I’ve put off writing about his death because I’ve been searching for the larger meaning, the life lesson or even grace.
But six weeks have passed and I have bupkis.
I’ve gone through the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — and I’ve circled back to anger.
Not that my dad is dead, but that he didn’t die sooner — when he wanted, before the cancer and the morphine dragged him into a terrifying world of confusion, agitation and despair.
How can you comfort someone who believes nurses are stringing him up nightly in a nonexistent basement, whipping him, stuffing towels down his throat and frolicking in his pain?
Dad first tried to kill himself in Hospice with cigarettes.
Doctors for 60 years warned dad he would have a heart attack if he didn’t stop smoking. Esophageal cancer hit first, but dad wanted the heart attack, longed for it — or anything else — that would end his life quickly once he was near the end.
Every day at Hospice, he asked us to push him outside in a wheelchair for cigarettes. After a couple of puffs on his first Pall Mall, he would vomit into a blue air sickness bag because the smoke irritated the tumor in his throat and other tumors in his lungs.
Yet nausea didn’t dissuade him. When one cigarette was finished, he’d light another, inhaling deeper, deeper, trying to suck down all the poison.
My husband was the first to realize what dad was up to. I just assumed he was getting his nicotine fix. But after a few days of unusual chain smoking and the barfing routine, dad wondered aloud why he had such a strong heart.
Dad next tried to kill himself by refusing food and water.
Dehydration is a slow, ugly, painful way to die and he suffered four or five days until an insightful nurse realized dad no longer knew where he was or what was happening.
Dad again said he was cursed with a strong heart because he just wanted to die.
I was at his bedside when this happened. Dad forgot he was sick. It was up to me to bring him back to reality.
“This is sort of a weird thing to say, Dad, but I think today may be your lucky day,” I said. “You have cancer. You are dying.”
Dad was thrilled.
Five minutes later he was sipping water and asking for ice cream.
I will share the details of the Hospice experience and the final hours of dad’s life in another post, but his was a hard death.
There was no peaceful exit.
And that leaves me angry.
What follows is dad’s obituary. I wish I would have written it far in advance of his passing instead of typing it out in the hours before the newspaper deadline. But it gives a sense of my dad’s life. He was a quiet and usually kind man who remained curious about the world — particularly machines and technology — until the end.
HERMAN GARRETT – who watched Medina grow from a sleepy country hamlet into a booming suburb of both Cleveland and Akron – died Tuesday. He was 83.
During his final months – which included radiation and chemotherapy for esophageal cancer – Garrett never complained.
He feasted on crab legs and filet mignon, gobbled up books on his Kindle and happily sat on the front steps of his daughter’s house with his wife, savoring his Pall Malls and soaking in the warmth of the springtime sun.
Garrett was a banker by trade, but a musician, historian, fix-it man and computer nerd at heart. Garrett, an only child, was born in Ravenna and moved with his parents to Medina in 1939 when about 4,000 people lived there. He landed his first job-besides a newspaper route – during WWII at age 13, working as a soda jerk at Bachtell Drug on the corner of Court and Washington streets overlooking Medina’s town square.
With the money he earned, he bought a used Salsbury motor scooter and embarked on a series of high school road trips, traveling as far as Washington D.C., where then-Senator Robert A. Taft spied his Ohio license plate and let Garrett and his friend, Ron Morse, park their scooters in his spot at the U.S. Capital.
About the same time, Garrett fell in love with jazz, excelled at trombone and dreamed of being a musician. He was the first in his family to graduate from high school and when he was accepted to Baldwin Wallace, his father – who was forced to drop out of school in sixth grade to support his impoverished family – insisted he study business.
During college – Garrett was among the crowd when Dave Brubeck recorded at Finney Chapel at Oberlin College – he worked summers helping surveyors build a stretch of the Ohio Turnpike between Strongsville and I-77 and the company offered him a job in Libya after graduation.
Garrett declined, in part because he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. After he was discharged, returned to Medina – where the population had swelled to about 7,000 people – the president of Old Phoenix Bank (now, through mergers, part of FirstMerit) offered him a job.
After a few months, he was promoted and, like all tellers at the bank on Medina’s square, he was given a pearl-handled revolver. The bank had armed the tellers since the Great Depression, Garrett later recalled, after notorious bank robber John Dillinger was spotted nearby. Old Phoenix also kept three rifles on tripods pointed out its upstairs windows toward the town square as its first line of defense.
Garrett met his wife, Winifred Williams, at a friend’s party. When he saw her sitting on a couch, he walked over to her and, without saying a word, kissed her. They married in 1957 and moved to Daytona Beach, Fla., for a decade where Garrett continued to work as a banker.
After their only child, Amanda, was born, the leaders of Old Phoenix tracked down Garrett and asked him to come back to work. Garrett happily left Florida behind and moved his family back to Medina in 1968 when the population was approaching 10,000.
Garrett remained at Old Phoenix and the banks it has merged into. At work, he oversaw the installation of the first ATMS and computers at the bank. At home, he fed chickens, milked a goat and cared for a garden large enough to feed his family year round. He and his wife lovingly cared for their house, built in 1847, that they owned for more than three decades.
Through the years, Garrett was a member of the Lions Club, served on the board of the Akron Summit Community Action and, with his wife, ran the youth group at Poe United Methodist Church. After Garrett retired from banking, he also found joy and satisfaction delivering meals for the Medina County Office for Older Adults.
Garrett – a lifelong Republican and a Christian – believed everyone should have the power to determine when and how their lives end. His family and Hospice of Medina County cared for him as best they could with the tools available, but Garrett would have chosen an earlier departure if Ohioans had a legal right to die – something he and his family support.
Family suggests memorial contributions be made to United Church of Christ, Congregational, 217 E. Liberty St., Medina, OH 44256, Hospice of Medina County, 5075 Windfall Road, Medina, OH 44256 or the Medina County SPCA, 245 S. Medina St., Medina, OH 44256.