Because I announced my father’s death in this One-Liner Wednesday post, I’m linking the promised tribute to him with thanks to him and to all my friends and readers who have been sending out prayers and good thoughts on our behalf over the years.
My 96-year-old father, known here as Paco, died in mid-September, but I have been struggling to write about him. A good share of that is that the writing/analytical/organizational part of my brain has been too busy with all the phone calling and notes and paperwork that follow a death, which are by turns taxing and emotional and fraught. I’ve also been trying to find peace after so many months of complex medical and care situations which I found both exhausting and traumatic. I’ve also taken a week to attend a reunion residency with the Boiler House Poets Collective at MASS MoCA, which has been helpful both in reconnecting with family history as we are from the North Adams MA area and reconnecting with myself as a poet after so many months of sneaking in poetry time only intermittently.
But in this post, I will try to tell you more about Paco and our family.
People have asked me how my Irish-American father came to be known as Paco, which sounds more Spanish. My firstborn daughter E was the first grandchild on both sides of the family. As she was learning to talk, she couldn’t manage to say “Grandpa” and – after a few instances of calling him “Bucco” – settled on Paco as his name. This became his name with all the other grandchildren and often for other family members. It was natural for me to use it here on the blog.
It was a revelation for me seeing Paco interact with his grandchildren. Because my younger sister and I are only two years apart, I didn’t remember my father as a dad to young children. Unlike so many men of his generation, he reveled in playing with very young children and singing to them. One of the great blessings of our family life is that Nana and Paco retired near us when E was three and before T was born. Having them be so close by all those years was wonderful with walks and outings and school events and concerts, theater, and dance recitals, games and carousel rides and countless volleys of ping pong in the basement. Nana and Paco gave us so much love, care, and support for so many years; it was natural that we would provide the same to them as they grew older and developed health problems.
Paco had served in the US Navy as a SeaBee in World War II and Korea. The SeaBees were the Construction Battalion – CBs, get it? – and Paco was drafted before he could finish high school. Most of the SeaBees were older men, already established in various trades, who took Paco under their wing and taught him what they knew. The skills he developed there in electrical work set the stage for his career. Paco didn’t talk much about his service when we were growing up but, in his later years, he got some SeaBee caps which he would wear out in public. I was always amazed at how many people would comment, thank him for his service, and share their own stories of service by themselves or family members. Those tributes continued into his last days. One of the first things Hospice did after admitting him was to bring a certificate and a memorial quilt square to him. We are also applying for a service medallion to be added to his memorial in the mausoleum.
Paco worked for 43 years for New England Power Company, the last 23 as Superintendent of the Upper Deerfield River in southern Vermont/western Massachusetts. I wrote the poem “Hydro Superintendent” about him for his 90th birthday. We lived in a house that was owned by the company and often visited the powerplants and reservoirs. One of his biggest accomplishments as superintendent was overseeing the construction of Bear Swamp, a pumped storage plant built inside a mountain. Paco knew every detail of that project, which brought in contractors from as far away as Japan and Switzerland. It was so much fun walking through a giant tunnel to get to the huge powerhouse with its two turbines that could generate electricity and then reverse to pump water back to the upper reservoir. I started my interest in renewable electricity and energy storage technology young, thanks to Paco.
One of the things I admired about Paco was his work ethic. He always worked hard to get the job done right but he was also part of the team, even when he was the leader. He would help the crews do emergency work rather than just ordering them to come in. He hired the first Black and the first woman into his stations which had previously been staffed entirely by white males. (Point of information: Rural New England was not very racially diverse at the time. Some areas still are not diverse now, decades later.) He was always compassionate and understanding when employees encountered personal or family difficulties. He was also not one to “toot his own horn.” I found out how well-regarded he was by his staff through others, not from him.
We admired Paco even more when we discovered he had accomplished so much with undiagnosed dyslexia. When his youngest granddaughter S was diagnosed with an inherited form of dyslexia, Paco discovered at age 80 why he had always secretly struggled with reading and writing. S and her family launched the Paco Project to raise funds for Learning Ally to help others with print or visual disabilities access the world of books. We are proud to direct donations to Learning Ally in memory of Paco.
