Last Monday, my father-in-law passed away after a bout with congestive heart failure. He'd been suffering heart trouble for a long time--my wife tells me his doctors gave him six months to live back in 1994. Clearly, he mis-heard them and thought they'd given him 18 years.
There's a lot about his passing that is sad--he was always very nice to me and had all kinds of crazy stories. He'd known Bill Cosby when Cos' was a young up-and-coming comedian, and he'd had a cameo in the Vincent Price film "Doctor Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine" (amazingly, my wife and I had actually seen that before we learned he had his cameo in it). He'd also served in the Navy, started a successful business and lived just about everywhere (which is why my wife was born in Australia). Fairly impressive for a man born on the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina. And he looked exactly like "Waldorf" from the Muppet Show. I know I'll miss him.
It was also unfortunate that we missed his final moments--we got the news that he didn't make it while we were driving from D.C. to see him. However, I am glad we had a chance to visit him last Father's Day and spend some quality time with him in the town where he'd grown up. He'd also had his chance to attend his daughter's second wedding, and regale the guests with plans to start a Costa Rican emerald mine. (I still wonder how that one might have turned out)
Our trip to see him last week sadly became a trip to mourn him and handle all the unpleasant aspects of disposing of his possessions and body. As he'd requested, we had him cremated so we could scatter the ashes in a creek he'd played in as a boy. Determined to not let the cremator think we were simplistic rubes, I insisted we would not be paying for rust-proof undercoating or extended warranties, and that if the price wasn't right we'd take the body and do everything ourselves. (This was a bluff, of course. I've never cremated anyone before, despite my time in Cub Scouts). My wife also had to spend time on the phone with the organ donation people, which involves a lot of embarrassing questions that they have to ask you.
The ceremony was very nice--considering the short notice, there was a good turnout, with friends and family speaking about him and a military honors ceremony (we still have the flag). Then, a short walk to the creek and the ashes were strewn.
My wife has handled the loss fairly well--considering his long declining health, she'd been prepared for a while for something like this. But death can be cruel in its finality, even when it means an end to suffering.