I tricked my father in law! I asked him if I could record his favorite stories for his grandson, but they were really for me. I transferred my emotions of learning about Bill’s Parkinson’s diagnosis into an activity, and that was asking Bill if I could record his stories…and thankfully he was such a willing participant.
My husband and son both had their own “thing” with Bill. My husband and his dad shared a love of playing gin rummy together, talking about cooking, and cars. “Grandpa” was always the special events guest in our sons, Miles’ life; from his art exhibits and film premieres, to his graduations. Bill was Miles’ first art patron. Now, I had my “thing” with Bill, our recording sessions.
On each visit we had our special time to record his stories. He was a one take wonder, we would joke. We’d pick a topic, I’d do a recording, and then go home, find the photos to go with the story, edit the video, and then share the finished product with him on the next visit. He was not on the computer so this was the only way for me to show the finished products to him.
I learned so much more about him by having our recording sessions. I learned about his growing up on a chicken farm, his first solo flight in 1944 in his Piper Cub and the emergency landing! There was the college outing that resulted in a stolen school bus after going to Capsers hot dogs. I got the details of his first restaurant job at Milt Nelson’s Willows Restaurant. I learned all about his Griswald frying pans in his first apartment and his spiritual training at Mt. Madonna. Even how he experienced the Loma Prieta Earthquake, and his favorite poker game story he loved to share.
I created a YouTube playlist of his stories to share with the relatives. And on my visits with Bill I’d tell him the viewing stats and that over 600 strangers had watched the story about Caspers Hot dogs. He’d get a knowing smile and little twinkle in his eye. These were his favorite stories, and they were living on, touching others.
As time went on and he moved into an assisted living facility, rather than doing recordings, we just started a weekly letter and phone call tradition. We were remodeling a house very much like his Eichler. I’d write him detailed letters about each phase and send photos. I’d know when the phone would ring in the afternoon it would Bill saying “I got your letter…” and then his stories would start. I looked so forward to our calls. Now these were own little “thing” we had together.
When we went on a vacation to the Grand Canyon and the SouthWest this past March, I’d send him a letter with the menus from a special spot. While he couldn’t physically travel anymore, I tried to give him a virtual road trip. He’d been to all the spots we were visiting as a child, and now he was reliving them once again, sharing his stories with me.
As he grew weaker, he would still find the tiny bit of energy to call me and even apologize that it took him a day or two. His breathing labored, I was overwhelmed by his sweetness, to not miss the ritual we had developed. That’s the kind of guy Bill was, ever thoughtful.
He passed away July 20 a few days after his 93rd birthday. He was at peace with it all. He was someone who had embraced aging like no one else I had ever met. As his Parkinson’s progressed he would tell me about the tiny subtle changes he noticed from the week before. He was keenly aware. He taught yoga for many, many years, and he understood his own body capabilities very well. Bill never lost his sense of humor. One of the hospice nurses shared with us, how one morning when she asked if there was anything he wanted, he said, “a bicycle”. And I know, without even being there, that he was having a little fun and had that twinkle in his eye.
He will always be with us, living on through his stories and his most wonderful traits that are now part of what makes up my husband and his grandson.
I’m grateful that before he passed away, there was no unfinished business between us. He knew how much I loved him. There was closure to our relationship. And I’m eternally grateful for that. Our little “thing” will always be a treasured memory for me.