January 19, 2019

The Far Side of Middle Age

“The night before his ninety-fifth-birthday party, my father fell while turning around in his kitchen. My sister Lisa and her husband, Bob, dropped by hours later to hook up his new TV and discovered him on the floor, disoriented and in pain. He fell again after they righted him, so an ambulance was called. At the hospital, they met up with our sister Gretchen, and with Amy, who’d just flown in from New York to attend the party, which was now cancelled. “It was really weird,” she said when we spoke on the phone the following morning. “Dad thought Lisa was Mom, and when the doctor asked him where he was he answered, ‘Syracuse’—where he went to college. Then he got mad and said, ‘You’re sure asking a lot of questions.’ As if that’s not normal for a doctor. I think he thought this was just some guy he was talking to.”

Fortunately, he was lucid again by the following afternoon. That was the hard part for everyone—seeing him so confused.

On the night that my father fell, I was in Princeton, the fourth of eighty cities I would be travelling to for work. On the morning he was moved from the hospital to a rehabilitation center, I was on my way to Ann Arbor. Over the next week, he had a few little strokes, the sort people don’t notice right away. One affected his peripheral vision, and another his short-term memory. He’d wanted to return home after leaving rehab, but by this point there was no way he could continue to live alone. I wrote him a letter, saying, in part, “It isn’t safe for you at the house anymore, at least not on your own, and this concerns me. I need you to live long enough to see Donald Trump impeached.”

We’d fought bitterly after the election, and I knew it would be just my luck: my father would die, and the very next day the President would go down, denying me a well-deserved opportunity to gloat.”

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