Short List

Last day of August. The sun casts weak shadows on a tepid afternoon. Ahead, a school bus unloads its passengers. A few orange leaves flutter on the windshield. The finality of summer hovering in the air.

We’re on the way to my father’s future.

“Did you know,” he begins, in that drawling professorial voice he likes to use when he’s imparting dad-wisdom, “that the phrase ‘Bucket List’ refers to death?”

I shouldn’t be surprised at his train of thought; after all, he keeps a list entitled “The Departed” on his refrigerator—names of friends and acquaintances who have recently passed away scrawled on a yellow sheet in the shaky penmanship of an octogenarian.

Plus, he’s old. For him, death is closer to reality than something to be feared.

“Bucket,” he went on, “as in ‘kick the bucket.’ As in, to die.” He took a sip from his root beer float.

As far as I know, plans for his immediate future do not include death. To keep the inevitable bucket-kicking at bay, he has finally agreed to move into the assisted living lodge in his senior community. The decline has been fierce this summer: trouble walking, trouble swallowing, intestinal trouble, driving trouble. What is surprising is how remarkably willing my father is to admit his diminishing abilities, to accept the olive branches of help this new community will graciously extend. His stubborn refusal to acknowledge the aging process has been replaced with gratitude. The mule becomes a lamb.

Yes, he’s slowing down, but at 89, he has checked off nearly everything on his bucket list: diving with Jacques Cousteau; arctic exploration in Greenland; publishing three books; sailing every summer for 60 years; traveling the world. Although he’s outlived most of his friends, he’s anxious to meet new ones. To add more items to his Bucket List.

And yes, death is inevitable. But like my husband’s tattooed reminder: Not Today.