Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dad's Gone; George Smith Isn't

Dad died.

I was in transit to Orlando, FL at 37,000 feet on a Southwest Airline 737 with a satellite Internet WiFi connection when I got the email from my wife.

It was sad in some respects, of course. The death of a parent, child, friend - anyone close - is never an easy thing to accept.

It was a relief in some respects too. As you know, Dad had been bedridden since before Thanksgiving, 2013. Being in that state of decline for so long was a difficult thing to observe, particularly of someone who was so vibrant, energetic and, sorry for the pun, full of life.

There was a tinge of anxiety - did I have everything set up for this ultimate moment?

Checklist: forms and contract with crematorium for body pick up and disposition; pending arrangements for a service; notification to key individuals...

And what about Mom? In a different facility for rehabilitation and dementia care - they said it would not be a problem to take her for the service when the time arrives, but what do I need to do to make that happen?

Dad sporting his WCC shirt
This isn't at all different than the closure of a workers' compensation case - the file might go to the cabinet, but there's still plenty of unfinished business.

I'm not talking about the final bills and notices, but about the aftermath to the survivors, particularly the family.

We forget that in workers' compensation claims work. We provide the benefits, pay the bills, make the indemnity payments, and when the law or regulations say stop, then we stop. The legal obligation gets fulfilled.

That objective ability to disengage the emotion from the work we do isn't easy, and sometimes we can't disengage.

But the effect is felt by many others after that file is closed, especially for the catastrophic or large loss claims.

For instance, there's the Ohio case recently where a worker ends up brain damaged due to complications from a hernia surgery back in 1995.

A hernia surgery?! Such a common medical procedure - so common we forget that it IS surgery, invasive, subject to risk and complications - but never would I have imagined that someone would have severe brain damage from hernia repair.

I can't imagine that the family of George Smith was prepared for him to come out of hernia repair surgery with permanent total disability.

I can't imagine that the claims administrator was prepared for such an outcome either.

But beyond the Ohio Supreme Court's rulings on the case about additional scheduled benefits there's the human component, the fact that Smith has no practical use of his limbs, doesn't seem to process visual information or respond to auditory stimulation.

And apparently has been in that state now for nearly 20 years.

Dad's passing was a blessing in that his time in bed, disabled, was short in comparison.

I'm thankful my lifestyle allowed me so many close, wonderful moments with him during these past 4 months.

In the beginning there was doubt and question about his state. When Dad was released from the hospital last November the attending physician was clear with me that he was dying - what I didn't appreciate was that it would take so long.

While that time was anxious and there were doubts about the impending end of life because of the ups and downs that were experienced, the trend was obvious.

Perhaps it was most obvious to the one for whom the experience was most personal - Dad himself.

He would ask me if he was dying. I was supportive, but I'm not one to sugar coat things (ask my wife or staff about that!), and would tell him that, yes, he was dying. He would look at me with resignation - not mad, not sad, not even in disbelief.

Just factual. He knew deep inside that the end was coming but just wanted confirmation.

I think he was coming to grasp with mortality, with the fact that at some point he would check out. I think he was going through the checklist in his head: did he live as big as he could (Tahitian vacations every December), did he provide for his family to the best of his ability (four children all with post-graduate degrees), did he love his wive more than anything in the world (never could he have imagined leaving her in the uncaring hands of another), and did he give as much back to the world as it gave him (his unending volunteerism providing free dental care to orphaned Mexican children)?

If it wasn't to him, it was to me - clearly the answer was that Dad exceeded all expectations of living.

I didn't quite grasp why he was so interested in the chart or grid that set forth the stages of dying and the symptoms and reasons for them. But now I understand that he knew the time was near.

At least Dad was mentally sharp, aware, and understanding for most of that time, able to smile and sing happy songs about a new day, about sunshine, about happiness and hope.

It's likely that George Smith doesn't have that luxury, isn't able to grasp his predicament, or appreciate the care and love that his family has provided the past 20 years.

George probably can't sing Dad's song...

Like a workers' compensation case, there is still plenty left to take care of with the closing of this chapter. Mom, services, bills, family - we're not done until ... well ... until WE'RE done.

Then it's for the next person to take over.

Andrew J. DePaolo, Sr.: 10/04/1922 - 2/19/2014. I love you Dad.


  1. David, very sorry for your loss. Your tributes to him have been poignant and touching. He gave you many things to remember him by, and he lives on through you and your children. You'll be in my thoughts and prayers over the next few days.

  2. David, I echo Bob's comment about your writings. But more so, about that checklist you mentioned. You did not mention an item I am sure your dad considered more than once - and with fondness and peace - your own contributions as a person are a big part of his legacy. Perhaps we are never done...

  3. I'm very sorry for your loss, David. Thank you for sharing this very personal and meaningful post.

  4. Sorry to hear your loss, David!
    You are amazingly strong!

  5. David:
    A beautiful post and tribute to your Dad who must have been extremely proud of you. May you and your family be at Peace.

  6. David, I am so sorry for your loss but happy for your Dad that he is not in pain any longer. May God bless you and your family.