Sunday, May 31, 2009

Alistair Cooke Solving Crossword Puzzles on his Death Bed

Susan Cooke Kittredge writes of her father’s last days:

Originally told he had between three and six months to live, it turned out that his demise was far more swift.

I overheard my mother speaking on the phone shortly after he died, “They gave him three months and he only used one.'” Ever frugal by nature and upbringing, this seemed to her an honourable course to have taken.

Though swift, his dying was rough. He reacted adversely to the medications given him and essentially lost two of his last four weeks to drug-induced confusion, nausea, and misery.

My routine in those last weeks was to spend most of the weekdays in Manhattan and then fly home to Vermont for services on the weekend, returning Sunday night. Every time I left him, I feared I would not see him again, and the partings were wrenching for us both.

Though it was a gruelling time, there were moments of grace as well. Listening in the kitchen via the baby monitor, I heard my parents, then aged ninety-five and ninety-one, working together on the New York Times crossword puzzle as he lay on his death bed. The hospice nurse observed with amazement that this was not standard entertainment in such circumstances.

Source: Alistair Cooke, Reporting America: The Life of the Nation 1946-2004 (London: Allen Lane, Penguin, 2008) 22.

This book is reviewed at Reviewing Books and Movies.

More from Cooke:
I am a Reporter not a Prophet says Alistair Cooke, Stories for Speakers.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Alistair Cooke.