Philip Hailer’s late mother, Grace, and father, Paul.
By PHIL HAILER
Dad was just shy of 89 full years when he succumbed in January, 2014 after an eight-year battle with his failing kidneys. He went out like a true champion duking it out and calling the shots right to the very end. His funeral service concluded appropriately enough with a recording of Frank Sinatra singing, “My Way”.
Three weeks prior to his passing his wife of 67 years suffered a stroke on Christmas Eve while recovering from a previous stroke. Mom had battled back bravely throughout the summer and fall of 2013 to regain her health and was making great progress when she was blindsided by this latest setback.
When Dad died, Mom was back in another rehabilitation facility and was aware of what happened to him. She tried very hard in the following months to recover again, but this time she required long-term nursing home care. We would visit often and take her on an occasional joy ride or to a restaurant for lunch, and sometimes even a cocktail or two. At times, it felt like the good old days even though it wasn’t. Try as we might, it really couldn’t be the same without Dad.
The nursing home for her was like being in prison. For someone whose life revolved around the daily bustle of growing up with seven siblings and then later running a household and raising six children of her own, this was a solitary and dependent lifestyle that was impossible to accept. Simply put, she was miserable and would have given anything to go back to those then seemingly more chaotic and demanding times.
Mom and Dad never really made specific burial plans when they were both relatively healthy. I remember sheepishly asking them about 10 years ago if they had plans and they told me they didn’t. Of course, any conversation regarding matters like that had to be prefaced awkwardly with, “I don’t mean to be morbid, but……”.
Dad did say that he just wanted to be cremated and then said in a somewhat disingenuous manner – as only we family members who knew him could understand — “I don’t care what you do with me because when you die, your soul goes straight to the Lord. Your body means nothing.”
My mother rolled her eyes and chimed in, “He’s just being a cheap S.O.B. because he doesn’t want to spend the dough.” He didn’t deny that. What he said about funeral costs was what he said about anything that was expensive, be it a cup of coffee, or a casket. He liked to sputter and say, “At least Jesse James had a gun.” He was actually thinking at one point that when Mom died, she could be buried with her parents and when no one was looking, maybe we could sneak his ashes in there somewhere. What could possibly go wrong with that Larry David-type scenario?
It was fortunate that Dad was a World War II combat veteran though because one day when he was taking a ride to Falmouth on Cape Cod with my brother he saw a sign for the National Cemetery at Bourne and said, “That’s where I want to be.”
Mom was deep into her 93rd year when she died on January 16, 2017, almost three years to the day of Dad’s passing. They were buried together in Bourne with a beautiful and meaningful military ceremony. She would have loved the patriotic pomp and ceremony, and somewhere Dad was smiling for the same reasons and also because — since he was a veteran — the burial plots, grave markers and services were all courtesy of Uncle Sam.
Jesse James need not apply.
As avid card players, it was fitting to have “A pair of hearts beats all” etched on their marker because they weren’t afraid to play life’s game and take chances. In doing so, that imperfect but good and hard-working couple lived the good life and did a wonderful job parenting and providing for their family. They are indeed missed, but it’s reassuring to know that – at least in a spiritual sense — they are reunited once again on this Father’s Day.
Philip Hailer is retired and living in Quincy.