It’s Tricky Writing Your Father’s Obituary

Dad patioHow do you sum up a person’s life in a few words and photos? Being the journalist in the family, I got the job of writing the obituary for my father, Clarence “Ed” Fagalde, who died on Aug. 21.

I have written plenty of obits over the years, including my husband’s. They fall into a formula: facts about the person’s death and birth, where they lived, where they went to school, where they worked, extracurricular activities, family they left behind, and funeral information. It only takes a few paragraphs.

But in Dad’s case, which paragraphs? How does a grieving daughter write an unbiased account? What is the most important thing in his life? Each of us might chose a different theme.

In the end, it almost wrote itself. All my years of writing and of listening to Dad came together. I knew what to say. You can see the results online at https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/santa-clara-ca/clarence-fagalde-8829584.

Scroll down to see lots of photos. If you have words or pictures to contribute, please add them, following the instructions at the site. He’d like that.

Information on the Sept. 13 funeral is included. We are finalizing the details, but I think our father will be pleased. If you know someone who might want to be there, please share the information with them.

We debated whether to publish a funeral notice in the San Jose Mercury News. Not so long ago, that was a given. But now most newspapers charge a lot of money to publish obituaries, and very few people we know still read the newspaper. Even my father, an avid consumer of print and broadcast news, gave it up toward the end. “Nothing but junk,” he would complain. “I throw half of it away.” Having read a few issues lately, I  agree. The paper that set the standard when I was actively working on newspapers in the Bay Area doesn’t offer much anymore. So we decided to stick with the funeral home’s online obituary.

I received several nice comments on last week’s blog post about Dad. Today a woman who had met him at Somerset, the assisted living place where he spent his last months, talked about how nice he was and how she loved his stories. I know people who saw him as anything but sweet and who got tired of his filibusters.  I admit I sometimes fell asleep while he was talking, and I felt sorry for quiet people like my late husband who couldn’t get a word in edgewise. But he was a good man, and they were good stories, far more than can fit in an obituary.

“You should write a book about that,” he kept telling me about all kinds of things, from his days on the ranch to the people in the nursing home. Who knows? Maybe I will.

 

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Remembering Clarence “Ed” Fagalde, Jr.

Dad 43018BAt 6:30 p.m., I look at the clock and think, “I’ve got to call Dad.” Then I remember. I can’t do that anymore. I can forget his phone number. I can stop carrying my cell phone everywhere for fear I’ll miss an emergency call.

That call came at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 10 as Annie and I were walking up Thiel Creek Road. Within an hour, I was on my way to San Jose, adrenaline flowing so hard I didn’t feel hungry or sleepy or even need to pee. I just wanted to get there before IT happened.

By the time I stopped in Roseburg for the worst quarter-pounder ever at a McDonald’s where I had to interrupt the worker’s video game to place my order, my brother had sent a text saying that my father was no longer “critical.” Whew.

I cruised into the Best Western in southern Medford at 9 p.m. and went to bed at 9:30. Back on the road early the next day, I arrived at Kaiser Hospital at 3 p.m. My brother Mike was already there. My father didn’t look good. It was the first time I’d seen him hooked up to an oxygen tank. He refused to eat, but we were still able to talk. I’m sure when he saw both of his kids there at the same time, he knew things were not going well.

The hospital sent him back to Somerset Senior Living, where he’d been since June. But the end was coming. Suffering from congestive heart failure, kidney failure, a broken leg that had never healed, and a monster of a bedsore, he went downhill. He stopped getting up in his wheelchair, stopped eating, stopped talking, stopped. On the morning of Aug. 21, Ed Fagalde passed on to the next life.

I’m grateful I had a chance to sit with him. We said all the things we needed to say to each other. I sang to him that last night. At 97, this vigorous, talkative, power of a man was ready to go, and finally God was ready to take him.

“Sue, are you okay?” he asked me at one point. “Is Mike okay?” I assured him we were both fine, just worried about him. That seemed to be his main concern, that we be happy and healthy as we go on with our lives. We are, and we will be, but it’s tough right now.

My father and I were close. You know how you have that person who when they call, you say, “Oh, hi,” and sit down to enjoy the call? He was that guy in recent years. Both widowed, we shared the frustrations of living alone. I gave him cooking tips, and he advised me on home repairs. When I was in San Jose, we went to everything together. Sometimes people mistook me for his wife. I do look like my mother, and at 67, I have almost as much gray hair as Dad had. During those times, it was nice not to be alone.

