Friday, December 22, 2006
Charles Chase Porter, 1922-2006
My father-in-law, Charles Chase Porter, died this afternoon of complications from Alzheimer's Disease. His death was as comfortable as these things can be. My wife, who attended him daily during his long decline, held his hand as he passed.
I remember very clearly a family gathering that took place not long after that awful disease began to take its hold on him. He always insisted that we say Grace before holiday meals, and always took it upon himself to lead the family in prayer. He always began it, "Our Heavenly Father," and then delivered some sweet little homiletic sentiment. This time, he said, "I hope we all lead lives as wonderful as mine has been, and that we always remember them."
I can't think of a more fitting tribute to the battle he fought during his declining years, a battle no one can win. He knew that his identity, his very self, was slipping away from him, becoming erased by this horrifying disease, and he had the presence of mind to tell us he hoped it didn't happen to us.
My wife called me at work this morning. She had taken our daughter with her for a quick visit to see Chase before finishing up some Christmas shopping. Wonder Woman has spent enough time with Alzheimer's patients in Chase's ward in the last three years that she knows perhaps better than many doctors the signs of the Final Days. Chase had, a day or two before, suddenly sat upright from his bed and attempted to walk. The staff were encouraging, thinking this was a sign of improvement. Wonder Woman knew better: That was just what Mrs. X had done a day before she died last September, just what Mr. Y had done on his penultimate day in March.
It was clear to her and to the medical staff that he was going to die soon. She asked me to arrange to get our daughter out of there; she didn't need to watch her grandfather die. My mother obligingly agreed to pick her up and take her to her house. I had a consultation about a root canal scheduled in an hour; when that was done, I was going to get to her side. But as I was making my way to the dental surgeon's, the phone call came. He was gone.
I went to the home. His door was closed. I knocked. Wonder Woman opened the door to me. It was just her and Chase's body. We hugged, said I love you. We sat, waiting for the Hospice-care people to come and tell us what to do next. She held his hand. She stroked his hair. She tried to get him to close his eye. She spoke to him as is he were still in there: "See? My husband's here. Somebody's going to take care of me. It's OK, Daddy. It's OK."
I sat there, loving her. Just...loving her.