And What A Race It Was!
By Bridget Keesler
From the latest update, it was apparent my father was afraid he would run out of time before he could finish this book. As he informed you, he asked for help from family and friends to speed up the progression of the book process. He had the research and 99 percent of the writing completed, it was just a matter of bringing it all together.
For the past few years, my father and I spent many weekend mornings doing Mohawk explorations or just hiking on his woodland trail near his home. For the past three months he didn’t feel well enough to do much hiking. Instead we spent our mornings walking around the yard and talking about completing his book. He gave me a pink legal pad that I kept in his office. When we were brave enough to talk about it, he’d rattle off important information for the book’s completion. As he spoke, every few moments, he’d stop, look over and say “You writing all this down?” Sometimes he forgot that I was in my 40s and not my teens. We usually worked in short spurts with one of us tearing up eventually. He’d say, “Well that’s enough for today. We’ll do some more another day. Let’s go check the garden.”
In June he went for 20 days of radiation. This was a positive because we were hopeful his tumors would shrink and relieve some of his pain. We were very hopeful better days were ahead. We spent the past eight years of cancer treatment being hopeful and it always worked.
On July 12 I met my father and Gert at the emergency room at 6 a.m. He’d been in severe pain all night and finally decided it best to get to the hospital. He walked into the emergency room bent over using one of his walking sticks refusing a wheelchair. Part of his race…no wheel chairs allowed! They did x-rays, an MRI and a CAT scan to find his cancer had shown up in his spine and pelvic bone. He was admitted and spent the following two days getting his pain under control with morphine and other drugs. As they closed in on the perfect line between coherence (talk about a drunken turtle) and pain relief, Dad decided while he was lying around he needed to be productive. He always had trouble doing just nothing. I brought in his laptop and my pink pad and we got to work. We enlisted the help of my Dad’s writer friends and the publisher, North Country Books. All felt the only option was to finish this masterpiece. It was a wealth of information, entertainment and hard work.
Another challenge was taking place at the same time. Radiation was offered by my father’s doctors to reduce the spinal tumor in order prevent paralysis. It would be five days of intensive radiation. He would be transported by ambulance to the radiation center from the hospital. They had just gotten his pain under control but the commotion of moving him would create more pain management issues. After a heart to heart discussion with the doctor, it was decided the radiation would be damaging to his quality of life in his last few weeks, which already were upon us. Our positive attitude had to be readjusted to hoping for the least amount of pain and knowing we were creating our last memories with my father. We met with Hospice, an evaluation was done and Dad came home to his house by the river.
We thought we had longer, but we lived as though we didn’t. The nurse suggested a wheel chair (Dad quickly informed her of the race rules) and thought it best if he stayed on the deck and didn’t venture out into the yard. With the help of my brother and a walker, Dad walked the yard several times in his last week. He walked down to the garden and he gave us a lesson on pruning back the tomato and pumpkin plants. We enjoyed a family picnic of steak and corn on the cob cooked on Dad’s Webber grill according to his directions. He even had a little wine at Wine Time. He hadn’t had wine in months due to his medication. He shared heartfelt moments on the wooden swing next to the river with family and friends. We did a lot of laughing, a little crying and savored every moment.
On July 27, at 9:20 a.m.,Dad died in his sleep. He was cremated, according to his wishes. We had a memorial service on Friday, July 29 at Saint Peter’s Church in Utica. On Saturday, July 30, at 5 p.m. (Wine Time) we had a family ceremony at the house on the river. My brother, Paul, stepbrother, Gary, boyfriend, Neal, niece, Andi and nephew, Jack waded across the West Canada Creek to Grandpa’s Island to spread half my father’s ashes on the island and into the creek. The rest of us watched from the bank. When they waded back, Jack toasted his Grandpa with a heartwarming speech. We raised our glasses to the best husband, father, grandpa, brother and friend one could ever have. On Monday, August 1, my brother and I took the other half of his ashes to be buried with my mother at the Prospect Cemetery. Longtime friend Dick Owens buried the ashes at my parents’ gravesite while Paul and I stood by to say goodbye.
My father didn’t finish his book, but he did win his race. He finished his life saying he was a lucky man, but good luck was only a small part of Dad’s life. As John Pitarresi wrote, “Keesler had a strong sense of wonder.” He forged ahead almost everyday with a positive, ambitious and caring attitude. We will miss my father so much that it will hurt sometimes, but he left us with such a great example of what life can be, we are the lucky ones for having him in our lives.
We promised Dad his book would get published and it will. We are working with North Country Books and hoping that it will be out by spring. We will continue to keep you updated on the progress through this website. Thank you for your support.