I was always proud of my father. Smart, handsome, and strong, he was a farmer, a WWII veteran, and an electrician, blue collar, not rich. So what? He could have been anything, but he chose to work with his hands. Lord, those hands took a beating. In his spare time, when he wasn’t fishing or goofing around with his CB radio, he was working on the house and yard; he built so much of it himself.

And when he finally sat down to rest, he told stories. So many stories. He could make a story out of a trip to the gas station. I think that’s how I got to be a writer. I learned the gift of story from him, but never able to get a word in edgewise, I wrote my stories down.

Thank you, Dad. I’m so glad you’re not suffering anymore, but I sure will miss that voice on the phone, those stories I’ve heard so many times and wouldn’t mind hearing again.

The funeral Mass for Ed Fagalde will be held Sept. 13 at 10:30 a.m. at St. Martin of Tours Church in San Jose. An online obituary will be posted soon. 

 

 

 

On the Road to California Again

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Humboldt Bay at Sunset

 

Last week didn’t turn out quite as expected, especially for my dad. He fell and broke his leg above the knee. It was a bad break, requiring surgery and an extended stay in a care home after the hospital. He has survived heart surgery and a broken hip in recent years, and he will survive this, but for a person one month shy of 95, this is not good. My brother rushed over from his mountaintop home near Yosemite while I hit the road from Oregon. I didn’t know how long I would be gone or how well Dad would recover, but when these things happen, you do the best you can to tie up loose ends and go.

Winter lasting forever up here, the Siskyous were still loaded with snow, so I took the coast route down. After nine days, I returned up I-5. It’s an all-too-familiar 1,400-mile round trip commute. But I took pictures of some things I thought it would be fun to share here.

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This homemade camper at a coastal rest stop caught my fancy.

 

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I saw the peanut mobile way back near San Jose and was amazed when it pulled up at the Black Bear restaurant in Willows where I stopped for lunch.

 

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Dinner on my last night on the road was big enough for three dinners.
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Poor George’s in Yreka, where I had the massive pancakes, ham and eggs, is an old-time diner.

 

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I don’t do a lot of selfies but here I am on the coast highway.

Dad seeming relatively stable, I came home to get back to work, Annie, and taking care of my own house, but I will be going back soon, I’m sure. It’s not easy having your heart torn between two states. Meanwhile, please keep my father, Ed Fagalde, in your prayers.

 

 

All contents copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017

 

Dad’s 90th: A Party to Remember

When my brother and his wife drove Dad to lunch in San Jose on Sunday, he suspected a few people were gathering to celebrate his upcoming birthday, but he had no idea so many people would be there, or that I’d be walking out of the restaurant to greet him. After all, I live in Oregon and I was just there a few weeks ago. He’s a hard man to surprise, but we did it.

It was a hot sunny day as we gathered at Antonella’s Italian restaurant kitty corner from the Rosicrucian Museum. They had opened the restaurant just for us. We partied in a beautiful room decorated with murals of the Italian countryside. The tables were set with white cloths and stemmed cobalt blue glasses. Pictures of Dad from boyhood to now decorated the walls and tables. A chocolate cake decorated with tractors and a frosting orchard sat next to a little red barn with replicas of the horses Bud and Daisy that Dad grew up with.
People piled in from all over to honor Clarence “Ed” Fagalde. Nearly everyone was a cousin in some way, descended from the Fagalde or the Souza side of the family. So many people who had not seen each other for years. Our voices roared above the sound of the fans striving vainly to push out the heat. Everyone is older now. The kids are grown. “You look like your mother,” one of my cousins shouted when he saw me. I know. I do. That’s okay. She was a beautiful person.
How do you capture the feeling of that afternoon in words? So many hugs, so many laughs, so many smiles. Too much food. So much happiness. In a world where nothing is ever perfect, Sunday afternoon came as close as life ever does. It was the kind of party that will be remembered in the list of big parties–my parents’ 50th anniversary party, Grandpa’s 90th birthday party, the memorial for Uncle Don and Aunt Gen, my 50th birthday party in the cafeteria at my old elementary school… It was the kind of day that just filled me up, and I believe it did the same for my father.
He didn’t know he was going to have a house guest Sunday night, but he welcomed me back into my old room. In the evening, we sat in the kitchen eating leftover lasagna and pie, and we talked for hours. In the morning over coffee and tea, we talked some more. I am so blessed to have a father who is so strong, smart, handsome and interesting, even at 90.Our family history goes back to the pioneers of Santa Clara County, and Dad is a fountain of stories about the old days.
My brother Mike, his wife Sharon and I started tossing around ideas for Dad’s birthday when I was in California in early March. Sharon and my niece Susie did the invitations, posters and pictures, and baked cookie keepsakes for the guests to take home while I supplied a guest list and old photos—and myself. But a lot of the credit goes to my Aunt Suzanne, the only one who lived close enough to organize the setting and the food. I am grateful to everyone who helped or just showed up from all over California. I got the prize for greatest distance traveled. My cousin Jenny and her crew came in second, flying in from San Diego for the day.
I drove to Portland on Saturday afternoon, got up at 3 a.m. to fly south Sunday morning and was back in Portland by 5:00 Monday evening. It was raining. Last night, Dad and I were back to talking on the phone, both amazed that it all actually happened.
Today, May 1, is my father’s actual birthday. He was planning to go to the grocery store, do some laundry and maybe take himself out to dinner. That makes me sad, but I’m so glad he’s able to do those things, and I think we should keep celebrating life every day. We are so blessed. 
The photo, taken by Aunt Suzanne, shows Dad, my cousin Tom Sandkhule and me. 