Paco was also proud to finally become a high school graduate. I applied for his diploma through Operation Recognition, a program which awards diplomas to veterans who left school before completing their course of study. In 2008, the same year that eldest granddaughter E graduated from high school, Paco received his diploma from Drury High School in North Adams, Massachusetts, the school that he and Nana, as well as I and my sisters, had attended.
Paco’s ancestors came to the United States from Ireland but he had never visited. Nana was too claustrophobic to consider flying, but after her death in spring 2019, my two sisters took Paco to Ireland to visit.
We were blest that all four of his grandchildren got to see Paco over the summer. We were especially grateful that granddaughter E with spouse L and great-granddaughters ABC and JG were able to visit from London UK. Because of the pandemic, we had not been able to see each other, but in August, just before the final and more precipitous portion of Paco’s decline, they were able to make the trip.
There were a few days during Paco’s last week where he was very agitated but we were fortunate to have some calmer moments. T was the only one of the grandchildren nearby enough for one final visit, which wound up being the day before he died. It was one of the most heartbreakingly tender encounters I have ever seen. T sang Irish songs to Paco and held his hands, which were still a bit restless from a medication side effect. She talked to him and I know that he could hear her because he was able to respond a bit. I admit that I couldn’t help but cry and that I am crying now as I try – and fail – to find the words to convey how special that last hour between them was.
It also happened that all three of Paco’s daughters got to spend time with him, both alone and in various pairings, on the day of his death. It was not clear that this would be his final day, so it was not that it had been planned, but I’m grateful that it turned out that way. I’m also grateful that in his last few days, I was finally able to sing to my father, something that my sisters had been doing but that I struggled to do. I sang both verses of “Over the River and through the Woods” to get to Paco’s favorite lines, “Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done? Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!” (Paco loved all kinds of pie.) I sang the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” because it is comforting to me and several beautiful Irish hymn tunes. Occasionally, I would get too choked up to continue singing but I usually managed to get through. On that last day, Paco could not respond but Hospice told us that the sense of hearing tends to remain and can even sharpen as the other senses are shutting down. My younger sister was alone with Paco when he died but I arrived soon after for my very last good-bye.
I have been so moved by the many people who have reached out to me during Paco’s decline and since his death. There have been so many kind words, both written and spoken – remembrances, prayers, thoughts, stories, expressions of gratitude for a long life well-lived. I was very touched when a friend that I made through Facebook but whom I have never met in person added my father to her Kaddish prayer on Yom Kippur. It has been the love I first learned from my parents but now experience through so many family and friends that has kept me going through all of this, even during the most difficult times. I thank all of you.
Last week, I went to the hair salon for a haircut with Diane, who has been my stylist since 1983. I told her about Paco’s death and she gave me a hug and told me that she had something to show me. It was her new puppy, who was sweetly asleep in his crate. She told me his name was Leo.
While my blogging has been haphazard for months due to my father’s declining health, I wanted to share a post about the recent visit of our daughter E, her spouse L, and their daughters, four-year-old ABC and one-year-old JG. As people who check in here at TJCM periodically may recall, they live in London UK and the pandemic left us unable to visit each other. This meant that when they arrived in the US, it was our first chance to meet JG in person.
All the adults are fully vaccinated, but the children are too young to qualify. While our area of upstate New York is not a COVID hot zone, the transmission rate is still high enough due to the delta variant that we were very cautious about taking the girls to indoor public spaces. While I had scaled back my expectations for the visit a lot, I hadn’t scaled them back quite as much as I should have. For example, I had hoped to see a few more friends than we were able to. Unfortunately, Paco, my 96-year-old father, had more health challenges appear and his unit at the nursing home had to go into lockdown due to a couple of COVID cases among vaccinated staff.
In a way, though, it was nice to have them in our home, doing normal, everyday things like we had when E and ABC lived with us for over two years while waiting for E’s spousal visa to be accomplished.
