As many of you know, my dad, Manney Felix, died in November 2009 at age 92. Yesterday, for the first time since, I went back to his house in Ormond Beach, FL. Some members of our family are getting together this weekend for a ceremony at his gravesite, which now includes a marker. I arrived in Daytona Beach on a van from the Orlando airport. My dad’s wife and companion of 28 years, Eleanor, picked me up and drove me to their house. I’d driven myself there many times over the years and it was a weird sensation, driving into their driveway and realizing that my father wasn’t there and wouldn’t ever be there. Even though it was dark, I flashed back to seeing him sitting in his chair, on the driveway, waiting for me to pull in on my visits. We walked in the front door and it was eerily quiet…not that the house was ever noisy but the quiet was overwhelming. It’s a tidy three-bedroom house on a small manmade lake. I haven’t yet walked into my father’s old room. But I probably will today. I’m sleeping on the pullout in the den and didn’t have a great night, having woken up this morning at about 4am after a shaky six-hour sleep. Eleanor has a lot of photos of them and of my father around the house. In the den is the flag that draped his coffin that day which she had had framed. Next to it is a citation, signed by Barrack Obama, thanking my dad for his service to his country during the Second World War. He never saw that citation and never will.
It’s strange, what I’m feeling this morning. The last time I was here I had been living with Eleanor and Dad for the better part of two months as his condition was first diagnosed and then confirmed.: His body was failing, organ by organ. I was fortunate to have had a chance to spend a good amount of time with him during that difficult time. But, as I sit here, at the dining room table while Eleanor and my brother Jay who arrived from Tucson in the middle of the night are enjoying their morning sleep, I can’t help remembering, as I look down the hall to my father’s room, the day, November 18, 2001, when I left to drive to the airport to pick Jay up; we had called him to say that the end was near. My dad was struggling to breath. Eleanor, who had been by his bedside continually, was there, holding his hand, putting cold washcloths on his face, doing anything to make him more comfortable. The hospice people had given us a brochure, “Preparing for Death” which described the phases as someone, who is basically dying of natural causes, goes through and how to recognize them.
He slipped in and out of the world and at that point couldn’t really talk anymore. He was following the phases leading to death exactly. Up until very close to the end, we knew he could hear and understand us (an amazing phenomenon that I first witnessed when I visited a long-time friend in 2003 who was in a coma; the nurse said, “Talk to him, he can hear you.” I pulled up a chair at the end of his hospital bed and started talking with Dave about the camp reunion that we had jointly helped organize just a few months before. I rambled on as he lay there, hooked up to tubes and machines. But at one point, when I started talking about us putting the rock band we had at camp back together again, he started to twitch. It was the most amazing thing. It frightened me a little And then, at that moment, I knew he could hear me and I continued to talk with him).
When I left the house that day to pick Jay up, I walked into the bedroom and said to my dad, “See you, I’m just going to pick up Jay and will be back soon.” I don’t know if he heard me but on the way to the airport, about 30 minutes after leaving the house, Eleanor called: “He’s gone.” Eleanor had nodded off on my father's bed and my father chose that time to leave. He wanted to go when he wanted to go and he didn't want either of us to be there when he sighed and breathed his final breath.
I got to the airport and met Jay at baggage claim. We hugged. I told him, “Dad died about an hour ago.” When we got back to the house, Dad had already been taken to the funeral home and the hospital bed was gone from his bedroom. It looked so vacant. One moment here. The next gone with only our memories of him remaining.
Sitting here this morning, in the dining room, writing this to you, it’s helping me cope once again with losing him. Distance had played it’s magic for me and the poignancy of my dad no longer being around has been, well, different. But being here, sitting in the chair that he used to sit in when he and Eleanor played computer golf or solitaire or the dining room table where they played Rummy 500 (Eleanor almost always won), seeing photos of him going back to his Army days and running up to his last years, of those when he had grown a beard and I used to call him, “Howard” (as in Hughes) and thinking how much I really miss him and how, when we depart, we are gone, not forgotten and I wish I knew if our soul survives. I desperately want to believe that it does.
Ormond Beach, Florida
Photo: Manney Felix, 90th birthday party, 2007