California trip renews old memories

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I have just returned from a trip to San Jose, California to visit my father. It was a journey through two lifetimes of memories, mine and my dad’s. Now that I’m home, I’m still trying to believe that my long-awaited trip has come and gone.
My father, Ed Fagalde, is 89. I just turned 60. We are both widowed. We both order senior meals now, and we had a fun conversation comparing our prescriptions. We are lucky that Dad is still able to live on his own and doesn’t seem nearly as old as he is. Wherever we go, memories of our spouses go with us. I can see Mom in her chair by the window, hear Fred laughing at a joke.
Dad is a storyteller. Boy, does he like to talk about the good old days. We both grew up in San Jose. Dad grew up on the Dorrance Ranch, where his father was foreman. They raised prunes, cherries and other crops. Driving down Curtner Avenue between Monterey Highway and Meridian Road, he noted that we were in the middle of the ranch, which extended for hundreds of acres. He pointed to trees that were there long before the area became a suburban housing tract.
Everyplace we went, I had my own memories to match my father’s. “We had a big well here,” he said as we crossed the intersection near St. Christopher’s Church. I went to church here the first couple years Fred and I were married. He wired that building over there when he worked for Sure Electric. I interviewed the people who worked there for the San Jose Sun.
We drove through Saratoga, where I was editor of the Saratoga News, and Los Gatos, where I wrote for the Weekly-Times, had cheeseburgers and fries at a Burger Pit just like the one we went to almost every weekend when I was a kid, then headed east to Almaden, which brought back memories of my days writing for the South Valley Times. Dad’s memories went back much farther.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, San Jose had two working quicksilver (mercury) mines, the Almaden and Guadalupe mines. Dad’s grandfather and father worked at the Guadalupe mine, and his mother taught at the school there. Both mines are long closed now. In fact, the Guadalupe mine site is a landfill site now. As the road narrowed, we drove through miles of oak trees along Los Alamitos Creek, past the houses of the wealthy and the eccentric, past a dam and a county park with trails leading to the mining sites. Dad recalled riding that steep road on bicycles with his cousin Irene. Going up was tough, but going down was really exciting. He pointed to where there used to be a dance hall, a picnic area, a swimming pool. He told how his grandfather, who was more comfortable with horses than cars, took driving lessons from a local guy in exchange for breaking two horses.
These days, the road leads to a big white building that has been a dance hall, a bar, a theater, and a restaurant. I did a story there, too, can’t remember which paper it was for. Now it’s a museum.
The sign said the museum was closed, but there were cars in the parking lot, and Dad insisted we knock on the door. Surely they’d just send us away, I thought, but no. When Dad shared some of his history, Ranger Mary Berger let us in for a private tour of rooms decorated to look like 1850s parlors and other rooms full of information about the old days of Almaden. She described a busy schedule of activities we might enjoy. Meanwhile, Dad told her a few things she didn’t know about Almaden.
It was the highlight of a week full of memories. We visited my brother at his hilltop estate near Yosemite, talking, eating and watching basketball on TV as the rain cascaded down outside. I had lunch at an ultra-modern restaurant in Newark with my stepdaughter and dinner with my aunt at La Paloma in Santa Clara.
All too soon, it was time to say goodbye, warmed by memories made new by sharing them. 
For more information about the Almaden Quicksilver County Park and Mining Museum, visit www. parkhere.org and click on “History Here.”