It’s hard to know how to start.
EO died last week after choking on a piece of meat at a restaurant. C and I were with him and my mom, just visiting as we were heading to Highlands Sky and a weekend in the mountains. His airway was cut off long enough to cause severe brain damage, and he never woke up after losing consciousness in the restaurant while I and others tried to clear his windpipe. He passed away peacefully on Friday, June 15, at about 1 o'clock in the afternoon.
Q and I visited in May; he was in good shape, I thought, as I thought this visit. He was moving reasonably well, he was lucid and funny. “I’m still here,” he’d say, with only a touch of sarcasm, or resignation. It became his most recent and perhaps last EOism.
At dinner that night, we talked about the traveling my parents have done. They have visited 30 countries in the past 25 or so years, and to a whole pile of WVU and Marshall ball games. I asked if they missed it. “We have been everywhere we want to go,” EO said. “We’re content with the traveling we’ve done.” That contentment shined through all EO said that night. EO died doing what he loved: having dinner with his family. That the final meal was an 18-ounce steak cooked bloody rare was poetry.
EO's death was at least partly brought on by one of the most insidious symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Dysphagia, a weakening of the swallowing muscles, comes toward the end of the lives of Parkinson’s patients. The difficulty swallowing is compounded by a weak epiglottis, my mother told me, which increases the possibility of just about anything swallowed going into the lungs. It also weakens the ability to cough. Dysphagia is at the root of aspiration pneumonia, the number one cause of death among Parkinson’s patients. EO had double pneumonia after his heart attack this spring, and came through that episode pretty well. But we knew from the diagnosis that this was not a battle EO would win.
EO was a human being, but he was a damn good one. He tried hard at everything, and strove for what was right with unwavering integrity. He used most of what he spent to provide experiences for his children and grandchildren and allowing my mother to work with those who had no money, he might say. He loved knowing people, and worked a room like you wouldn’t believe. He wore a name tag, for Pete’s sake. He was funny, and bright, and shared what he knew with profligacy. He did everything he could to improve the lot of others--the athletes he promoted, the employees of the bottling plant he managed, his beloved teachers and their retirement savings, and most of all his children and grandchildren.
Someone asked me if I would continue my training now. Of course my quest continues--EO would want it that way. My efforts will help discover better treatments for symptoms like dysphagia, and to find a cure for Parkinson’s. Your donations to Team Fox, which benefits the Michael J. Fox Foundation, will help fund those quests. We knew the research being done now would not help EO; it helps the next EO, and the next.