Two years later, he would have a heart attack. I vividly remember him on the bathroom floor in his underwear and Mom shooing me out, “Get ready for school.” The ambulance took him away as I rode off to school not knowing.
But mortality rates following a heart attack back then were high and, as a surgeon, he knew the numbers. For the next several years, he took it as easy as he could. Regardless, he was usually up around 4:30AM and off to rounds before any of us were up. He’d do a surgery and hold office hours and, when he came home about the time we were home from school, he would change into pajamas, eat a light dinner, drink wine and watch TV. He was the first in bed.
He withdrew from family life.
I don’t know the financial situation but can only guess they didn’t have a lot of savings. A life insurance policy, if he didn’t already have one, was out of the question. So he focused all his energy on providing for the family’s future. He bought Holiday Inn stock almost at its very beginning and then kept it for many decades.
Mom, not surprisingly, spent most of her time caring for him as well as trying to raise three kids. That would take its toll.
Indeed, he lived another forty-four years but Mom was wore out in only half that many. A stroke changed her personality at age 67 and the “Polly” of our childhood, so-nicknamed for the ever-positive and hopeful Pollyanna, suffered terrible depressions for her last two years. Dad became her caretaker and tried all he could to cheer her up but I guess the physical damage was too great.
We think she committed suicide — pills — even though the Coroner’s report says Atherosclerosis. That’s the hardening and narrowing of arteries and she certainly did have that. But Doctors take care of Doctors in many ways.
When Dad became a widower, I’m sure he was suddenly lost. For decades Mom had catered to his needs only to switch roles for her last two. And then suddenly the house was still.
Wendy was in Indiana with her husband and family. She asked Dad to come and stay a while. A long while. Terry and her family in Houston and I with mine in Arizona said the same but he wouldn’t budge.
Those years of isolation had also taken a toll.
Thirteen years later he re-married and spent increasing amounts of time at the new wife’s home in Forrest City Arkansas. Behind the scenes, his possessions and investments were slowly, one by one, signed over to her. When he died in an Arkansas rest home forty-four years after that heart attack, his Last Will and Testament would have nothing on which to operate. She had it all.
And then a very strange thing happened.
Expecting a significant inheritance — his estate was worth several million — but getting nothing, I was suddenly handed my life.
It was mine to do with as I chose.
Succeed or fail, do something or do nothing, it was entirely up to me.
I was born in the days after his passing.
Everything I and my wife have done, everyone we’ve touched, and everything that has happened in our life since then is ours, and ours alone.
I am both grateful and so very sad at the story.
Life is very strange.