« Newer Stuff How to Write an Obituary

A Last Salute to the Sergeant

Robert Bentley, surrounded by his family, 1958


Writing is connection, whether with words that precede, or words that follow; writing can be framed with themes and directions only hinted at, only suggested with faint trails. Sentences are families of words, sometimes taut ropes of enduring bond, other times rambling things, of loose alliance, dim fellowship or tangled expression.

I just returned from a holiday week with my family. An interesting time: my father, who has been deep in Alzheimer’s grip for many years, and essentially bed-bound for the last couple, was notably alert. Always a warm man, he was visibly pleased to be in the company of all his kids. He delighted in eating, still feeding himself from a bedside tray, shaky and slow with the spoon, but still managing. One time I brought him his food, and he looked up and said, “What do I owe you?” He was a man quick with a joke all his life, but it was still a surprise when he would surface from the glazed, almost frozen state that marked the bulk of his day and venture out with some words, a connection, before returning to the quietude of his condition.

But in that condition, there was still a man in there, still pushing time. He remembered my name a couple of times during this visit, and amazed me when he had been sitting in his wheelchair (helped in and out by caretakers, for short periods a few days a week) and had been staring silently into his stillness for a while, but turned to me reading on the couch and said, “Hey, what book are you reading?” I was taken aback—and delighted—by his abrupt spark, and related the book’s title and contents, and then he smiled and returned to his cloistered musings.

Yesterday, he fell ill, and was taken to the emergency room. His big heart, repeatedly remarked upon by his doctors for its steady strength in his advanced age, was fluttering and weak. He fought through the night, but left this plane for the next, a bit after 6am this morning. Sarge Bentley, a good man, my father, gone this New Year’s Day at 93. A life—how can you sum it up, count and consider its gestures, its feelings, its words, its connections?

I loved him, and will miss him, as will all my family. I’m grateful for this Christmas, and for the long years we had him. I’m grateful for being able to tell him I loved him when I said goodbye to return home a few days ago, and grateful for the integrity of his life.

88 thoughts on “A Last Salute to the Sergeant

  1. Tom -
    So sorry for your loss. My father too surfaced to share a bit of his heart before letting it stop. It is the gift I cling to most when I miss him. May your year be full of treasured memories & new moments that shine through the hard parts. Thank you for sharing this today.

  2. Dorothy, thank you for the kind words. It is truly strange that my father is gone from this world, because he’s been around so long. I hurt for my mother, married more than 60 years. But at least he didn’t feebly linger in a hospital; his end-time was swift.

    Thanks for reading about him, and sharing your own thoughts on your dad.

  3. Thank you for sharing your loss with us Tom!

    These times bring forth clarity and present life perspective’s view – our essence.

    YOUR words are radiant beautiful – a gift bestowed by aged genes gifted only by mothers and fathers.

    Sending much love your way Tom. Good thoughts are with you and your family.

    Bron

  4. Tom, condolences from afar. One year ago my pa in-law left this plane after leaving us gradually over three years. Alzheimer’s. He was 77. Occasionally, his presence smiles at us from a picture of his.

    A last salute.

  5. My father was gone before we found out he hadn’t made it to work that day. It does my heart good to know you had a chance to prepare, just a little, for your father’s departure.

    All fathers should have words like yours lavished on them; not just after their life, but during it.

    Best Beloved and I hope to come sit on your deck and swap stories of our fathers some summer eve.

  6. My deepest sympathy.

    I’m sure, even in his worst state, knew and felt the warmth of your love.

    May his fond memory be with you always.
    May his strength carry you through difficult times.
    May you feel and hear his voice in the wind during the great times to let you know he is still there to share them with you.

    Wishing you strength during this very difficult time.

    Pat

  7. Shalom Tom,

    I am so sorry to hear of your loss. Your beautiful words honor your father in a most loving way. May his memory always be for a blessing for you and all those you love.

    Wholeness,
    Jordan

  8. That’s so true, Joel, to show the love when you can, before you regret not showing it. I have my regrets, of course, but in some weird way that’s hard to explain, I’d grown closer to my dad as he’d moved further into Alzheimer’s quiet place.

