Terribly sudden, but not terrible sad

In the last half year, I have found myself eulogizing in this space my mother-in-law, my godfather and my good friend, John Vautier. Now we can add to this illustrious pantheon, my father, Aram “Bo” Bohjalian. He died last week at 83, passing away in a fashion eerily similar to my mother-in-law this spring: A burst blood vessel in the brain in the still of the night. I have made it clear to my friends and family that I would prefer that they not die for a while, if only so I can resume writing about things that really matter, such as my cats’ turd hockey team and fried dough at the Champlain Valley Fair.

The truth is, I was never shy about writing about my father, because he was always good copy. He was a loving dad and a wonderful friend, but he was also worth chronicling: There was something universally poignant about his last years that lent itself to examination, and the way that he and his girlfriend and golf buddies in Florida endured the indignities that come with age.

Moreover, his will to live was ferocious. This was a guy who had had Crohn’s Disease since 1973, a bad ticker, high blood pressure, macular degeneration, a pair of 83-year-old ears, and a short-term memory that was about as sharp as a butter knife. (His long-term memory, like that of many seniors, remained impressive: Ask him about a television commercial he filmed in 1965, and he would give you an answer the length of a History Channel documentary.) He was frail and walked slowly, resistant to the very end to the idea of a walker.

And while his life had its share of disappointments, his last full day on this earth was weirdly perfect. The day before the night when his brain would be drowned in a tsunami of blood was an unexpected gift.

My 17-year-old daughter, Grace, and a friend of hers had joined me in Fort Lauderdale to visit him that week. The two of them would spend the days at the beach and catch up with my father and me late afternoon.

On my father’s last full day, the two of us went shopping for shoes, because we agreed that his footwear lacked style. At Macy’s we found him some loafers with a serious “Miami Vice” vibe, and he was thrilled. Then we went to see one of the 7 million doctors who kept him vertical. Actually, we saw his favorite physician, Steven Hahn. My dad had known Steven for years. Like so many of the people in my father’s life, years earlier their relationship had transcended even the friendliest doctor-patient relationship. (The next day, after my father had died, one of Steven’s assistants said she had known in her heart — and she thought my dad had, too — that they were never going to see each other again and he had come over to say goodbye.)

Then my dad and I drove to a tony strip of Fort Lauderdale called Las Olas Boulevard and an Italian restaurant he liked, where we met Grace and her friend and my dad’s girlfriend and her grown daughter from Texas.

As we approached Las Olas, I joked about my notoriously bad sense of direction. “Proud of me?” I said. “I got us here without getting us lost.”

“Son,” he said. “I am always proud of you. Always.”

We polished off a bottle of Chianti and my father regaled Grace with stories of what college had been like for him as a military veteran in the late 1940s.

About 9 at night, we said goodnight to him at his apartment at the assisted living facility where he lived. Four hours later, a night nurse found him on his living room floor, breathing but unresponsive, and 14 hours after that he died in the hospital.

In theory, he had almost no brain function left when he passed away. But a little before 3 in the afternoon his blood pressure was solid and he was breathing on his own. And so his girlfriend took his hand and whispered, “Bo, you’ve always been so strong. You don’t have to be strong forever. Let go, honey, let go.”

And so he did. His blood pressure dropped like a stone and he was dead within minutes. The end was terribly sudden. But it wasn’t terribly sad.

I’m confident that my father has now been reunited with my mother and those golf buddies you’ve read about all these years. Once again Bernie and Saul and Bo are teeing off somewhere in heaven, the fairways groomed and the putting greens true, and the only pain is that damned sand trap on 17.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on August 7, 2011. Chris’s next novel, “The Night Strangers,” arrives on October 4, 2011.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

2 thoughts on “Terribly sudden, but not terrible sad

  1. Judi Delgado says:

    I found your blog for the first time today, solely because your post about your father’s passing mentioned his macular degeneration(AMD). I am so sorry for your loss, yet the beauty of his last day was such a treasure. We nine siblings experienced something similar when our mother passed away – the experience was such a gift, as odd as that sounds. I’m glad I found your blog, as I very much appreciate your books. As an aside, you do know that AMD is genetic; if I can provide any information, let me know or visit our website. Be well.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Oh, Chris what a beautiful eulogy for your father. I wish I had known him. I am all teary now. And, what a great last day.
    Even before I read the comment about being proud of you I was thinking he must have been so proud of you.

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