Where Will I Be Carried Out?

My dad’s death two years ago today left me with a visual I’ll never forget and a nagging question:

Where will I be carried out?

We’ll all be carried away from someplace, so where and how do I want to be living when they cart this worn-out carcass away? It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, because this apartment is not that place and I can’t help but compare myself to my father.

Even as a baby, I was so smitten, I couldn't be bothered to look at the camera.

Even as a baby, I was so smitten, I couldn’t be bothered to look at the camera.

He not only ended his days exactly as he wanted to, he lived his days as he wanted to, so the bar’s set pretty high – which is a little intimidating.

He was separated from his family in Italy when he was 14. He was brought to the U.S. by his dad who dreamed of bringing the rest of the family, a few at a time. That year the stock market crash stopped both; the economy, and my grandfather’s dream.

My dad worked hard, taught himself English, joined the CCC so he could work, became a citizen, served his adopted country, learned to be one of the best brick masons in the area and sent us to school so we could do better than he did.

Dad working on our house.

Dad working on our house.

He worked two years building our house. Working at his day job laying brick and working late afternoons and evenings on a beautiful plot of land laying the brick, block and stone that became home. It was our center of activity for every Christmas Eve and holiday, for 57 years, and a haven for me when I returned after divorce.

Living with my dad during his final two years showed me the beauty of my parent’s simple life. I imagined being my mother as I stood in the kitchen cooking and cleaning. I felt the pleasure, blisters, and exhaustion of tilling the garden for hours, and savoring the fresh fruit and vegetables he was so proud of.

I saw Dad create friendships with people based on trust. He’d build a wall for free for the plumber or the carpenter and say, “Well, when I need something, they can help me.” I saw that generosity come back to him again and again, proving his favorite saying; “Friends are better than money.”

He showed me what it took to die well too.

I saw him, even in the throes of dementia, and aggressive prostate cancer, trying to stay as healthy as he could. He got up every day and, though he probably didn’t feel like it, went downstairs to exercise. He did his best to try to beat the painful cancer weakening him because his goal was to see cent’anni — the toast we always made. I think it’s the only goal he ever set that he didn’t achieve.

I saw him learn to accept helpers coming into his home. He was against it at first, but then, not only accepted them, he befriended these women with coffee and conversation, even offering them homemade wine.  They, in turn, couldn’t help but admire him for his hospitality, sense of humor and stubbornness. Living with him through this, I learned patience, compassion, and tremendous respect for the selfless work of caregivers.

When my dad fell ill and didn’t regain consciousness, he was in bed, at home, surrounded by his brother, his four kids and their families. We took shifts during his final days so he was never alone. We wanted to be there for him, as he always was for us. And when he took his last deep breath, we all held on until he was gone.

Later, when the men from the funeral home came to take him away, he even brought dignity to his departure. They carefully placed him in a vinyl, burgundy body bag, which doesn’t sound terribly dignified.

Dad in the front yard saluting.

Dad in the front yard saluting.

Yet, as they carried him out the front door of the home he carefully built, lived in, loved in, and died in, his children watched as the flag in the front yard waved, saluting a beloved veteran and inspirational soul. It was the last chapter of a life very well lived and, as beautiful a death as possible.

I asked him once if he had any regrets. I said, “If you could do it again, would you do it differently?” He said he was pleased with what he’d accomplished and that he was satisfied with how his life turned out. That must be an amazing feeling and I know it only comes from doing your very best every day.

To honor him today, I got up extra early (when I didn’t feel like it) and exercised, (I even practiced swimming), then began working on several projects, moving forward doing the best I can.  It’s what he would want me to do today and every day.

Where will I be carried out? I don’t know yet, but I hope it’s a place I love, work hard for, live generously in, and is filled with those I love when I go.

32 thoughts on “Where Will I Be Carried Out?

  1. Pingback: I Could Use Your Help – Can You Nominate Me? | At Fran's Table

  2. Franzie, you are such a lovely writer. i Love reading your words.
    i think you must’ve been as Blessed in your Papa (and Mama) as i am in mine.
    What a heritage that is….!
    Blessings on you, sweet friend.
    i already loved you. Now i love your family as well.

  3. Thanks for that, Fran. A fine tribute to your dad. Going through similar things with my parents, and I lost my youngest brother 2 months ago, so thinking along the same lines.

  4. Dear Beautiful Fran,
    As I sit here visiting with my parents and reading your words, I am so moved by you, as always. Your parents are smiling proudly at the way you touch people’s lives, share their stories, live with your heart and bring a smile (and sometimes tears) to so many… Cent’anni!

