Friday, May 29, 2009


I have just finished reading (in one day - it's a short book and an easy read) Christopher Buckley's book about the death of his parents in the space of less than a year. They were the famous conservative William F. Buckley and his stunning wife Patricia Taylor Buckley. Christo (as his family called him) was at his mother's bedside when she breathed her last. He was at home in Washington when his father died in his study in Connecticut. He talks about becoming an orphan in his 50's. It caused me to think about my own parents' deaths.

I became an orphan when I was 40.

But my mother died, of a brain tumor, when I was only 13. She had suffered through a year of increasingly severe headaches. My aunt had visited us in a small North Dakota town from California and my grandfather was driving her to visit other relatives in Minnesota before her return home. Seemingly to me at the last moment Dad sent me with them. While we were visiting in Minnesota, my mother worsened. She was sent to the nearest hospital 60 miles away. Then it was determined that her condition was serious enough to send her to Minneapolis. But she died in the night before that trip could begin.

I was in another aunt's house in Minnesota when the telephone rang. I had no idea of the seriousness of my mother's condition but I could tell from the graveness of the telephone call what had happened. At 13, I just wanted to be alone. I went for a long walk by myself. I'm not sure I understood until I got home what had happened.

Now we flash forward 27 years. I am living in Phoenix. My father has spent several winters in Arizona, found a trailer court where he had purchased a trailer home and was happy. But, while SWMBO and I were on a trip to New Mexico, we heard from him that he was in a hospital and was going to have his gall bladder removed. We cut short our trip and hurried home. He had already had the surgery and soon we brought him to our home to recover.

Dad was a big man but he had lost a lot of weight in the hospital. Additionally, for perhaps the first time in his life, he had lost his appetite. He worried about both of them. After a few weeks he said he wanted to go back to his trailer home, where his friends were.

I was working in the news media and had to go to to Detroit to the Republican National Convention. Only a day or two after I arrived there, I received a telephone call from SWMBO, telling me that she had gone to pick up Dad to bring him to our home for the week to watch the convention together. Instead she found him dead in his bed.

That's how I became an orphan, not being anywhere near when either of my parents died. Reading Christopher Buckley's book today I couldn't help wondering - is it easier if the surviving one is at the bedside or far away and only gets the news by a long distance telephone call?

I'm not sure I'll ever know.