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. 

 

 

 

Gravel Road Ahead pre-pub sales begin

Lick_Sue_Fagalde_COV_EMIn last week’s post, I talked about how I became a poet, and I told you about my first poetry chapbook, coming out later this year. This week, “pre-sales” for Gravel Road Ahead begin. Some of you will be receiving postcards in the mail very soon.

I have just gotten my first look at a mockup of the cover photo which will appear on the postcards. It may change a little in the final version, but it’s one more step forward. Thank God I don’t hate it. That’s my photo of one of the places Annie and I go walking. Before Annie, I walked it with Fred and Sadie. The gravel road is hard on shoes and the feet inside them, but worth it for where it takes you.

You’d think once you write the book and get it accepted, you could celebrate with a glass of champagne and relax. Nope. Now it’s time to promote and sell the book. Pre-publication sales are critical. In order to guarantee a full press run, I need to sell 55 copies in advance. I’m hoping my friends will help with this. The price, $14.99, seems a little steep, but if you think about it as paying 50 cents a poem, it’s not bad.

Sorry, it’s not available as an ebook. And it will not be available at Amazon.com until the book is published Oct. 11.

After Gravel Road Ahead is published in October, I will be looking for places to do readings, and I will have copies to sell then, but I would love it if you would pre-order a copy.

Order your copy by sending $14.99 plus $2.99 shipping (check or money order made out to “Finishing Line Press”) to Finishing Line Press, P.O. Box 1626, Georgetown, KY 40324. You can also order online at www.finishinglinepress.com. Here is the direct link to the book. Credit card orders will be processed through PayPal. Preordered copies ship Oct. 11, 2019.

How about this? If you preorder a copy, I will buy you lunch for an equivalent price if you can arrange to be here on the central Oregon coast. Ocean view and everything. I’m serious. Aside from writing poetry, going out to lunch is my favorite thing. And when I can do both at the same time, oh boy, life is good.

And if you don’t want to mess with the publisher, just tell me at sufalick@gmail.com how many copies you want and we’ll worry about payment and deliver later.

Here’s the title poem to whet your appetite:

GRAVEL ROAD AHEAD

Where my husband lives now, I don’t.
Each day he forgets more
details from the house we bought
with his VA loan. I don’t. I tend them,
sort his papers, pay his bills,
dust his antique rolltop desk.

I linger in his swivel chair,
wearing his red plaid shirt, staring
at my small hands peeking out
from frayed cuffs with missing buttons,
toying with his ballpoint pen.

I straighten his paper clips, delaying
my drive up the steep winding road
to where my husband lives now
in a numbered room with an ocean view,
where the pavement ends, and I don’t.

***

Family update: I have just returned from another trip to San Jose. My father moved from a skilled nursing facility to Somerset Senior Living, where he stayed for a few months after he broke his leg in 2017. It’s a very nice and very expensive place, located in a former convent. He’s settling in, still hoping to get back on his feet and resume his independent life. His biggest problem right now, besides not being able to stand up without help, is boredom, so if anyone can call or visit, that would be great. Email or Facebook message me for his address and phone number.

Annie spent a lovely week with the Cramer family while I was gone. She went to work with Sandy and played with David and the kids at home. She was still healing from her surgery for a growth on her leg that turned out to be benign, praise God. She’ll have a gnarly scar, but we’re done with the protective collar and she’s running around like nothing happened.

Have a great week. Help an author. Buy a book.

Hanging out in the Alternate World of Nursing Homes

A world exists in the midst of our own that many people are not aware of. It’s a world none of us want to live in, but it’s not so bad to visit. I’m talking about nursing homes, assisted living facilities, memory care centers, whatever you want to call them. Buildings with old people in wheelchairs and walkers, staff in matching shirts, institutional meals and alarms on the doors. The kinds of places where old people land when they can’t stay at home anymore–if they can afford them.

Long before I had family living in these places, I sang in them with the Valley Chorale in California. We didn’t pay much attention to the residents back then. We just wanted to know where to dress, where to set up, and where to plug in our amps. We performed in our silky dresses and jeweled shoes to a sea of white hair and glasses, absorbed their applause, shook a few hands, changed clothes and went out to dinner.