    • Awww Nicol, give both your parents a hug, then another one from me for raising such a wonderful daughter. Thanks for your beautiful words that always touch my heart. Come home soon so we can have coffee! I miss you. (And tell your folks to read my blog, I need more followers!)

  5. Frenzy, I was not with my mom when she died, but I have no regrets because I was with her so often in life, most especially in the her last few years. Dawn and I lived just across a little lane from her in Key West, and she and my stepfather were forever asking me to come to their house to do chores, both large and small, for them (which I did, happily– for the most part). My favorite request of all, of course, was almost every afternoon at around 4pm when mom would sing out to us– up in our 3rd floor apartment from her ground floor porch– “Oh, Rob, it’s time for a glass of wine, will thee come down and join thy mother?” More often than not, I would drop whatever I was doing and go down to oblige her. She was the epitome of sweetness and light, something that some of my siblings did not inherit…

    • Rob, I have no doubt your mother loved you completely and knew how much you loved her. It was obvious to everyone who ever saw the two of you together. You were with her when it counted, which is why you are so at peace now.
      P.S. I think all the sweetness and light went straight to you.

  6. I’m sitting here at my desk eating a quick lunch and trying to hold back the tears that are welling up in my eyes. This was very touching anyone who reads it can relate to something in their own lives.

  7. What a beautiful tribute to your father. It’s obvious; this loving message springs from that most reserved place, which is buried deeply in a daughter’s heart!

  8. Oh, Fran–you have me in tears. Your dad’s satisfaction with his well-lived and well-loved life is a lesson for all of us. My happiest moments are in the day-to-day, not the big extraordinary events. You too are well-loved, my dear Fran. You have children, family and friends who love, adore and support you. And every day you add a brick on to your dreams. Your dad is proudly smiling at his little girl.

  9. Very nice Fran; thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories.

    My folks have both passed on now. They lived in southern Orange County and I live in Burbank. I always thought of them more as my best friends rather than parents. When Dad died in 2000, he was alone in a nursing facility and passed in the middle of the night. I was able to get down there before they took him away, but I’ve always felt guilty for not being there to hold his hand as he slipped away. Same with my mom, she died in 2007 after living for two years in Belmont Village, an assisted living facility here in Burbank, before she had to be moved to a board-and-care after she reached the point where she could no longer feed herself. She, too, passed in the middle of the night, so once again I was unable to be there for her when she departed this life. I was there when they carried her out, but my feelings of guilt still linger. I often think I’ll probably go the same way, without having anyone around. 😦 But on the brighter side, I try to live every day with a smile on my face and a happy attitude about life.

    God bless you and your family on this solemn anniversary.

    Sincerely,
    Bob

    • Oh Bob, my heart goes out to you. Those are tough feelings to shake, but I am sure your parents knew you loved them and would have been with them if you could have. I hope you have a hand to hold when the time comes. Living as you do, no doubt someone will be there! Thanks so much for reading and responding so sweetly.

  10. Beautiful, Fran! When I visited Uncle Robert on his last birthday he was charming as always, though a bit confused. He and Uncle Richard were joking about Richard not being his father and telling him what to do. 😊 Both are great men and gentlemen.

    • Oh Colleen, how funny. Yeah, his last years were definitely confused, but he had some good days when you could ask him questions and he completely understood, even if he couldn’t respond as well as he wanted to. Thanks for always being so nice to him and for appreciating him. You are a world-class niece.

  11. What a lovely tribute. Your father sounds like an outstanding man, with solid values and a warm heart. I’m sure that when your day comes, you’ll go out in style and with flair.

  12. Just a lovely post. My Dad passed in 2004 and my Mom will be gone 2 months tomorrow. It’s been really really hard for me. But I am trying to cherish the memories we had, and that I did all for her I could and she knew that. She knew she was very loved as well. I feel I need to now live my life and do things that will make both of my parents proud. Carry on the Nardone name my Dad was so proud of. I am sure your Dad is having a great Italian fest in heaven on his birthday!!

    • Hi Rosemary,
      I understand and feel for you, your sorrow is so fresh. But I am certain your parents are both proud of you. I probably already asked you, but do you have relatives near Pittsburgh? I was roommates with someone who is still one of my dearest friends and her last name was Nardone. Just checking! Thanks for reading. Maybe your folks and my folks are up there doing a nice tarantella!

  13. Oh Fran – what a touching tribute to your Dad. He was a great guy! and a lucky one – a life well lived – we be might all be so lucky!!

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