Five years ago, 10 August 2000, my father, Leslie Harold Green died of prostate cancer.
Actually, the death certificate, which cites me as the “reporter” (whatever that means), says that he died of heart failure which was caused by a stroke which was precipated by prostate cancer (or some such.)
The first time Dad told us he had the disease was in early 1998. My sister Leslie, who lives in San Diego, and I were both visiting the Greens in Charlotte. I remember that my sister was very upset, but I wasn’t all that much, and she was upset that I wasn’t upset. My reaction was probably based on the fact that HE didn’t seem all that upset.
In fact, he seemed pleased by the fact that he had this disease, but that he was still in control. At Carol’s and my wedding (15 May 1999), he did all the floral arrangements and decorations. He seemed to relish in telling my new mother-in-law about it almost nonchalantly that evening.
And he also did the decorations for my parents’ 50th anniversary party (12 March 2000), perhaps needing to take a break a little more often, but still going well. More than once, I heard him say to church folks and others: “I’m living with prostate cancer, not dying from it.” That always got an “amen” from the congregation. I wasn’t quite sure what the heck that meant, and I felt as though I were missing the punchline somehow.
My father was active in many, many things, including being the organizer and primary chef for the breakfast program at his church. Sister Leslie was talking to our mother on Leslie’s birthday (23 July 2000), but my father, having made breakfast for four dozen people that morning, indicated that he was too tired to talk with her. This set off alarm bells for her. Leslie was always my father’s favorite child. This is not a complaint, it’s a fact that even she has admitted to. I mean, she’s NAMED after him, for crying out loud. So, if he’s too tired to talk with her on her birthday, something’s seriously amiss.
The next week, even though she’d been in Charlotte earlier in that month, she flew from San Diego to Raleigh, then drove to Charlotte, arriving the very night he went into the hospital with some bleeding.
So, my mother, Leslie, and sister Marcia stayed with my father on a rotating basis. I talked with one of them on the phone every day.
That first weekend, my father thought that he was well enough to go home, so he got up and started taking out his IV tubes. This set off alarms at the nurses’ station, where they had to insist that he return to his room. He was a bad patient.
Then, on Thursday, August 3, my father has a massive stroke, and I knew I had to go to Charlotte.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t want to go to Charlotte. It wasn’t because we were backed up at work (though we were) or that one of us was already on vacation (though she was). I didn’t want to go to Charlotte because I figured if I went down there, my father would die. (Conversely, I figured that if I stayed up in Albany, he’d hang on for a while.)
But my wife Carol & I got tickets to fly to the Queen City. (Here’s a piece of advice, if you’re ever in that situation; compare the price the airline gives you for their “compassionate rate” with what you might find from Priceline.com or its competitors. I’ll bet the latter is cheaper, and you don’t have the hassle of the paperwork, in this case, getting a note from my father’s physician, Dr. Friedman, that said, yes, Les Green is really, really sick.)
Carol & I went right from the airport to the hospital on Monday, August 7. Even though he had some paralysis on one side, I could usually understand what he was saying. That night, Carol and I stayed in his room.
The next morning, Marcia was on the phone and made some lighthearted tease at Dad’s expense. Dad heard this, even though the phone was to my ear, and said fairly clearly, “not funny,” but he was obviously thought it was. Carol & I stayed with him that morning, then that afternoon, my mother.
My mother, Leslie, Carol and I met with an aid worker to determine what our options were if he were to live for a while: home care, hospice. My sisters stayed with him Tuesday night.
Carol & I were in on Wednesday morning. Dad became far less responsive since I had last seen him, pretty much in a comalike state, and on Wednesday night, Dr. Friedman said that it was likely that he would die within a week.
That evening, I turned on a baseball game, and explained the action to my father. I think the sound was down, so I was doing a play-by-play for a couple innings. I told him about Jason Giambi, the long-haired player for the Oakland A’s who had “graced” the cover of Sports Illustrated within the previous year. It took me back to when Dad would explain in-person baseball and televised football to me when I was a kid.
There were men from church who worked with my father on the breakfast program, and Dad called them “The Guys.” They came by and were surprised by his rapid decline since they had last seen him.
Wednesday night, we went home and Marcia stayed.
Thursday morning, I was working on an obituary for my father. Leslie had gone to relieve Marcia. Then at about 11:45 a.m., Marcia called from the hospital and said that my father was in the “death throes.” There were two vehicles in the household and both were at the hospital.
At my mother’s suggestion, I knocked on the door of a neighbor of theirs who I didn’t know. He worked nights. He did, in fact, give my mother and me a ride to the hospital after he got dressed. But by the time we got there, my father had passed away.
In due course, we identified a funeral parlor, which we went to Friday morning. That weekend, there were tons of people at the Green household, often bringing over food.
The service that we planned went off quite well. Leslie sang, Leslie & I sang, stories were told. We felt as though we had to comfort OTHERS in their grief. We had on our game faces; Dad would have been proud, I think.
That Monday, we (my mother, Leslie & her daughter Becky, Marcia & her daughter Alex, and Carol and I) all rode in a limo to a military cemetery some 30 or 40 miles away, our one indulgence. (We weren’t that sure where it was, and didn’t know what condition we’d be in.) It was a small, stark ceremony run by old war veterans, and it was oddly affecting. The Sunday service WE did; this service was DONE FOR US, and somehow more emotional.
Carol & I left soon thereafter for Albany. We had tenants moving into an apartment we owned, and there was work to be done. And I didn’t really cry until, a couple weeks after his death, the associate pastor of my church, Donna Elia, called me at work to extend her condolences. It’s a good thing to have a private office.
That fall, I returned to choir, and I asked my buddy Peggy how her summer was, and she said, “Not so great. My father died.” I said, “Mine, too.” Then she said, “In August.” I replied, “Me too.” “On the 10th.” “Me too.” “At 3 p.m.” “Mine was about 12:15 p.m.” It’s created some sort of special bond between Peggy and me. So, I know she’s remembering five years ago, too.