Epitaph (Revised)

With great sadness, I must report the passing of my father-in-law exactly one month after his 95th birthday. Bob often insisted that he would live to be one-hundred-and-eleven, and I wondered if he might. Aged as the retired engineer might be, he exhibited surprising vigor and sharp intellect. I will miss the gentle geek, who continually searched for ways to mature his spirit and improve—extend—his livelihood. If only more people, of any age, opened their minds to new ideas rather than crusting over into immutability.

On Oct. 15, 2007, my family relocated to San Diego to be closer to him, understanding that the solitary elderly rarely receive the respect they deserve. Someone in so-called official capacity would have placed Bob in an institution long ago, because of his age. But with a little assistance—our apartment is one block from his—he lived independently up until the end, passing in his own bed. I am especially proud of my wife for being such a dutiful daughter. Anne enabled her dad. 

Bob’s vitality declined dramatically, and suddenly, during his last weeks of life. Years ago, I told Anne this is how some old folks die: A sudden drop in wellbeing followed by a rapid, steep spiral. His sharp memory dulled to frequent forgetfulness; he needed naps, many of them; and he often fell asleep during our visits. I warned my daughter at Christmas that Grampy might not see New Years. But his will was stronger. Bob had valleys before, and he always rebounded. Molly had heard similar warnings many times before, and we all had reason to think that the tough old guy had fought back yet again.

But like a Honda Civic with several hundred thousand miles on the odometer, when there is that moment of doubt as you turn the key in the ignition, the time comes where the engine really won’t turnover. You can always buy a new car; no one can replace Bob. Yet he isn’t wholly extinguished. He lives on in his two sons, Anne, and our daughter—and in me, to whom he was like a second father these past few years. My pledge is to make him proud.

I shot the portrait of Bob at the El Cajon Blvd. Sonic in San Diego’s North Park district on Jan. 24, 2015, using Motorola Nexus 6 (Vitals: f/2, ISO 83, 1/60 sec, 3.82mm). Until a tricky knee kept Bob mostly confined to his second floor apartment from November 2016, Anne or I would take him out to lunch three, four—sometimes—five days a week. Hehe, he loved McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish Fridays. I choose this photo because it captures the warmth of his spirit and until yesterday was the image that popped up on my iPhone 7 Plus whenever he called. I won’t have the pleasure of hearing his deep baritone voice, other than from a few saved voice mails.

In memory of my father-in-law, I revise the poem originally titled “Lay Me Down” and written on a cold winter’s day in February 1978, when I was a college Freshman.

We all love you, and will miss you, Bob. May you rest in peace.



When I die I’ll ask for no coffin
Lay me down on a forest hillside
This will be my piece of springtime
My last desire fulfilled
Lay me down on a hillside
Lay me down

When I die I’ll ask for no mourning
Smile for me as you remember old days
This will be my soul forever
My last desire fulfilled
Smile for me and remember
Lay me down

When I die I’ll ask for no forgiveness
Let grief put all grievances away
This will be our winter ending
My last desire fulfilled
Lay me down with your burdens
Lay me down

The light shines o’er the horizon
Going to some distant galaxy
We live on in that light passing
My Last desire fulfilled
Lay me down on a hillside
Lay me down

© 1978, 2017 Joe Wilcox

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