I started this post yesterday and did not finish. I should have. But, I had spent more than six hours indoors at a hospice on a very nice spring Sunday. I stopped writing and headed home with the windows down in my car breathing in what was left of the day.
I received the word just 15 minutes ago (3:30am Eastern March 14, 2011) that my dad had passed away. So, I guess now is a good time to finish.
I’m sitting inside Peachtree Christian Hospice. Nice place. Wifi, cable TV and nice furniture. My dad is not reactive anymore. But, given his situation, I’m not shocked by this. Many have wished us well and expressed concern for my dad. I figured I’d share a bit about his life for those who don’t know about him.
His full name is Franklyn Stephenson Youngblood, the same as mine. He was born on October 3rd, 1932 in Vienna, Georgia in his family’s house in the middle of town. For those Europhiles out there, we don’t say Vienna the right way. The “i” is long, like in the English personal pronoun “I”. And the “enna” is said like “anna”. That’s just the way we southerners say it. Frankie was the youngest of seven born to Marion Jackson Youngblood and his wife, Mary Alice Thompson Youngblood.
When he was 2, his family moved to Leesburg, Florida. My grandfather had a cotton gin and fruit trading business. But, he killed somebody who “needed a killin” and the sherrif said “you best be gettin out of town”. Off they went. Unfortunately, my grandmother died of a stroke when my dad was seven. She was only 46. After that my grandfather fell apart making my dad’s childhood rough. My grandfather became an alchoholic and was abusive. My father did though find places to thrive. He sang at the Baptist Church in Leesburg and was active in the choral groups at Leesburg High School. Upon gradutation from Leesburg High School in 1950, he received a small scholarship in music to Florida State University.
However, the money wasn’t enough to carry him through so he joined the US Navy and spent 1951 to 1955 travelling the country and the world. The Navy took him to San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles and then on to Japan. And while stationed in Japan, he saw Hong Kong, Korea and the Philippines. I think this must have been the most exciting time of his life. He left the orange groves of Florida and for the first time heard other languages and saw other customs in places so far away from home. All while working. He sang in the Navy and also served in the legal services section. This sparked his interest in writing.
Upon his honorable discharge in 1955, he headed back to Florida and enrolled at the University of Florida (the correct choice this time). He majored in advertising. He also continued his interest in singing and acting participating in a number of musicals on campus. It was while performing he met my mom, Judy Bischoff Youngblood. He graduated in 1958 and went to work in Jacksonville, my mom’s hometown. They married in February of 1961. My dad went on to do what we all do. Work and pay bills. He worked for State Farm and my mom taught school. Then came the children.
I was born in 1962, my brother in 1963 and my sister in 1969. My dad went on to work for the State of Florida in 1972 and life just rolled on. Those who have had children and have seen them move forward know the story (I have a sophomore in college myself.) I graduated from high school in 1979 and headed to UF, my brother in 1981 headed to the Air Force and my sister in 1986 and headed to UF.
My parents divorced in February of 1992 and my dad retired from the State of Florida in 1998. Upon retirement, he sold our house in Jacksonville and moved to a small retirement park in Leesburg called “Hawthorne” located on US 27. This might sound nice. But, his sisters were getting older and there wasn’t much to do in Leesburg. He basically sat around a lot and smoked.
In 2002 I took him on a trip with me to Australia. He hated not being able to smoke for so long. 5 hours to San Francisco, then 15 hours to Sydney. He seemed fine when we landed. But, within 2 hours, I had him in a hospital in Sydney. He had a fever, thought he was back home and was mumbling. I though he had had a stroke. But, the doctors said it was something else.
50 years of smoking caused him to develop COPD. And the lack of oxygen from COPD is now known to accelerate Alzheimers.
For the next 5 years, he found himself in situations where he was either lost or had driven the wrong way down the road. In early 2007, we received a call from Hawthorne management. They said that if we didn’t come down and help my dad, he may be asked to sell his house and move out. So, we came down and brought him to Atlanta. He never went back home. My sister and I swapped him back and forth between our homes. He hated it. He kept saying that he wanted to go back home. We could see his mind slipping away. And Alzheimer’s does a number on the body too. Visits to the hospital were becoming a monthly affair. In January of 2009, we moved him into an assisted living home. By January of 2010, we begain to notice he was losing weight. And by mid 2010, he was wheelchair bound.
On January 10th of this year, we had to rush him to the hospital with the usual uninary tract infection. But, this time it was different. There had been a backup of urine due to an enlargement in his prostrate. This caused renal failure and we all had to work hard to keep him alive. He didn’t recover from this episode. He was back in again in February with an even worse infection and then again starting this month. In February, we were able to get him to eat orally again. But, just barely. This time, we knew his body was shutting down.
I am fortunate to have been able to help my dad in his last few years. It’s amazing how many people just leave their parents to die off on their own. We have been unbelievably inconvenienced these past few years. And I am so glad we were. Our kids saw how we all pulled together to ensure the safety and care of one of us. I hope they do the same when called.
Dad and I, Summer of 2010