  9. Marcos, I know you’ve suffered your own recent losses. I appreciate your feeling, and my mother, for whom the spiritual plane is native ground, will feel your prayers. Thank you for the warmth of your offering.

  10. Bernd, my dad never shied from the camera, so I have both a hoard of physical photos of him, many in goofy poses—I inherited that trait. But I have just as many mental images from boyhood, of the things fathers do with their kids. I’ll keep them both close. Thank you for your salute.

  11. Ah, Tom. What a time of mixed emotions. And tremendous loss. Thanks for the beautiful 1958 family photo. My heart goes out to you and your entire family, as well as my prayers.

  12. Bronwyn, indeed these are times of deeper consideration for me, a sifting and sorting. It IS good to weigh and wonder at death and the limits of our understanding, and use the rituals and tears to continue with the living while trying to understand the dying.

  13. Mary Louise, I’ll happily take those hugs, greedy guy that I am. I send them back at you and Robert. I will ask something: When you look up at your New York sky today, say hello to Robert Bentley’s soul passing by. He would have made you laugh, had you known him. Thanks for the thoughts.

  14. Dear Tom,
    So sorry to hear about the loss of your dad.
    I am so happy that you shared some wonderful times with him and loved him so much.
    Blessings,
    Sherri Rosen, NYC

  15. Oh Tom, I’m so sorry for you and your family.

    In the midst, I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and to remind us all that death is an inevitability. The more we accept and prepare for that, the easier the time will be.

    Gotta go hug my kids and call my Dad.

    Sending love your way,
    Frances

  16. Tom, what a blessing to have this great man present with you for so many years and what a great sorrow to say goodbye to his physical presence. May his spirit and words remain with you always.

  17. Tom,what a beautiful tribute to your dad. It’s a blessing that he surfaced to recognize you before he stepped over. I know you were with our family to enjoy our Dad’s life and his transition and that you gave us comfort. May we comfort you at this time of change. I don’t know if our fathers ever met in the physical plane, but they sound enough alike that they may become friends in another place. I send your family, and especially your mother, prayers of comfort and peace.

    Love,
    Annette

  18. Tom, saddened by your lost, lifted up by how you express your love, master of words. Steady hands and hearts in the days ahead.

    Blessings,
    Tom Allebach

  19. Tom,

    My condolences to you and your family. Your words just made your Dad immortal for the rest of the world.

    Yours
    John

  20. Oh Tom, I’m so sad and sorry I didn’t get to see him one last time. His corny one liners and always affable charm, I’ve always remembered. What a wonderful gift he had for Christmas. Surrounded by love of family. I will look for him in my dreams tonight. Sarge B, I salute you! Aloha

  21. Morning Tom,

    My heart goes out to you – my father passed on some 5 years ago, and I still miss him badly. He is still with me though whenever we are having fun, or when I have a hard decision to make.

    I wish you something similar.

    Cheers
    Randell. :-)

  22. Tom, thank you for sharing your thoughts and your love for your father. I am deeply touched by your beautiful heartfelt words. I am reminded of my mothers passing and how grateful I am to have been with her while she was leaving her body. The interesting thing is even now 1 1/2 years later I still feel her presence and her love…always the love is there and in that respect she never left. Your words remind me of this. I am also reminded of John Lennon’s words ‘All you need is love” The passing of someone we love is such a reminder of that. It’s all that’s left and what a gift that is. Love, Ela

  23. He was a jokester, Sarge. It’s easy to imagine him quipping “What do I owe you?” Tolerant of all our shenanigans in and around his home, welcoming to a long train of colorful characters. And unbelievably generous. He worked damn hard for the groceries he watched us pillage. Steady as a rock, loved by family and friends — what more is there? Ill say a prayer for Sarge, and Eileen. Ford rules!