B, with an assist from ABC, got to bake yummy treats for breakfast.
Everyone enjoyed watching the birds at the birdfeeders. ABC especially liked the tufted titmouse and goldfinches, while others were partial to the cardinals.
We enjoyed watching other wildlife, too. ABC even spotted some deer near the back fence. We also spent a lot of time watching the bunnies eating various leaves and flowers in the lawn.
One thing that they don’t have at home in London is rocking chairs. JG especially loved the one that was her size!
JG was an early walker so we missed her being a babe-in-arms, but Auntie T did get a taste of what that phase was like when JG got so tired she actually fell asleep in her arms.
L took the girls on walks. Here is ABC at the 1 mile – or is it 1 smile? – mark on the Rail Trail. Our area, like many others in the US, has re-purposed places where there used to be railroad tracks into recreational trails.
We also got to visit the parks and carousels. Broome County has six vintage carousels and it was very nostalgic to revisit them with ABC and introduce them to JG. ABC made friends everywhere she went.
We got to enjoy a lot of playtime with the girls. ABC, at four, has a great imagination and enjoys making elaborate scenarios. She is also quite operatic! Besides singing songs that she knows, often from Frozen I and II, she likes to make up songs while she is playing. With both her parents being accomplished singers and instrumentalists, she appears to come by music naturally. She is learning to play the piano, so we got to experience her lessons with her daddy.
ABC is also a beginning reader, so sometimes she would read to us and other times we would read to her. It was an honor to be chosen as the final bedtime story reader. Of course, she also requested a bedtime song before going to sleep.
The most important event of the trip, though, was the one visit we were able to make with Paco in the outdoor courtyard of the nursing home. ABC was being her charming self, singing and dancing and clapping for Paco.
The most precious photo is this one of the four generations.
Paco’s health has declined so much in the weeks since we had this visit that he has now been admitted to hospice care. I will be forever grateful that Paco had the opportunity to meet his second great-granddaughter who won’t remember that day and to see his first granddaughter E and first great-granddaughter ABC who certainly will.
I have been posting less than usual over the last couple of months as we have been dealing with health difficulties with my father, known here as Paco. He had a couple of falls in June, resulting in some cracked bones, which have been healing well while he has been in a rehab program. Unfortunately, he also suffers from dementia, which has worsened, and from a number of other health conditions, which are not unexpected in a 96-year-old but which have necessitated remaining in a nursing home rather than being able to move back to the assisted living floor where he lived previously.
It has taken a lot of time with in-person visiting and inordinate amounts of time dealing with paperwork and red tape. My sisters have been coming into town to help, but I am still not finding time to write as much as I would like.
On Monday, I’m happy to report that the UK contingent of our family – our daughter E, her spouse L, and their two children 4-year-old ABC and just turned 1-year-old JG – arrived from London for a two week visit. It is our first opportunity to meet JG in person. She is adjusting to our actually being flesh-and-blood people rather than images on a screen. It’s amazing that she is able to deal with being a different place with different people after being in lockdown so much of her life, especially when you consider it took two large airports, a plane, and the longest car ride of her life to get here. Also, five hours worth of jetlag. It’s also amazing how much ABC remembers from when she lived with us, given that this is her first time back here since she moved to the UK in October 2019.
Because of the delta variant’s prevalence, we haven’t ventured much from the house over these last days and probably won’t be taking the children to many indoor spaces, given that they are too young to have been vaccinated. We do plan a visit to Paco later this week. When the weather is better, we will also be able to go to the parks and take rides on the carousels for which Broome County is known.
My younger sister is here visiting and helping with Paco and my older sister and her spouse will arrive next week for a few days. My plan is to carve out a bit of time for some posts which will update topics about which I frequently post; I’m hoping to be brief, which is always a challenge for me!
