Dad passed away shortly after midnight early this morning with Karen, Julie, Kim, Val, Dave, Jennifer, Ryan, and his wife Pat at his side .
Dad had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure several months ago. The primary issue was aortic stenosis, where the aortic valve becomes calcified and decreases in function. His heart labored to push blood out of the chamber because the valve did not open and close properly.
We elected at that time to decline open heart surgery, as Dad had been through enough over the last several years, and knowing that he had a very difficult time emerging from his hip and knee replacement surgeries, we were not confident that a heart procedure would add to his quality of life, and perhaps put him at risk of losing the quality of life that remained.
Dad lived a good, full life. He was a 37-year construction electrician with the IBEW local 665, retiring in 1993 at the age of 62. After retirement, Dad bought a piece of property in Alabama, where he spent his winters until the last few when his failing eyesight finally rendered him incapable of driving.
He had always loved hot air balloons when we were kids, and in the 80s he became a licensed pilot and balloon owner. Dad loved the whole balloon culture, with the festivals and all the fun. He made several trips to Albuquerque NM for the big balloon festival there, and also participated in a number of more local festivals. He particularly enjoyed taking a person up in the balloon for their first time, and the ceremony that followed.
I can characterize my relationship with Dad with one story. Sometime in the 70s, when I was around 8-10 years old, Dad was working on a job that was demanding massive overtime. He was working 12-16 hour days for weeks on end, and it was to continue for months into the future. One day I talked to Dad about the fact that he was never home, how we never got to do anything together like hunting and fishing. Dad explained to me how much money he was making, that all of the overtime would allow him to have money for this or for that. I remember telling him that I’d rather have him home than have more money.
The next day, Dad went in and resigned from that job. Fortunately, as an IBEW member he could quit one company and go to work with another one the next day – but it was still a major statement for him to give up all the overtime money for what he knew was more important.
Dad wasn’t always the most sentimental person, and he didn’t always say what he felt, but if you asked him for help or his time, he was always there for you. He was a man who expressed himself through action over words.
He always had a lot of pride in his family. I remember how much he told us about the importance of family, and how “you can do anything you want in this world – you’re a Martin!”
Dad will always be remembered – for better or for worse – for his views on aging: “The Golden Years Suck” was something we all heard for at least the last decade of his life. Old age sure didn’t treat him well. His biggest fear that he told us about when he was younger was losing his eyesight. There was a history of Macular Degeneration in our family. Sure enough, about 15 years ago he was diagnosed with Macular Degeneration (dry form) in both eyes. I remember when it first started, Dad was visiting me in Memphis and described his vision. He said that when he looked at a straight line, it was wavy. As the condition progressed, he began losing his central vision and could only see in the periphery. Dad continued to drive for a lot longer than any of us thought he should, but it was impossible to tell exactly what he could and could not see. Eventually, he did give up driving altogether a few years back. Dad sought just about every form of treatment he could for the MD, including acupuncture (which he reported did work, at least nominally, to improve his vision) but in the end, he did wind up legally blind. For being his biggest fear and then realizing it upon him, he did a pretty good job of dealing with it.
Added to the blindness, Dad also experienced significant hearing loss in his later years, and he had joint pain in his hips and knees for a long time. We’ll always remember Dad’s home therapy for arthritis. He hooked up two trowels to a car battery and administered his own shock therapy. He always claimed that it helped, but eventually the pain worsened and in about 2005 he had a hip replacement. The doctor told him that he’d need the other one replaced as well. A few years later, he had a knee replacement – the doctor noted that he’d need the other one of those replaced. But ultimately, the surgeries took quite a toll on Dad. He had difficulty recovering from surgery with dementia and such. After the last knee replacement, we knew that Dad would not be getting another joint replacement. He walked with crutches for the last few years. I guess he never liked the idea of a walker. These experiences made it a much easier decision to not have the open heart surgery. Dad knew it wouldn’t be good for him, and decided to live out his time.
Add to all of that several years of continually declining memory and bouts with dementia, and you can’t blame Dad for his disappointment in the golden years.
He so looked forward to retirement and enjoying his life of travel and fun, and he really did enjoy the first several years. But the last decade was tough for him.
When we first learned of the heart failure and made the decision not to have surgery, I had a moment of sadness sitting with Dad in his hospital room. Dad looked me right in the eyes and told me not to feel bad for him. He told me that he lived a long and good life, and he didn’t want us to feel bad about his passing. He had lived his time, and had accepted that his time was nearing the end. Dad faced death with courage and a deeply held belief that he was on to greener pastures.
As he drew his last breaths, I looked over at my son, Ryan Walter Martin, sleeping in the chair with a blanket over him and nothing showing but a pair of little feet. I thought about how proud Dad was that his grandson carried his name. I thought that as one generation of Martins passes, another is new to this world; a week shy of two years old, a pure and open mind, taking in all the splendor that is life. It was comforting.
I’ll always regret that Ryan won’t remember his time with Grandpa, but am very happy to have pictures and video of them together.
Goodbye Dad. You will be missed, always.