    ZD

  24. Tom, we’re both so sorry to hear about your loss, but I’m glad you were there shortly before he passed to show and share how you felt about him. He raised a good son, and no greater monument can a man leave in this world. Love, Tom & Gail

  25. Judy, indeed my emotions are mixed: I’m actually happy that he didn’t linger long days in the hospital, or even worse, have to leave his house where he’d been for almost 60 years, and go to some care facility. And this time does provoke reflection on the good things. I appreciate your condolences, and so does my family.

  26. Tom,

    My condolences. I was touched by your tribute to your father. My grandmother, who also had alzheimers, became more conversant right before her passing. I think of it as a parting gift. I am glad you were granted the same privilege.

  27. Frances, yes, I think it’s good—and perhaps should be mandatory— to ponder the inescapable reaping—but damn, it seems so hard to prepare for it. I do want to accept it though, because knowing the finality of time can provide a sharper focus. Make the effort to do those things that otherwise would be idle dreams. But so much of people’s lives (and indeed, that of my own father’s) are a mystery. More to think about…

  28. Patty, you of all people could appreciate my parents’ marriage. They were together for more than 60 years, and of course there were the requisite amount of crises and troubles, but really, so much of it was warm and good. Thank you for your kind thoughts.

  29. Annette, I’m sure your dad and mine would have shared a few drinks and a few laughs (and then a few more of both). Thanks for the warm thoughts; I appreciate your feeling.

  30. Tom “Steady hands and hearts in the days ahead” is a beautiful phrase. I’ll take it to heart (and hands). Thank you for leaving your presence here.

  31. John, thank you. I know there has been serious illness in your family of late as well, and I hope all is better. And my father will be very pleased to know of his immortality.

  32. Lynn, the guy could be corny, for sure. I’m glad you were willing to be the victim of his charms. I hope he doesn’t sing to you in those dreams—the Bentleys have trouble carrying a tune. But there’s always a good laugh after.

  33. Ela, the love that remains really is a gift. I’m trying to focus on those feelings, rather than the empty or regretful ones. Thank you for reminding me of the essentials.

  34. Z-man, you had more than a small chance to see Sarge at work (and more than a small chance to aid me in stealing that cheap liquor in the cabinets, and replacing it with water). Yeah, even though we were reprobates, he seemed to like, or benignly tolerate, having us around. I am more than glad that you were a part of it. Thanks for our long history.

  35. Tom, of course, you’ve now issued the challenge to me of proving that I’m actually a bad son, and I’ll point the authorities to this post of yours as the start of my shift to criminality and mayhem. But I still have to be in bed by ten. Seriously though, thank you for your thoughts—I’m lucky in so many ways, and I need to remind myself of that.

  36. J.D., what an interesting phenomenon. I had spent some time with my dad mid-year this past year, and he wasn’t nearly as animated as this past Christmas. Alzheimer’s is, as you know, a degenerative condition, but it seems there are liftings of the veil now and then. Whether they often occur close to the time of death I don’t know, but I’m very grateful that it happened in the case of my dad—it was a great gift to my family, and to me. And thank you for the gift of your condolence.

  37. Tom, I’m so sorry your father has passed on, but so, so glad you were there and had so much time with him before he died. I’m glad for the spark, the humor and love that found its way out and to you in this time. I think he knew you were there and he waited – as those who love us most can do.

  38. Becky, there was something almost magical in his brightness at Christmas, a swan song, and then the quick fade-out. A last good gesture from his soul here, and a blessing to his family.

  39. Tom, we’ll share a bitter-sweet memory in losing our dads on the same date. You mentioned writing as connecting. The thoughts behind those bind us closer still, and my thoughts are with you and your family as you come to terms with this tragic loss. It never is easy, but you have pleasant memories to recall and cherish with fondness and remembered joy. My deepest heartfelt condolences to you and yours on this sad day. RIP, Robert Bentley.

  40. Dr. Mani, your dad as well on New Year’s day? What a strange, confusing situation it is, with the promise of the fresh year to come with the hammer of the loss. But there’s something oddly fitting there, in the sense of passage and the gravity of the time. Thank you for your kind words.

  41. Tom I’m so sorry. I may not have met your dad, but I feel I know him through your tributes. Sending cyber hugs, and hope someday to meet you in person and exchange the real kind.

