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Clint Eastwood Doesn’t Eat Banana Bread

A few hours after my dad came home from the hospital, he was sitting on a couch with five Clint Eastwood movie DVDs fanned in front of him. My brother listed the titles as it was unclear whether or not my dad could still read. I sat on the newly-delivered and oddly comfortable hospital bed across from them, secretly pulling for “Every Which Way But Loose.”

My mom took a loaf of banana bread out of the oven. Very few food aromas can beat the waft of warm banana bread. I was going to get a still-hot slice and asked my dad if he’d like some, too. He looked away from five Eastwood faces and whispered, “Clint Eastwood doesn’t eat banana bread.”

I’ll take that as a no, dad.

His remaining time was going to be all about his comfort and happiness. If he replied he wanted the entire loaf, I would have presented it to him. One day earlier, a doctor asked if he understood what his cancer diagnosis meant.

“Basically, I’m screwed!”

We took that as a yes. He understood. There was nothing that could be done for five cancerous tumors in his brain, a softball-sized tumor engulfing his liver, a tumor in his adrenal gland, in lymph nodes, and in his lungs. Hospice was called. We were told we could care for him at home. It’s what he wanted and what we wanted as well. The nurses from hospice couldn’t say how long he had, though. Months? Weeks? Days? We’d have to take each moment as it came without thinking too far into a very foggy future. My mom, my sister, my brother, my niece, and I settled in amongst the array of medical equipment and medications committed to being there for him—and each other.

While Clint wouldn’t be caught eating banana bread, he was willing to star in a major motion picture with an orangutan costar. My dad chose the best of the bunch and moved to the hospital bed. He laid on his side with his back to the TV and whispered lines. He anticipated scenes. He slurred, “Zanzibar!” as Charlie Rich sang on screen at the infamous Denver bar. My dad had been there, once upon a time. We marveled at the silly movie and laughed at the worst motorcycle gang in history. Clyde signaled right turn. Mama got her driver’s license. He didn’t watch any of it. He’d seen it before.

I also know for a fact my dad—until that day—devoured my mom’s banana bread every time she baked a loaf. He was a man of action. He hugged, kissed, water skied, sky-dived, caught big fish, caught little fish, been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, swam in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya, put ketchup on everything, chopped wood, made perfect hamburgers, looked great in a tux, favored a “Bear Whiz Beer” t-shirt, loved giving people nicknames, could fix almost anything, hated wind, woke up early, admired bald eagles, tenderly fed birds every winter, fell asleep watching “Star Wars” at the theater in 1977, and so much more. He loved and was loved.

My dad, 1965, the same year Clint made "For a Few Dollars More"

My dad, 1965, the same year Clint made “For a Few Dollars More”

Five days after he came home with hospice care, my dad died. As I sort out the jumble of bewildering impressions and emotions, it’s odd what rises to the surface and what is sinking to oblivion. He witnessed my birth 44 years ago when it was still revolutionary for dads to be in the delivery room. I witnessed his death and it was the most holy, terrible, beautiful moment of my life. As I wrote in his obituary, cancer didn’t win in the end. It died when my dad’s body died. My dad lives. I believe this with my whole heart.

12 comments to Clint Eastwood Doesn’t Eat Banana Bread

  • Bethany

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your Dad. He sounds like he was an amazing man.

  • As I approach the 9th anniversary of my dad’s death, it is cathartic to read memories of your dad. I remember one night in the late stages of his battle with cancer praying together as a family, and he started rambling about folks on Survivor. Slowly, everyone but him opened our eyes and looked at each other, stifling giggles.

    As Dad’s voice faded out, I asked, “Dad, were you just praying for the people on Survivor?” (not that there’s anything wrong with that…we just didn’t think he meant to be doing so at that moment)

    He looked slightly offended and said, “No!” and then we all laughed together. I’m glad you were able to treasure even those last, most hard moments.
    Minnesotamom recently posted..Fairy Garden 2015My Profile

    • Gretchen
      Twitter:

      Thank you for sharing that story, Heidi. We did have quite a few laughs in his last days. He never lost his sense of humor, but there were also moments that struck each of as as funny because there really is a fine line between laughter and tears sometimes.

  • Amy

    The details are wonderful.

  • edj

    “the most holy, terrible, beautiful moment of my life.” Exactly. Yes. Beautifully written. Thank you. And I’m praying for you all.
    edj recently posted..Touched Down in the Land of the Delta BluesMy Profile

  • Melanie

    God bless you in these difficult days.

  • I am so sorry about the loss of your dad. Love these memories and remembrances. My mother died very suddenly of heart issues almost ten years ago. My mother-in-law lives with us now – she had been in a nursing home and gotten down to 92 lbs. We thought we were bringing her home to die, but she has gained weight and perked up with one-on-one care. But she is still slowly declining. As much as it hurt to lose my mom so suddenly, without the chance to say goodbye, I think it was of the Lord’s mercies she didn’t have to undergo a slower decline. She would always get so depressed when she had to go to the hospital, more so each time. I think she would have been miserable that way. My m-i-l is generally happy, but it’s sad to see her lose more and more abilities. Right now she’s bedridden, a “total assist” in the physical therapist’s parlance, can’t feed herself, go to the bathroom herself, her arms are contracting close to her body, and she rarely speaks. She doesn’t have any major physical issues other than “old age.” My prayer is that when her time comes, God will enable her to go peacefully without any trauma.

    Whichever way death comes to a parent, it’s not easy – no matter how long they’ve lived, we still miss them. Praying for comfort for you and your family during this time.
    Barbara H. recently posted..Book Review: Walking With God in the Season of MotherhoodMy Profile

    • Gretchen
      Twitter:

      Thank you, Barbara, for sharing your personal experiences. I’ve grappled with what is the easiest road a person can take when it comes to dying and mourning and there really is no easy/better way. Sudden has its own style of grief, drawn-out is difficult in another way. I suppose my dad had both. He had cancer, but it was sudden? We expected him to live a little longer, but he didn’t. We did get to say goodbye and his suffering was limited by his sudden dramatic downturn. Days. Not weeks or months.

      I appreciate your prayers.

  • Jamie

    Gretchen,

    I’m very sorry for your loss. When my grandfather passed away two years ago, I came across this lovely poem by Emily Dickinson:

    The Bustle in a House
    The Morning after Death
    Is solemnest of industries
    Enacted opon Earth –

    The Sweeping up the Heart
    And putting Love away
    We shall not want to use again
    Until Eternity –

    May God continue to grant you “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”

    – Jamie

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