I shall not mention my father-in-law’s name here because I do not want to invade his family’s privacy.
When I was told on Saturday that he had a heart attack and was in intensive care, I pictured him there, weak but smiling at kind nurses and family members come long distances to see for themselves he was still alive.
But my picture was all wrong. I learned today that when his heart stopped, although a nurse who lived in the neighborhood got it started again, ticking like an old clock, he suffered brain damage. In his hospital bed, he slept the sleep of the dead and never opened his eyes. A coma had captured him. It would not let him loose.
So, today, someone unplugged the ventilator that forced breath in and out, in and out of his lungs. He gasped his last breath and lay still. I know no details of his death or his funeral. Though I feel great love for him, I am not part of his family anymore — except in my heart, beating on uninterrupted while the tears weep from my eyes.
My father-in-law had a hereditary heart disease. It also killed his father. But in spite of the disease, Grandpa lived to be a little old man who came off the golf course after playing 18 holes and dropped dead from a heart attack.
My father-in-law was told many years ago that he was down to a few months to live, to prepare for death because heart disease was about to lay icy fingers around his throat and squeeze till all life was gone. But he was blessed with a life-saving surgery in another state, and firmly believed that the many prayers said for him saved his life.
Following his surgery, he did not return to his job as a city engineer. He retired and gladly took his pension and played golf every day that the weather was nice. I think he enjoyed those bonus years of living.
I do not know what he was doing before his heart attacked him on Saturday. I hope he was playing golf or enjoying a game of cards with my mother-in-law, whose own heart must ache with a pain beyond comprehension.
The last time I saw him was at The Hurricane’s college graduation. I could see that old age had mellowed him. He seemed much more relaxed and happy than when he was younger. He was delighted to see my children. He relished my son’s resemblance to my father and said, You look just like your Grandpa Goltz.
I don’t think it ever occurred to him to say that this grandson also resembled him.
And, of course, he reveled in the success of The Hurricane. He smiled and chuckled at my cheering when she received her diploma.
Then in August, 2011, he celebrated his 80th birthday. Both my children were there to enjoy the occasion, and enjoy it they did. The Hurricane had spent part of her summer on genealogical research. My father-in-law was delighted to learn some of his family’s history from her. He knew very little because two generations of his maternal grandparents’ family died young and thus, did not have time to sit at the fireplace and impart the story of their family to younger members.
So, my father-in-law did not know that his great-great grandfather was a Union soldier who is buried in Arlington Cemetery. He did not know he was distantly related to President Franklin Roosevelt and the Spencer family, making Princes William and Harry distant cousins to my children.
Reportedly, he was thrilled with what he learned and enjoyed every minute of his birthday celebration.
I know this only from the reports I received from my children. I was not there. He may have treated me as a daughter, but I was no longer a member of their family. I have written before that divorce destroys families. Sadly, this destruction is true for more than the immediate family of the divorced.
My father-in-law had a rather strange and difficult childhood. His parents divorced when he was very young, uncommon for that time period. His mother left him with her parents. When she came to retrieve him at some point — I don’t know how old he was — he didn’t want to go. His grandfather said he could do as he wished, stay or go. He was welcome where he was.
He stayed, and many years later when his grandfather was alone on this, our planet Earth, he found a home with my father- and mother-in-law.
My father-in-law had a master’s degree in civil engineering and was the father of four.
Every time I spoke to him following the divorce, he was extremely kind to me. My ex-husband once accused me of taking money from his parents that was intended for our son and using it for my own enjoyment. I called my in-laws in tears. My father-in-law answered.
He said, Janie, when we give money we don’t look back. It’s a gift and it never occurred to us that you did anything you shouldn’t have.
I don’t know how I could have been more grateful for these words.
And so now, he is gone, yet he is not. He lives eternally with our savior, Jesus the Christ, in His heavenly home. He is mourned by his beloved wife of more than 50 years, his children, grandchildren, many friends, and one former daughter-in-law.
Infinities of love,