    (Sorry this is belated, my computer was sick).

  42. Tom, it took me a little while to write this, as we lost my wife’s mother- who I adored for many many years- in similar circumstances. The memories are quite fresh for me still… She, too, would surface at times, and the most powerful times were when all of her immediate family were present. That seemed to have a synergistic effect.

    I thank your father for his life of integrity. This may seem an odd thing to say about someone who I’ve never met, but a life of integrity at any time, anywhere, has ripples that expand through time and space and enhance the world which we all must share.

    I also thank your father, as I do mine, for his service to his country. These gentlemen saved the world from a brace of tyrannies that would have made life miserable for untold millions for an intolerably long time.

    Take care my friend, and take comfort in the knowledge that your father’s life made a difference.

  43. Jodi, a cyber hug from you is as warm as those 1s and 0s get, so I happily accept it. Thanks for your condolences, and I hope you can get that computer to mind its manners soon.

  44. Rick, I agree with you about the electric, fusing power of integrity, in the fullest human sense. My dad was just a regular guy, but he made the people that knew him happy, and that treasure spreads. And thank you back for your own father’s service; indeed, I hope I can say I made such a difference some day. (Though I don’t really want to drop any bombs to do it.)

    I appreciate your words here.

  45. Alzheimer’s steals people from us before they are fully gone, in a terribly cruel way, and yet you were able to retain a bond with your father through his illness. That’s something to be grateful for.

    You are lucky that you are such a talented writer that you can express your feelings so well, and write such an epitaph for your father. Best wishes.

  46. You know what, Tom? I’ve come to believe that it’s the “regular guys” and gals who make the most positive change happen in the world. They may do it in their low-key, steady way, but they do so very much in their lives.

    It’s Hits and Niches, same as in business. Everyone is told that the famous, powerful ones create change. And they do. But here’s the hidden truth- the sum total of all the regular guys’ and gals’ noble efforts, the ones of us with integrity, is far greater than the sum total of the noble efforts of the so-called leaders in this world.

    *Because there are so incredibly many more of us regular folk. We matter far more than we’ve been led to believe. Such is your father’s legacy, and it’s radiant. Simply radiant.

  47. Tom,

    This is so full of love and I thank you for sharing it! My thoughts are with you and your family during this difficult time.

    Much love to you and Alice!
    Julie

  48. Rich, Alzheimer’s is such a strange, strange condition—it was so strange over the years to look in my father’s eyes and see when he was present, and other times when the lifeforce seemed absent. Whether it’s a greatly exaggerated sense of a “regular” mind being on autopilot, such as when you are driving a long distance and suddenly snap to and realize that you’ve been the almost-absent captain of a moving vehicle without registering its passage, or it’s something quite different, I don’t know. And I don’t want to find out.

    I am lucky to be able to express my feelings for my father; I wish I could express them with even more clarity. But this will do. Thank you for your good thoughts.

  49. Rick, that is a persuasive thought, of the power (and I agree with you on its dominion and its significant effect) of the “ordinary” person. It’s very Tolstoy, and very true. And “radiant” is a lovely, lovely word. Thank you, I’ll read by its glow.

  50. Bernd, your second comment was lost in the city of Spamalopolis for a while, but I fetched it out. Mr. Askew has done marvelous things—I’ll check it out. Thank you for your attention.

  51. Julie, hey, it’s good to hear from you. Thank you for your warm feeling—I know it’s heartfelt. Hope all is well with you, and thanks for responding to my father’s salute.

  52. Tom – deepest condolences to you and your family. I’ve been somewhat absent from triiibes these days (and with the darn email notification reliability issues, more ignorant than usual of goings on).

    I never knew your dad, but your writing gives a glimpse into the man he was. I’m sure a whole lot of him lives on in yourself and the rest of the family…dad’s have the unique ability to do that, don’t they?

  53. Gosh Tom. I really thank you for relating all that, and giving me an example of how I can be when the time comes for me to let go of my father. I can’t think of anything to say but that reading that makes me feel good about both life and death. I wish you an ever-strengthening connection to his memory.

