My mom called tonight with the news that my father has passed away. He died the night of his 86th birthday, after fighting Alzheimer's Disease for over ten years (though it is difficult to pin down exactly when that affliction began). He was the greatest man I ever knew, and with his death an era has ended.
I was a shameless Daddy's Girl. My pop made me feel special and worthy of spoiling. I have two older brothers who always shared a room. From their perspective, I must have seemed the lucky one, getting a room to myself. But I often felt lonely and wished for a sister or a playmate. Thanks to my dad's attention and affection (liberally bestowed upon me, despite the restrictions of a college professor's busy schedule) I had a built-in comrade at home; someone to harmonize with when singing old standards in the car, a fellow Cubs fan to watch televised games and drink bottled Tab with on hot summer afternoons, a diehard supporter of my musical and artistic efforts, my own personal Candyman, generous to a fault.
My dad was bigger than life. A tireless volunteer, he selflessly gave his heart, soul, sweat and time to the YMCA; he served them first as a camp counselor and then as a Y executive, later as a professor in a university training Y staff people and as an International Y's Man. He organized countless fund raisers for Y World Service, and annually helped organize and walk in "Miles For Mankind" sponsored walkathons. He worked hard in our church, too. Both he and my mom were always on this committee or that, and his was one of the loudest voices urging us to support foreign missions.
My father always used to say he would rather wear out than rust out. He would never have chosen Alzheimer's as the way to die. He liked to feel useful, to help others. This was always his motivation behind the zillions of volunteer activities I saw him commit his time to through the years. Even in his retirement village, he was constantly lending a hand, visiting shut-ins, pushing a broom in the Alzheimer's Ward -- even after becoming a patient there! It was hard to just sit still. He wanted to earn his keep in life.
He had his share of quirks, Lord knows. And he passed on to his kids many of them: I'm a bundle of them, myself! But when all is said and done, I'm so very proud he was my dad. I'm grateful to God that he passed rather peacefully in the end. Mom said she could visit him daily at the end there...each time saying her goodbyes as though they were the last. Someone once called Alzheimer's Disease "the long goodbye" or something like that. Mom found that to be true. She's been gradually saying goodbye for the past year or more. And I have, too, I guess.
My dad will be remembered by many, I know. Rest in peace, Papa. I love you!