Let’s see if I manage to follow through with this plan…
The above inadvertently artsy shot with sunbeams is of roses growing in our back yard. This rose is a daughter of a rosebush that grew near my mother’s childhood home in Hoosac Tunnel, Massachsuetts. You can read more of the backstory in this post which itself includes a personal essay from before I started blogging.
This rosebush is the subject of the one poem that appears in both my chapbook and collection manuscripts, which I can’t share here because it is currently unpublished. It tells the story of the revival of this daughter bush from near death and ends during my mother’s final illness.
We have just passed the second anniversary of her death. The rose bush apparently liked the snowy winter and slowly unfolding spring this year and has more blossoms than I have ever seen. It has also grown very tall, as you can see in the photo below. For reference, I’m 5′ 1.5″ (1.56 meters), so the rose bush is probably close to seven feet (2.1 meters) high.
Because this is an heirloom close-to-wild rose rather than a hybrid, it has a very strong scent. With so many blossoms this year, the smell is heavenly.
Congratulations to granddaughter ABC who is turning four years old! She is a few weeks away from completing nursery school and will be entering Reception, the UK equivalent of US kindergarten, in September. She is reveling in the return to full-time in-person school, loves the parks and the garden, is learning to read, has a vivid imagination, inherited her parents’ musicality, and loves being a big sister, at least most of the time.
Congratulations also to granddaughter JG, who at not quite ten months old, is walking on her own. Watching the videos of her toddling reminds me of her mother, my firstborn E, who also stuck her tongue out when she was first walking on her own. I’m not sure if it is a sign of concentration or if it somehow helps with balance, but it certainly seems to be an inherited inclination. Also, adorable.
When we visited London in December 2019, we had planned to return in the spring, perhaps for Easter, and then for ABC’s third birthday, and in late summer for the birth of the new baby. E and her family planned to come visit us in the US for Christmas.
Due to the pandemic, none of that happened.
So, here we are, all fully vaccinated in upstate New York, but still not cleared for travel to the UK, missing another birthday. We’ve missed the entirety of JG’s babe-in-arms phase as she is now officially a toddler. And we still don’t know when we will be able to travel to the UK. They have been planning another easing of restrictions in mid-June, but now the even more virulent strain from India is spreading in the UK, so…
We don’t know about travel in person.
We do know that our love reaches them, even if our arms cannot.
I grew up in a rural area where television was purely by antenna, although we received NBC, ABC, and CBS, the three major networks at the time, which was a luxury. I’ve never been able to keep up with the increasingly complicated media landscape of cable, premium channels, satellite, and streaming options. I’ve gotten used to reading lists of Emmy nominees of shows I have never seen and to which I don’t have access. I usually can’t even keep track of what show or movie is being offered on which platform.
I do occasionally happen upon a recommendation that I can follow through on viewing. I was reading a list of awards geared for older adults from AARP which included the 2020 documentary A Secret Love. It is available through Netflix, the one streaming service to which we are currently subscribed, so spouse B, daughter T, and I settled in one evening to watch it.
A Secret Love is the story of Pat Henschel and Terry Donohue, two Canadian women who fell in love and made a life together in the United States where Terry had played baseball with the Peoria Redwings of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. While family back in Canada knew the two were close friends who shared a home, they did not know that they were life partners for many decades. While the film does give us their remarkable personal history, the documentary concentrates on their later years, as they face Pat’s illness and decisions about where to live.
Having dealt with the issues of serious illness, financial and legal complications, and housing decisions with B and my parents, I found much of what Pat and Terry were facing relatable. The complexity of the family dynamic, the cross-border legal issues, and the fact that, while Pat and Terry had been a couple since 1947, they did not have the protection of marriage when it came to things like hospital visitation added even more poignancy to an already daunting situation.
What comes through most clearly, though, is the depth of their love for one another. I am always moved by couples whose bond is so strong that it weathers decades of life together and Pat and Terry’s story is such a beautiful example of that. I will warn you that if you, like me, are inclined to teariness, you may want to have your handkerchief handy.
I will also say that, while the story is about elders, it also holds meaning for younger adults. T loved the film as much as I.