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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Watson

Transition: Part 2

The magnolia tree in front of my parents' home is in full bloom. When I was a child it was a small tree, but 40+ years later it is impressive, despite the fact that it lists to one side as if it were more than a little drunk. That the tree isn't perfectly upright has always bothered my mom. One day some years ago she was so bothered by the tree's drunken appearance that she asked one of her tree guys to cut it down. He came to the door after a while and informed my mom that he couldn't do it, that it was a beautiful healthy tree and he just couldn't cut it down. So there it remains in front of our house growing more and more massive and each April producing huge, pink, perfect blossoms along the branches spouting from its imperfect trunk.

When I think of the magnolia tree I will think not of my mom who finally had mercy on it when the tree guy refused to cut it down, but instead I will think of my dad.

My dad died this year on the day the magnolia blossoms opened.

April 28, 2019.

Can it only be three days ago?

It was a glorious spring day. All sun and no clouds. An immense relief from the previous three days, which had been wretchedly cold and wet as only Michigan spring days can be. When we arrived home after staying overnight with my dad and saying goodbye to him we noted that the tree was in full bloom.

I wish I could say that my dad went peacefully in his sleep on the day the magnolia blossoms opened. I guess at the very end he did, but only after all of the fight was out of him. The last few weeks of his life were for him mostly filled with pain, fevers, chills, fighting to breathe and swallow, exhaustion and confusion. His body went about the business of shutting down without his permission and despite all of his best efforts to will it better.

Surprisingly, there were some good moments amidst the awful of the last few weeks

Sometimes even good hours where we were all together and my dad made some jokes just like he always did. Where we reminisced about my mom and dad's world travels a little when he was alert and able to talk.

Mostly the last two weeks of his life were more about feelings and sensations than anything else: He would close his eyes and say, "That feels wonderful" as my sister rubbed his feet for hours on end. I made him banana/blueberry/strawberry smoothies. He would take a long drink and sigh, "Wonderful..." My sister and I would take turns rubbing his shoulders and his neck. He would lean forward with a quiet, "Mmmmmm." There were more exclamations of "wonderful" and "delicious" when he ate chocolate and butter pecan ice cream. And he would rest quietly while my mom held his hand. Sometimes he held my hand.

He gave our hands little squeezes.

Throughout it all he would say that he needed to get strong. Even during the times he was most confused and asking for the same things over and over he would say that he needed to get stronger.

He never gave up the fight because he wanted to be here for us and he wanted to get back to his great passion in life: teaching.

Sadly, his body just didn't have any reserves left in the tank.

He finally left us on the day the magnolias bloomed.

Today it's grey and cold again. No rain yet, but in a few hours it's expected to come down. If it rains hard enough the magnolia blooms will start to drop.

My mom asked me to pen my dad's obituary. Something brief, but telling. Some of you may have already read it on Facebook, but here it is again...

Donald “Dr. Don” Arlinsky was (in no particular order), a husband, father, brother, grandfather, doctor, friend, world traveler, storyteller, and lifelong lover of classical music. He was gregarious, not especially handy around the house, told hilarious and often outrageous jokes, and his favorite ice cream flavor was butter pecan. Above all, he was a dedicated and passionate teacher to succeeding generations of physicians.

RIP Dr. Don. The world is a lesser place without you in it.

I will think of you always, but especially when the magnolias bloom.


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