

When the cancer has spread, it is my experience that the adventure that follows is a long and difficult road for all. Not to say that life should be cut short because of some suffering along the way, just that Pops was already suffering, and the prognosis was that things would not improve. Sure, the medical profession will try their radiation and chemo, stacks of medications and then more intrusive treatments; but when the quality of life is so poor, it does make you wonder. I would not want to continue like that.

I think of him now in better times, cracking his jokes and making his astute observations about sports. My friend told me that the last voicemail he left her from the hospital was “Hey Sis,” (as he called her), “Don’t forget about my M&M’s now. You know I’m a very busy man.” Typical of him to give her a laugh, trying to maneuver some illegal candies into the hospital that he most definitely was not allowed, while she was trying to work and take care of dad’s whims all in the space of one very short day.

And then comes the difficult job of trying to figure out a loved one’s last wishes. Where did they keep their important documents? What would they wish for by way of last services? I still don’t know if she has found anything of substance in that regard, but shouldn’t we all prep for that day when our family is looking for our stuff, and make it super easy on them? “I think he told me he had a small life insurance policy,” she said, “but I couldn’t find anything in his car.” Poor Pops lived mostly out of his car, so if it wasn’t there maybe it didn’t exist after all.

Fortunately, he had received a visit from his sister only two weeks before he left the planet and I’m very sure she is glad she made the time to see him. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, the only things I have truly regretted in life have been the things I didn’t do.

On my recent trip to Europe, I made sure to see some of our family’s golden oldies — my aunt for one, who is 94, and an old friend, close to 90. My father is 92. Tomorrow is not promised. Make the time to go and see your people.

Another old friend died the day after Pops. His departure was not similar, more of a steady decline over time; but I was deeply saddened all the same. The last time I saw him was at my house a while back. He was as lovely as ever, but even then, I could detect a fading, a loss of life luster in his look. I can only imagine how relieved his family were when he quietly slipped away for the last time. That has to be the most torturous exit for anyone to witness. You want to only remember the person you knew and loved, but I’m sure that slides a bit in time as that person fades and the only thing left in his place is less knowable or loveable, truth be told.

I hope, when I go, it’s with a fizz and a bang. I don’t want to — nor will I be — a burden to my children. They have already been advised, if they cannot face giving me a lot of wine and then pushing me off a beautiful cliff somewhere, put me in a care home and carry on with their lives. I will have had the best part of mine. The now is their time. I would wish for the fizz and the bang, but if that is not my lot, I shall be sure to leave detailed instructions for them lest I lose my mind and can no longer remember anything; also, a nice life insurance policy so they can have a fun-filled goodbye party for me, and as little pain and suffering as possible in my wake.

I honestly believe that is the best gift we can give our children. I know my father is well prepped for his exit and so shall I be.

Rest in peace, sweet friends, Pops and Dave. You will be much missed. And right after Pops bowed his head to say farewell to the world, a new baby is born, and his daughter yet again becomes a grandma. And isn’t that just lovely and exactly as it is supposed to be.

Lucy Jensen
Soledad Columnist
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