As a reader of Healthy Aging®, you may know that the spirit rising from our pages is one of inspiration to help you remain active and healthy. Our content is designed to motivate, educate and get you to keep moving forward. Our audience is the active, 45-plus crowd and anyone older who wishes to remain active mentally and physically.
We leave end-of-life discussions to other publications.
However, there comes a time for all of us to face the loss of a loved one. I typically try not to insert details of my personal life into our editorial content. I choose, instead, to let our contributors tell their stories.
I am breaking from that rule today to share my story, hopefully, as a way to help others who might be in the same position. What I am about to say will also shed light on why this particular magazine issue is a little later than usual.
My father came to live with my family four years ago upon the death of my mother on Christmas Eve, 2017. Had they been well-known, they each could have been a cover story for Healthy Aging® Magazine. My mother reached almost 100 years of age. She and my father lived in their own home, were independent, and were the ultimate parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. They hosted holidays even to the end of my mother’s life.
Two weeks after my mother’s passing, my Dad suffered a stroke. We all thought then he might live out his remaining days in a nursing home. That was not to be. Thankfully, he somehow rallied, passed all of the tests given to him in the hospital, and pronounced, “I want to go home.”
On Super Bowl Sunday, just a short time after the stroke, my Dad left his Connecticut home and came to live with my family in Pennsylvania. Not sure how the stroke would ultimately affect his daily living, we embraced the spirit we try to convey in the pages of Healthy Aging® and encouraged Dad in his rehab. This involved hours of driving to speech therapy sessions, physical therapy, and more.
But, guess what? He rallied. Inch by inch, he recovered. I attribute much of his return to physical and mental health to a personal trainer I knew at a gym, Doug Slabach. Three days a week, personal fitness sessions with Doug seemed to bring Dad back to life. When the warm weather arrived, Dad expressed interest in swimming once again. He used to be an avid lap swimmer. So why not try. Unfortunately, the stroke affected his ability to float, but he wanted to try anyway.
Enter Mack Henderson, a swim coach, who took my Dad on. Not only did they give it the old college try, but they succeeded in getting Dad back to swimming. Sure he wore a lifebelt, but Dad swam the elementary backstroke twice a week at the Y – even during the pandemic. “How many yards did you do, today,” I would ask. “Oh, the usual – 600 yards,” he would reply.
Oh – and by the way – Dad returned to driving. We had him checked out by a professional driving instructor whose only final comment after the session was, “I hope I can drive as well as he does at his age.”
So, for four years, we had the blessing of my Dad as a productive family member … He cooked, made salads, batches of sugar cookies (he ate them, not me!), repaired stuff, and was genuinely happy. Not bad for a guy who worked for IBM for 40 years, was in World War II working on communications in the South Pacific, raised a family of four children, was married for 70-something years.
Dad died at 98 here at our home. (My mom lied about her age … she thought he didn’t know). Two weeks later, we held a “celebration of life,” filled with upbeat tributes and music he enjoyed throughout his life and attended by close friends – many of whom met my father while living here. Yes, you can develop friendships even in your nineties.
When a family member passes away, it is always a shock, even if they suffer from diseases or other physical impairments. We were fortunate that my father was healthy until the end, but it still threw us.
What you may not know when confronted with someone’s passing is what you do next? As silly as it sounds, is there a checklist of what to do? Yes, there are, and these proved to be most helpful for me.
Here is a Checklist link — it covers tasks such as what to do immediately and later, including obtaining a death certificate, notifying others, canceling services, etc.
While those four years were sometimes challenging (as all intergenerational living can be), we were lucky to have my Dad here, to see him smile, grow and thrive in his 90s. His secret? “Always go forward, don’t look back.” He was the most positive person I have ever known, and I hope to continue to honor him through my work with Healthy Aging®.
I’m sorry the latest issue of Healthy Aging® Magazine is a little bit later than scheduled. We are now moving on, looking forward to spring and many more seasons to come.