My dad, Edwin Roy Schneider, Jr., died on Friday. My sister called me on Friday and said, "I need to tell you something about Dad, Steve." I said, "Okay." She said, "Well, he died."
I took this photo a week ago, on July 4th, at the town park here in Blue Hill:
My dad is reading selections from the Declaration of Independence to twenty or so of our family friends. He's been doing this annually since at least 1976; terminal illness and morphine were not going to keep him from doing it once more.
I didn't know this until after the fact, but he'd been looking forward to and talking about his annual Declaration-reading gig for weeks. He knew (he had to have) that this was the last time he'd see many of the assembled friends, and certainly the last time he'd see more than one or two of them in the same place.
He slept for sixteen hours in preparation. An hour before, I had serious doubts that he'd make it out of bed. But he did make it out of bed, and into the living room. My mom pointed out that his hair was getting a little long, and wondered aloud if he'd like for one of the hospice nurses to cut it for him.
He said, "...No... No, that'd... sap my strength... saaz-mn..." It'd been taking my dad longer and longer, over the past few weeks, to get the words out, any words, and they didn't always make sense, these words. Translating the ideas in his head into sentences and getting them out into the world through his mouth was exhausting for him, and the morphine -- which did a first-rate job at what it was supposed to do, i.e. relieve his pain -- didn't help. This talk of saaz-mn and of strength-sapping haircuts sounded to me like the stuff of the strange, druggie dreams he'd been having. My sister was brushing the hair on the back of his head, which was sort of tangled from having been slept on.
He said, "...I had this girlfriend once... She was something else... Delilah... Real handful..."
Saaz-mn: Samson. Samson and Delilah. Bible stories. (From a self-described atheist, no less.) Ye of little faith, Steve.
That was my dad. Not a joke-a-minute guy, but an very social person who used wit to connect with people, and didn't -- couldn't -- stop doing that.
Half an hour later, we were at the park and he did his reading of the Declaration, pulling it off with a pitch-perfect balance of levity and gravitas and with his lawyer's appreciation of the words of Thomas Jefferson. He nailed it; he aced it; he hit it out of the park.
Congratulations, Dad. And thank you. And all of us miss you very much.