Three weeks after the doctor declared him terminally ill with less than six months to live, my father died from lung cancer at his trailer home in Sacramento County on Sunday night. After smoking for 30 years and not smoking for 30 years, the last six years was difficult for him after having half a lung removed, chemo therapy, several extended stays in the hospital, and a two-month stay with me (part 1, part 2 and part 3). The battle was finally over.
My relatives gave me a lot of grief over the last three weeks as I refused to take him in. A massive guilt trip that I was an irresponsible son, threats to call the cops on me for elder abuse, and accusations that I stole $7,000 USD out of my father’s checking didn’t make me budge. (If I was such an irresponsible, abusive and thieving son, why did they want me to take care of him in his dying days?) I followed my father’s instructions to leave him in the care of his neighbors as he wanted to die in peace at home.
My father was the mayor of E Street in the trailer park that he called home. Everyone knew him and he knew everyone. This was small town America that he grew up in and wanted to die in. As I became the de facto executor of his estate—he left no will—and had control of his bank accounts (relatives are much nicer now that I have his money to spend), I started learning who my father really was as neighbors and friends talked to me.
My favorite story was my father buying a $40 USD crock pot for $15 USD at Wal-Mart. He already had a nice crock pot and didn’t need another one. When he heard that the heating element in a neighbor’s 20-year-old crock pot had finally died, he took the new crock pot and gave it to her. He then went out to get another crock pot. When I came up to visit one weekend and mentioned that the $5 USD crock pot that I got on Black Friday at Wal-Mart years ago finally died, he gave me the new crock pot.
He also became the center of a semi-illegal recycling center (the trailer park shut him down). One neighbor brings home old vending machines to dismantle and disposes at the county dump as part of his business. My father takes all the materials from the dismantled vending machine, saving the neighbor a small fortune in dumping fees. The metals were separated into different bins for recycling, which earned my father a small income for his work. The wood from the dismantled vending machines and pallets from another neighbor were given to a different neighbor for free to build chicken coops at $400 USD a piece. Anything that he couldn’t use or recycle went into the trailer park dumpster. My father did this to help his neighbors and keep himself busy.
As many people told me over the last few days, he was a good man and neighbor. As my father and I did with my mother’s ashes in summer 2004, I will be taking his ashes up to Idaho to be buried with his family this summer.