Andy died Friday, six days short of his 81st birthday. We got the call Friday evening from his daughter. Andy and Joanne were our neighbors, the best we’ve ever had.
Andy was a hard-core Republican but not one of the wingnuts. He was conservative and was certain that the election of Barack Obama would mean higher taxes, but you never heard him say an evil word about Obama. He knew I was a veteran anti-Vietnam war activist, editor of an antiwar underground press anthology, and union organizer but he respected me because I lived my beliefs without hating others who disagreed with me. I felt the same about Andy, a retired army colonel whose son followed him into the military.
Despite the many years that separated us, Andy, Joanne, Emily, and I socialized often and shared special events together. They attended David’s Bar Mitzvah and Carrie’s Bat Mitzvah, as well as parties at our home. We were special guests at their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Emily and Andy shared a November 5 birthday so she never forgot to send him a card.
Andy and Joanne were the last of the original homeowners in our neighborhood. They had a lot of pride in their home and in the neighborhood. In retirement Andy kept busy and in shape by working around the yard. He cut his lawn every week in the summer and made a point of cutting ours, too, but just the front, the side that was seen by passersby. He loved his snow blower. In the winter, never did more than an inch of snow settle on his drive or sidewalk before he was outside blowing it into the snowdrifts. Our yard benefited from his passion. He and Joanne walked often to the Kroger at the end of our street, until economic times turned the shopping center into abandoned property.
Then this past May, Andy got word that he had pancreatic cancer. He made the decision not to fight it. He just didn’t want to mess with the chemo that accompanies treatment, he said. He figured his time was up. He had lived a good life and was ready to go with the flow. Of course, he never used those words. A zen interpretation of his future would have been totally out of character for him. Nor was the idea of trying alternative treatments, like acupuncture or herbs.
But he did become more spiritual in his outlook. Emily and I both sensed it. And so Emily and I were able to talk to him about his decision and his upcoming death. As his body shrunk from a stocky 200-plus pounds to the 130 range, he joked about losing weight. We told him to let us know what life was like on the other side when he got there.
Andy’s biggest regret was that he would not be here for Joanne, a retired nurse who now requires medical care herself and was recently moved to a facility where she can get the care she needs.
Last Saturday, October 24, the ambulance came to take Andy to hospice where he could get the round-the-clock care he now needed. We waited by our kitchen door, which faced his home, so we could say goodbye. As he was rolled to the ambulance on the stretcher, Emily and I approached him. He couldn’t speak but he extended his hand to each of us so he could connect with us one last time. Emily reminded him that they had an upcoming birthday to celebrate together. I told him to keep in touch.
Andy is fortunate to have five loving children, four of whom live in town, so Joanne will not be left alone. That fact alone was comforting to him. What we learned from them was that he was conscious when the grandchildren visited him that last week, but soon after he stopped eating. For the last two days of his life he was in a coma, so his next adventure began easily and painlessly.