Yesterday I was in Washington DC biking with my newly pregnant daughter and her husband. Spring was in the air, announced yet more boldly by thousands of blossoming cherry trees. After the ride, I talked to my sister and she told me how one of her sons set his wedding date, another got a new job and her third was accepted to college. New lives, new beginnings. I checked e-mail and found out that the 2nd grade teacher at our school just had her baby. I found out from our upstairs neighbor that the house next door was being spruced up for sale, the dilapidated deck taken down and ivy-choked yard cleared.
New life. New Beginnings.
This morning, I flew to San Francisco and stepped out into an unseasonably warm day, blue skies and not a wisp of fog in sight. Spring was bustin’ out all over. I walked into my house, anxious to drop my suitcases and get on my bike to visit my Mom and saw the blinking light on the answering machine. And that’s how I found out that my father-in-law Ted had died in his sleep last night.
It wasn’t a complete surprise. As mentioned in my “Keep Moving” entry, his health had taken a turn for the worse some ten days back and Hospice had come on the scene. A meeting with doctors and it looked like it could be up to six months before he left us. But Ted gave his blessing for everyone to go on to Florida and the daily phone calls found him mostly upbeat and enjoying the attention of various visitors and his faithful dog Toto. When I talked to him, he told me that my voice hadn’t changed much in all these years—but I had lost more hair. Thanks, Ted. He talked of his hopes of getting up to the cottage in Northern Michigan in June, the place he went every summer since 1974 and in fact, was marked with a handmade sign that said “Ted’s Place.” It wasn’t the kind of conversation that led any of us to imagine that he would be gone four days later. But as everyone is quick to admit, perhaps better to leave now as he did then suffer the indignities of one failed body part after another. My mother-in-law was with him hours before he passed and he simply said, “I’m tired.” And after almost two years of struggling with less than full health, he was.
So rest in peace, Ted. We weren’t ever close in any kind of deep way. You loved to fish and cook bouillabaisse soup and I like neither. You enjoyed your evening cocktail and then some and I could barely finish half a beer. You voted Republican and I…well, I’ll leave that sentiment unsaid for now. I imagine you were perplexed by me and perhaps disappointed in your daughter’s choice (as fathers have been from time immemorial), but you were always cordial and generous in opening your home and taking us out to dinner. You were a good grandfather to my children and you always had kind words for my father, who you had met on several occasions. We had a brief period of playing golf and tennis together, once had a memorable evening with the kids at the local drive-in theater, both shared bad backs and once, before yours got worse, had a rowdy bonfire on the beach followed by a night swim. You seemed to genuinely appreciate it when I came to play piano last year at your Assisted Living place and though I felt bad I couldn’t remember the tune you requested at the time—My Blue Heaven—I did play it over the phone for you last November on your birthday.
So today after hearing the news, I put your photo on top of the piano and played it again. Somehow the words felt right:
“When whippoorwills call and evenin’ is nigh, I hurry to my blue heaven.
A turn to the right, there’s a little white light, will lead you to my blue heaven.
You’ll see a smiling face, a fireplace, a cozy room,
a little nest that’s nestled where the roses bloom…I’m happy in my blue Heaven.”
I hope you are, Ted. Rest in peace.