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  • Sam’s Final Story
  • Marilyn Mitchell

Some people have personalities that are so unique; no one is quite like them. Our father, Sam, was a real character. A native New Yorker, he was very strong willed and his dense, five foot five frame gave him the aura of a bulldog. As a young man he was just a little too young to be involved in WWII. He did join the army after high school and went to France to assist with the changes in Europe after the war. He was known for his verbal wit, his fiery temper and his love of fragrant cigars. Sam was political to his bones. When I was a child we went as a family, all six of us, to demonstrations against the Vietnam War. In my memory, we were often the only family—my father’s arms raised with make–shift signs, his face red with emotion—while all around us were tall, long haired college students wearing blue jeans. My father’s passion for politics did not go over too well at his very conservative military airport employer and one day he got himself fired for ranting about Nixon and the Cambodian incursion. My mother stiffened her spine when she realized the need to figure out a way to support the six of us without his job. She eventually got a job working in a university library and became the “bread–winner”, a role reversal that never sat well with my father. Alcohol consumption, late night TV and loud arguments transformed our household from that point on. That was 1972.

This story, though, is not so much about his life as it is about his death. In our family, in contrast apparently to many other families, we spoke about what we wanted with regard to death and dying. Both of our parents wanted their bodies donated to local medical schools for students to study. Neither one was especially religious, and they didn’t believe in an afterlife or resurrection. Although neither of our parents worked in the health professions (my brother is a dentist and I am a registered nurse), they were both academically inclined and wanted their remains to be a gift to learning. Our father made it clear that he did not want CPR done or to be kept alive on a ventilator if he ever ended up unable to communicate.

Sam had his share of medical problems over the years as a diabetic on oral medication from the age of 26 and he eventually became insulin dependent in middle age. His favorite foods were hot dogs and kosher salami. Whenever he drank whiskey, [End Page 92] he swore it improved his blood sugar the following day. My father was an early adopter of computer usage and used to graph his blood sugars daily in the early 1990’s. I would look at the very precise graphs in exasperation. “Dad, the point is to control your blood sugar, not just watch it bounce around like bric–a–brac!” Several heart attacks, a quadruple bypass, and glaucoma were some of his main issues. Sam had a major stroke at age 74, and was never able to speak well again. For such a verbal person, he was continually frustrated. He moved up to the Sacramento area near my brother after his stroke because he could not live alone without some assistance. His frustration would frequently turn to anger and one time he became so angry at my sister –in–law, he grabbed her cell phone out of her hand and threw it smashing to the ground. She stood by in disbelief. His anger did not endear him to the assisted living staff and my brother was called a number of times to negotiate a sense of peace because the administrators were considering asking him to leave.

I lived a full eight –hour drive away from my father. It was futile to call him. After he was discharged post–stroke I did attempt to call him several times when he lived in the assisted living facility. It was super unpleasant. He would growl and stutter. If I asked him to please just listen so...


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pp. 92-94
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