It’s different when someone you love lives there. I started frequenting nursing homes when Grandpa Fagalde started living in one after a series of strokes. He was 94, and it was a shock the first time I saw him in a wheelchair, saying things that didn’t quite make sense. It was easier to sit at the piano and sing than to sit with him for the hour or two I visited at lunchtime or after work. But I came regularly and gradually became part of the family there. I greeted the staff and the other residents. They grabbed for my hands and sought my attention.

Toward the end, my grandfather didn’t know who I was. He knew only that I played music and that I would listen to him for a while. It was heartbreaking to see my grandfather this way, but while I was there, I could forget about my job as a newspaper editor, the errands I need to do on the way home, the teenage stepson who was driving me crazy, or the odd noise coming from under the hood of my car. It was just these old people in their limited world.

I never guessed that fifteen years later I would be visiting my husband Fred in a nursing home. He had Alzheimer’s Disease. He stayed in four different places before he died, but the longest was at Timberwood Court in Albany, Oregon, 70 miles from where I lived. Occasionally I played music there, too, but mostly I hung out with Fred and the gang. We watched TV, ate ice cream, batted a big rubber ball around, sang with visiting musicians, and went on field trips in the little bus. Some days, I would sit on the couch resting my head on my husband’s shoulder, even falling asleep sometimes.

I got to know the names of all the other residents and the family members who visited. I knew the staff. I would walk into the offices to demand things I needed for Fred—a haircut, his lost shoes, a doctor’s appointment. I was part of the Timberwood family. Yes, the residents had dementia. They screamed, they fought, they got sick and died. Some constantly begged to go home. But most made sense at least part of the time, and day after day, it was a beautifully furnished oasis from the rest of the world, unaffected by winter storms, summer heat, or the news on TV.

Beyond the coded-lock door, we were all safe and within shouting distance of an aide who would take care of everything. Fred soon forgot he had ever lived anywhere else. When his physical health failed, he moved to another facility that was not pretty at all. It was much more like a hospital. The hiatus was over.

This year, I found myself hanging out at another nursing home with my father. He wanted only to be back at his own house taking care of his own stuff, but I fell easily into the nursing home rhythm at Somerset. Here’s the living room, the dining room, the courtyard. Here are the aides in matching shirts. Here’s the office. Write Dad’s name on his clothes, hang them in the closet, make sure he has his meds. Get everything set up, then sit with him. Talk, listen, be. Meet the other family members doing the same thing.

Janet, the daughter of one of Dad’s housemates, arrives every day at 11 a.m. and leaves at 4 p.m. It’s like her job. She feels enough at home to go into the kitchen and help herself to coffee and cookies. She joins in the activities. Her sister handles the bills and such, but Janet is the one who has become part of the Somerset family.

It was different for me this time because I live 700 miles away. I visited in concentrated doses. Three days, a week, two weeks. But I got to know and care about the other residents and staff. I liked walking in to a chorus of “Hi, Sue.” I liked that there was someone waiting for me, even on days when my father was El Groucho, as my mother used to call him. While I was at Somerset, I could do nothing about work, home repairs, the needy dog or the emails calling for my attention. All I had to do was sit in the courtyard or the living room talking to my father. When it was time to leave, time to face traffic and take care of business, part of me didn’t want to go.

But of course I had to. These places are only pleasant to hang out in when you have the option of leaving. I didn’t have to eat their food, follow their schedule, or wait an hour for help going to the bathroom. I could walk out on my two strong legs whenever I wanted to. That’s the difference. For the residents, it’s a pretty prison which is eating up their life savings.

Nursing homes are a business where they charge a fortune and often give less than wonderful care. We can only hope our loved ones end up in the good ones. But sometimes since Dad went home, I find myself missing those people and those places where I could just sit and be. Also, I miss the Somerset dog, a white fur ball named Sonny.

When it’s my turn to move in, I hope I can be one of the ones who accept it with grace and smiles. I hope I still have enough working brain cells to make the best of it.