The decision that my siblings and I made to move my parents to a retirement community was an easy one. My father could no longer take care of my mother, who now needed daily assistance. The move, however, was not quite so easy.
As she aged, my mother enjoyed journaling and reading, which could be done at the new facility. My father, however, found respite in his workshop, his yard and his garden. He prided himself on his harvests, and liked preparing jams and pickles from the summer take.
The retirement community, chosen for its proximity to my brother’s home, was 100 miles from my parents’ house in Lexington, Ky. But I don’t think it would have mattered if it were around the corner; for my father, it would never be home.
As he was moving in, my father pleaded with my sister to take him home. He would never settle in, he said, and he never did. Four months later, he was dead. There was a lot of speculation as to the cause of death, but I think, ultimately, he succumbed to homesickness.
After he died, my parents’ house, which my siblings and I had been preparing for sale, was put on the market. When the listing came online, my brother called me, his voice shaking, and asked me to take a look at the listing. When I logged on, I understood why he sounded so shook up.
Google Street View, a Google Maps feature that allows visitors to see panoramic street-level views of a property, had captured Dad working in the yard — apparently oblivious that a Google car had just passed him. There he was in his white shirt, white shorts, white shoes with white socks.
There he was, totally in his element. How we wished he were still there.
At the time, I told the story to everyone, and posted on social media about his Google Street View encounter. And I frequently visited him online — logging on to introduce him to his grandchildren, but mainly just to make sure he was still there.
Interestingly, the image appeared to be snapped in August 2007. But my siblings and I never saw it until after my father’s death in January 2011.
Then in December, I read this Modern Loss piece by Esther Kustanowitz about how the Internet’s constant reminders of her dead mother led her to delete her mom’s contact information from her online address book. The story prompted me to go check on my father in the yard, as I had done so many times before (most recently within the past couple of months).
But this time, he was gone. Google had updated the picture.
That fact was more shocking than finding my father there in the first place, some three years earlier. I’m not an emotional person, but this revelation really overwhelmed me with sadness, especially as I broke the news to my wife and my siblings.
As my oldest sister said, being able to check in on Dad in the yard (even virtually) helped mitigate the guilt we felt for taking him out of his element in the first place. It was as if he spent the past few years “at home.”
Only now does his loss feel real, for all of us.
Bill Frankel lives in Israel. He is a freelance educational consultant and a senior facilitator for an outdoor development and training group. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his two children in his yard and garden.