It is with a very heavy heart that I write this article.
At precisely 10:00 pm on Tuesday, July 30, 2013, Renee’s father and my father-in-law, Richard Compasso, passed. He went into the hospital for surgery on his neck a week earlier, needing to relieve discs and bone spurs that were pressing on his spine. After that surgery he was doing fine, was up and walking, and was to be discharged from the hospital on Thursday, July 25, 2013. Unfortunately, at approximately 3:03 am on Thursday, July 25, 2013, during a routine bed check by hospital staff, he was found not breathing. He was resuscitated, slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness. Repeated scans and tests showed that only the most primitive brain functions remained. He would never be himself again.
As per the wishes in his living will, Rich as he was known to his friends and Poppy to his children, grandchildren and loved ones, was removed from life support on Monday, July 29, 2013. He was kept comfortable until his passing to make sure he was suffering no pain. His children all by his side when he took his final breathe. He will be laid to rest today with a military ceremony in Yonkers, New York.
I write this article to honor Pop, as I took to calling him in recent years. I would like everyone to know about the good man that I knew and how he will be missed.
Any story of Pop has to start with the fact that he was a very proud veteran who served in the Army during the Korean War. He was injured during the War, spending several months recovering in an Army hospital and becoming disabled. He was severely burned, his hearing was never the same and he had limited use of his arms due to shoulder injuries. Unfortunately, he was not awarded a Purple Heart, which is something that bothered me more and more as years went on, but was a topic he never complained about.
Recently, Renee and her brother and sister embarked upon efforts to get him awarded a Purple Heart. Via letter dated July 1, 2013, the Army explained to Pop that the records of his injury did not show that he was injured as the result of direct enemy action. Truthfully, based on the research we did, the records from the Korean War showed very little, so it was hardly surprising, I suppose, that the Army couldn’t confirm his entitlement to a Purple Heart. But he was a hero in our minds and an extremely proud American. I will always believe he should have been awarded a Purple Heart.
The letter did go on to explain that he was, however, entitled to the Korean Service Medal with one Bronze Service Star and the Republic of Korea-Korean War Service Medal. Sadly, due to delay in receiving the letter it was not received until he had lost brain function, so he never knew he qualified for these two medals. He would have been so proud!
The other tale that absolutely needs to be told is his love of wrestling! He would watch wrestling every night of the week (yes, it is on that often). For Christmas one year I bought him DVDs featuring some of the greats from when I was a kid watching wrestling. When he visited, which was often, we would watch the current wrestling shows and periodically put in a DVD of the Road Warriors or Ric Flair from years ago. I will miss that time with him very much and regret that I didn’t make more time watching it with him over the years. Once I commented to Renee: “He knows it’s fake, right?” Every night seemed the same story line, but he loved it and it was time spent with him. While I made time once or twice a week, I should have made more time. His mother lived to nearly 103 years old, so I guess I just thought I had a lot more time to spend with him.
We did have some great times together, and recently had one of the best nights you could imagine. Renee had the idea of throwing him a surprise birthday party for this 82nd birthday. He was staying with us at the time. We invited family and friends over, put out a surf and turf spread for dinner, wine and birthday cake. There were gifts to be sure, but the special surprise was that we hired a comedian to put on a private show for us. Pop loved comedy. I don’t think he has ever smiled so much! It was a blast! It turned out better than we could have imagined, and of course we ended the night watching wrestling. A perfect birthday, at least by Poppy standards. Family, food, fun and wrestling! It just didn’t get any better than that for him.
Having these happy memories really helps down the road, but also makes the loss all the more painful at the same time.
As many readers know, I lost my mother in May 2012. That was the hardest thing I have ever endured, so I know what Renee is going through and what she will be dealing with when we lay him to rest at 1pm today. Not a day goes by without me remembering my mom and wishing I could have one more conversation with her, or sit with her again. While it does get easier there are many difficult moments. The things I miss the most are talking to mom and sitting quietly by her side, as we would watch TV. We always talked multiple times on Sundays during football season — she was a big fan.
It is the little moments, like Sunday chats and watching wrestling, that define our relationship with loved ones more than anything else, and those are the moments that we so take for granted. Yet those are the moments that we miss most because they were special. Special not because they were monumental, but special because they were ordinary. Another person you care deeply about enjoying themselves and wanting you to be a part of that enjoyment. It doesn’t get any more complicated than that.
I don’t have any particular wisdom over and beyond others who have suffered the loss of a loved one, but when I lost my mother I wrote about it and received many heartfelt e-mails and letters. We all walk in the same shoes in many regards. Life is too short and too fragile. We never know whether there will be a tomorrow for us or for those we love deeply.
If you have lost someone close to you, then you understand the pain, the sorrow, the regrets. But even still life goes on and we fall back into familiar patterns, taking what we have and who we love for granted. When it is too late to do anything about it is when we realize.
There is an old saying about no one ever regretting that they didn’t spend more time at the office on their deathbed. There should be a corollary: No one ever thinks they should have spent more time in the office when they see a loved one dying or lay them to rest. We all have busy lives, hectic schedules and billable requirements. But it is OK to smell the roses every once in a while and share it with those we love. It is good for the soul.
I loved Pop a lot. He was a very, very good man. He had his faults and failings like we all do, but he had a lot of love in his heart and a lot of wisdom to share. I think he knew what he meant to me, but I didn’t go that extra step to remove all doubt, and that is my regret.
Rest in peace Pop. I’m sure our paths will cross again. I love you and will miss you very, very much.
NOTE: To the extent anyone might be inclined to send flowers, we suggest in lieu of flowers a small donation be made to the Wounded Warrior Project in memory of Richard Benjamin Compasso, Sr.