Losing my father-in-law the day before Thanksgiving has been a slow-burn experience. First, the stunned realization and the acceptance that had already been growing there--he was 98 at the time and had been moved to a care facility for the last year or so. The workers there really cared and it was good to know that someone noticed he was slipping away and was with him to hold his hand for those last moments.
To be honest, I've been sad about it for some time. Sad when we left the house my husband had grown up in knowing it would be sold in a month, knowing we would never be back, knowing it would never be quite the same. The sadness started when my mother-in-law passed six years before. Elva was an avid naturalist and knew every bird and every plant in her neighborhood. We loved walking with her with a pair of binoculars up a road. Of course, we had to keep up with her. She was hardy to nearly the end.
And for many years, so was my father-in-law. Ira had lived in his small north country town all of his life, and he had stories that stretched back to earlier years. Funny stories, touching stories, lots and lots of stories. He had been very active in his community--he was one of the charter members of the local volunteer fire department, was fire chief for many years, was a grand master at his Masonic Lodge, was a school board member, attended Town Board meetings to voice his views when it was necessary. He was a respected member of his community. I can see where my husband got his own interest in local politics.
In my thirty years of marriage, I knew both my in-laws as retired people. Early on, if they weren't off square dancing, they were playing mahjong or cross-country skiing or off in the woods on one of their many foraging expeditions. Elva and Ira knew where every sort of edible plant was. They were out "stalking the wild asparagus" and Elva's botanical skills were the basis of healthy eating and living.
I'm glad to have known them while they were still young. We went cross-country skiing with them, took many long hikes and they taught us to play mahjong. We had many late nights up playing with them! We lived much closer back then and we would visit or stop in. For awhile, we took turns taking each other out to lunch--we would find an interesting town half-way and pick a restaurant. They visited us in Connecticut where we lived, but usually we would head north. It was so peaceful in that little town that each visit was a respite from our busy lives.
Elva and Ira were an interesting couple--they traveled a lot and we had a chance to hear about their visits--crossing the Arctic Circle on a local steamer in Norway, taking an Audubon tour in Alaska or cruising on the Danube. They spent their 60th anniversary in Venice. They were young for most of the years I knew them, and it wasn't until the past decade that the years began to make their inevitable claim.
I will never forget our last Thanksgiving with Elva at the Cambridge Inn a few months before she died. She'd been failing, but that day she was her old self, smiling and gracious and happy. It was a good memory of happier times. After she left, Ira held up pretty well, but the years were crowding in on him. We went from sitting with him in the evening listening to his stories over a glass of Scotch served in a jelly jar with one ice cube, to watching him fall asleep in front of the Weather Channel. We went from going out and about the mountains, taking walks and stopping for a nice lunch, to just a drive around the block.
Then the time came for a care facility, and Ted's sister found a beautiful one overlooking the Atlantic near her home in Maine. It had a nice homey feel, including a fireplace so he could sit in his wheel chair and doze, something he enjoyed. The place was clean and bright and he wasn't alone his last few moments.
It is the end of an era for my husband and I. We miss both of them deeply. We've been missing them during the long years of slipping away. But we will always have them with us, and all the lessons we learned from them. For me they are lessons about loving the outdoors, staying fit and really living those elder years doing what you enjoy.