A road trip with a purpose becomes the greatest gift a son can give his dying father. This drive home from Arizona to southwestern Colorado was a tender and life-changing journey.
Within days of that second and final occasion, in the spring of this year, by chance I was scheduled to fly to Barcelona again – this time to spend two months at work in a city I still love decades later – but my father clearly was living his last days, and the question of whether it was the right time to leave for Europe was one I necessarily attended to constantly.
My father had been ill for a number of years – a lifetime of smoking had made the essential act of breathing a difficult and always-anxious struggle for him. In the five months since Thanksgiving he had been hospitalized seven times in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., the town on the California border where London Bridge has been reborn in an unlikely desert setting and where he and my mother spent each winter. I had seen him twice during that time, and his doctors repeatedly had made it clear to him and to all of us that, although his life could not endure too long, it was impossible to predict when his last breath would come. His own deep hope was to be able to return to Cortez, the town in southwestern Colorado that had been his home throughout his life – to the house he had built and lived in for 50 years – before he died. But by now his condition had worsened enough that it was difficult to imagine him surviving an eight-hour journey in a car, and his continuous need for augmented oxygen and the myriad complexities of flying him home made that option unthinkable. A further complication was the fact that he had been hospitalized yet again, and his physicians – although mindful of his desire to return to Colorado – argued that he was far too ill to attempt the trip, implying without being brave enough to tell him directly that he might well die en route.