Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A long hiatus - with some reason.

I may be many things, but a regular blogger is not one of them. Here it is, two full months since my last post, and lots of changes, but nary a word from me in this forum. My apologies, but more important things kept coming up, and posting here fell way down my list.

But I'm not going to give up on it - I have a bookmark on my browser, and I check my own blog from time to time, if only to remind me that I haven't done anything with it. I do get ideas for posts from time to time, but am rarely near a keyboard to take for action on them. Also, I've this compulsion to try to make posts perfect: thoroughly considered, completely addressed, and well written. It's a tall order to do that all the time.

One of the major things that has happened since I last posted has been the death of a dear friend. Fr. Paul Higdon was close to many in our community here, and he finally passed away at age 90 on Feb 20th, 2010. I was not only his financial power of attorney prior to his death but am the executor of his will. He was a dear friend whom I miss.

Though Fr. Paul had a lot of friends, a good measure of his practical care fell to me after he stopped driving in 2007. He'd call me for runs to the doctors office or drugstore, most of the time ending up with a good coffee at the cafe in the local bookstore. At the beginning, when he started calling me regularly for rides, I bridled a bit, wondering, "doesn't he have anyone else to call?" (Particularly because he'd call on very short notice.) I was careful to hide any hint of resentment, since he was hypersensitive to such things and would stop calling altogether if he thought he was imposing, but I did wonder. Then the Lord spoke quietly to me, informing me that this servant of His had sacrificed his entire life to the Kingdom, including a wife and the possibility of sons of his own. Now, in his waning days, I was to be the son he'd never had. I was to attend to his practical needs and insure he was never alone and ease the burden of his old age and close his eyes in death.

I didn't know that God meant that quite literally.

With that understanding, I welcomed the minor inconveniences that came with being Fr. Paul's surrogate son. Not that I was the only person who cared for him - far from it. He had scores of close friends who loved him dearly, and many would take him places and enjoy time with him. But nearly all of the others were women, and as dear as their friendship was, I think he appreciated masculine company at times. For one thing, he didn't like being fussed over, and unfortunately, even the most well-intended women can have mother hen tendencies. As a guy I instinctively understood that still being able to do a little bit for himself was important to him - so I let him do it as long as he was able.

His decline really began in late January. His care facility called me to give him a ride to the doctor's office for a respiratory condition. Though he was in touchy condition - gasping for breath and barely able to walk - he wanted to return to his apartment anyway. But it was too much for him, and the next day he was in the hospital. That stay lasted only the weekend (and, amazingly, he shook the respiratory infection), but then the doctor sent him home. The rationale was that he could get care of equal or better quality at the assisted living home as at the hospital. That was a message right there.

Fr. Paul stopped eating in the hospital - food just lost its taste for him - and never picked it up again. Despite encouragement, cajoling, badgering, and pleading, he didn't resume regular meals. He'd sip water and Ensure, and occasionally some bites of broth, but he didn't even eat the blueberry pie my wife and daughter made for him. Naturally, nobody can survive long under such conditions, least of all a sickly 90-year-old. He declined steadily, and was put under hospice care in mid February.

Two of his nieces came during his final week - one from Kalamazoo for the early part and one from Houston for the last days. We were keeping a nearly constant vigil with him during the last part of the week, only having a caregiver come in during the deepest midnight hours. Finally on the afternoon of Feb 20th, with myself and his niece Diane at his side, he breathed his last.

The archbishop said his funeral Mass and many of the community turned out to send him off. It was an honour and a privilege for me to be chosen to attend to him in his final hours. Now I'm attending to the disposition of his modest estate. He was a dear friend, and I look forward with hope to the day I might see his face again - this time unlined by care and unburdened by the long years of a hard life. Pray for me, Fr. Paul.