  54. Deepest condolences to you and your family. In many senses dads are bigger than they seem. Take care Tom.

    Rahul

  55. Shawn, I’ve hardly been on Tribes at all for a few months, but I’ll be back there in some form soon. I myself don’t know some aspects of my dad, because he wasn’t given to expression of deep personal reflection, at least around us kids, but I think his essence was visible. I tried to bring some light to it, but it’s hard to try to sum up any aspect of a complex situation. Thanks for your care.

  56. Hey David, I like the thought of “an ever-strengthening” connection to memory, so unlike how memory often operates, fading with time (or being replaced by stitched-in fabrics that don’t quite fit). I’ve spent a lot of time the last few days trying to summon memory, with mixed results. Thank you for being here.

  57. Rahul, yes, one of the things I’m going to talk about at his eulogy is the secure sense I had as a kid in his presence (unless I’d been annoying him) and how that presence was still there even with him not around. Somewhat like it is today. Thank you.

  58. Dr. Mani, your account of your father’s death and its aftermath was fascinating, especially the material about hearing from people who knew him from a completely different perspective. People really are composites of behaviors, subject to pressures, timings, weak and strong moments and so much more. It will be interesting to hear the stories from just such people as you mention when I attend my father’s service. Thanks for your help in thinking about this.

  59. Uncle Tom, my heartfelt condolences to you and your family. As always, even in this sad circumstance, your words have a unique way of warming my heart (and everyone else’s for that matter). I’m sure your father will be missed by everyone that knew him. Obviously, as that old photo shows, he had plenty reasons to be proud. If his sense of humor was anything like yours, I’m sure there’ll be quite a few laughs to be had during his service.

    My thoughts are with you amigo.

  60. Robert, thanks for looking over the details of my dad’s move into the great beyond—it has been a strange, warping emotional time. Right now I’m writing an obituary, and writing a eulogy tomorrow. I hope this isn’t where my profession is headed.

    But yeah, there will be laughter at the service, and that’s a good thing. Thanks for being here.

  61. Heartfelt condolences, Tom. I remember those surprising moments of lucidity, and even humor, during my grandmother’s many years in the grip of that infernal dementia. Altogether too brief, but better than no moments at all.

  62. Jeff, those eyes-open moments are intriguing and almost jarring (though very welcome). I wonder if there’s any parallel with the way in which the brains of “regular” folk can just move dully through a typical day, and then have an insight or sequence of thoughts that lift consciousness out of habit and into brighter life. It’s a surfacing of some sort that I can liken to that of my father’s liftings.

    Anyway, thank you for being here, and helping me to think about it.

  63. Hello Tom,

    I send my condolences to you and your family. My grandmother and mother have Alzheimer’s and the many comments herein are comforting to me. My immediate goal is to do what I can to help my mom and dad live a quality life with th remaining time they have left. Saying goodbye while she still knows me is the hardest thing I will ever do.

  64. Don, thank you for your words here. My father seemed to go in and out with recognizing us, even calling my mom by another name, though he did know her as his wife (and his only wife, if you’re counting). It was strange at times when he didn’t know me, but at the same time, it seemed clear that he recognized that I was someone he knew and cared about, and who knew and cared about him, so while it was distressing in some way, still it was good. I hope things with you mom and grandmother go well—I’m sure they’ll go lovingly.

  65. I’m so sorry to hear about your bereavement, Tom. Condolences to you and all your family.

    In Indian culture they say that while our father is still alive we have his ‘chatra chaya’ over us, meaning that we have the shelter of his umbrella over our head. No matter how old we get we still feel that protection. But once he is gone that umbrella is lost.

    I feel for you and my thoughts and best wishes will be with you.

    Big hug,

    Jai

  66. Jai, no wonder I’ve been feeling exposed—that umbrella is gone! What a lovely way to express the absence of something that protects us on our path. Thank you for the wishes and the hug. I’ll be thinking of how I can regain, or perhaps more aptly, reshape my sense of my chatra chaya…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>