Frank “Tom” Falk, loving and caring father and friend, went to be with God on November 27th 2008 at age 53, due to complications from heart disease. He is survived by his children, Emily Falk, Megan Falk and Paul Falk. Tom had a passion for music, movies and sports, and being helpful to all that he could assist. Plans for a memorial service are forthcoming, please firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.
If you are close to me you know better than to ask how my Thanksgiving was. I didn’t do much talking about my father’s death for the first 48 hours because I couldn’t talk without choking up; that horrible suffocating sensation that causes your delivery to sound like eternal hiccups and feel like asphyxiation.
My dad went into Mercy Hospital Fairfield on November 18th or 19th under coercion from his friends at his assisted living facility. During the years he has been sick, he hasn’t always trusted his own instinct to go to the hospital and most times, he waited to tell any of his offspring that he was going. I always thought that he did not want us to worry. I know that when I was in South Korea, I always found out last about these kinds of things. This time he had trouble breathing. The following Sunday I was awakened by my mother while dozing in my basement. I thought it was odd, but then she told me to get dressed, Emily was arriving to pick me up to take me to the hospital with her: Dad was in trouble. My brother Paul met us there and while we were told that the situation could be dire, we were relaxed. There had been many other times when doctors and nurses had told us that the outlook was not good, but Dad had always bounced back, if not feeling a little bit weaker. That Sunday night we joked around as we laid across hospital chairs, trying not to rouse our father from his sleep at 4 A.M.
When we came back the next day, he was in a more lucid state. (I do not intend to go through what each day of that week was like, but I’m still trying to understand the thought processes of each of us, Dad’s children, under the circumstances) Dad was telling us that he was having trouble breathing; nurses elaborated more, naturally. Dad had fluid in his lungs and nearly in his heart, mild emphysema, pneumonia, and his kidneys were nearly shut down. Everything but the kidneys was new to us. Relatives and friends intermittently stopped by, as a result of our calls the Sunday night before. As our father’s children, we were never really sure when to begin worrying for his health, but something told us to call a few people. I tried not to shirk any responsibilities but I was the most unsure about Dad. I had been away for a year in South Korea, a long-gone phantom during the climax of Dad’s downward spiraling health. Though I had been gone for so long, my father’s art of conversation always seemed to bridge the distance somehow, though never reveal too much about what I had missed.
Around Day 3, we were sure that our father did not know how bad things were exactly. He griped at nurses for trying to put an oxygen mask on him and he called each of his children by their first AND middle names when he wanted to be taken seriously. But the doctors and nurses told us from the very beginning – 16 to 24 hours. He had surpassed that timetable, but each of us knew that this time would not be like the others. He was adamant about letting his life pass without the aid of defibrillators or surgeries and we were ready to accept and respect that wish.
We took Wednesday night off. I remember me and Emily going out to eat with my mother’s cousin and her husband, talking loosely about the hospital facility and weakly cracking jokes about the amusing goings-on that we each observed in the late hours of the hospital. Don’t mean to sound too cliche, but visiting hours do not apply to us. I’m pretty sure that we even went to bed peacefully, if not a bit buzzed off of beer from dinner.
Thanksgiving morning will not always be engraved in my memory, but the day had no meaning to me after noon. The nurses called and told us to get there as soon as possible. My worries of the three or four places that I needed to go that day dissipated, no longer very important. The three of Frank’s children sat and listened his shallow breath as the nurses told us exactly how much time had left. He would not make it to another Thanksgiving meal.
There are details that I cannot yet write about. I have never written about an event or a person that was so personal before and I have yet to discover the words. Even during the moments when me, Emily, and Paul were optimistic about our father’s health turning around, we all knew that life would be more difficult, more unhealthy for him to live. Each hospital trip would would weaken our father. There is nothing more unbearable as sitting in a plastic chair with plastic cushions, listening to the sound of a loved one’s shallow breathing while knowing that there was nothing more to do.
There will be a memorial service for him in lieu of a funeral because his wish was to donate his body to science. But if anyone is interested, charitable donations can be made to the following groups:
Dad frequently kept in touch with the group after his heart transplant in 1998.
Nationally-recognized group whose mission is to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.