Saturday, December 4, 2021

Final Words of Wisdom from Papa Callan


Papa Callan passed peacefully on Thursday evening at approximately 5:30 p.m.  He had packed his bags and moved into Connecticut Hospice on Monday night.


Actually, I packed his bags and met him there after his discharge from Milford Hospital.  I visited him every day at the beautiful hospice overlooking the Long Island Sound, imagining that I would receive a few last words of wisdom from my life-loving papa.  However, this didn’t exactly happen.   


I will tell you a few bits of his advice that I learned over the last seven months living with my father, as his care giver:


1.      Friends.  That’s the most important thing.


He said this to me back in May, in the early days of care giving.  I sat next to him on the couch one afternoon and asked how he was feeling.  He looked a little sad, or maybe annoyed.  Probably annoyed.  I had just taken away all his candy.  He was a diabetic after all, but nonetheless, he missed his candy.  I told him that I had done this for his own good.  He solemnly nodded his head, accepting his sad fate.  "You're my friend," he said.  And I nodded my head, yes, and then he said--more to himself, than to me, “Yes, friends.  That’s the most important thing.”


2.      Word play keeps romance alive at any age.


My dad called his devoted companion, Beverly Mae every morning and every evening at the same time.  She's a younger woman of 91.  They began all their conversations with Beverly saying, “Hello Deer,” and he would reply “Hello, Doe.”  I could hear the laughter in his voice right up until the very end.  Honestly, this little interchange never got old.  And, in fact, I think it kept them both young.


3.      The Secret to Life.


Just before Thanksgiving, my dad was so weak, I checked his vitals, which were not good.  He asked me to call 911.  And so, I did.  As we were waiting for the ambulance to arrive.  I whispered in his ear, “Dad, what’s the secret to life?”  He turned to me, looking thoroughly annoyed and said, “Fine.  Get out of here!”


He didn't have his earring aids on, so  I don’t know whether he understood my question, or was simply annoyed with me.  However, I did take his response to mean that one shouldn’t sit around asking what the meaning of life might be, but rather one should simply live their life.


4. A little bit of sugar can smooth the way in any social interaction. 

During his various hospital stays, my father received a lot of poking and prodding from the ladies dressed in blue.  Sometimes they would apologize, but my father would always say, “I don’t mind this inconvenience from a pretty girl.”  The nurses would smile every time.  And sometimes they giggled.  One, actually blushed.



5.       Thanksgiving in the ICU

While my Dad was in the ICU over Thanksgiving, I made up a song for the occasion.  In fact, in honor of my late tap-dancing/Vaudevillian mother, I added a little dance to go with the song.  My dad suggested I show the nurses, and so I  performed it for my dad and the nurses and Dr. Manny at Milford Hospital's ICU.  It went like this: 

Spending Thanksgiving in the ICU,

watching the saline drip.

How about you?

Leftover turkey, mashed potatoes too.

We're spending Thanksgiving in the ICU.


There's Dr. Manny.  He's got a job to do.

He's spending Thanksgiving in the ICU.

And now, come the nurses, they're all dressed in blue.

They're spending Thanksgiving in the ICU.


At first, I was going to end the song by repeating "We're all spending Thanksgiving in the ICU!" but my dad suggested I should add another word that rhymes with ICU.  He came up with “cue” and together we found the last stanza:

Beep-beep goes the monitor.

And that's our cue!

We're spending Thanksgiving in the ICU!

Yes, we're spending Thanksgiving in the ICU!!!!!!!!!


Papa Callan believed in having fun.  He loved the trees and the woods.  He loved Dunkin Donuts and Irish music and going to the theatre.  He loved camping and hiking with his son and grandchildren.  He loved learning new things and took classes every semester.  He loved photography.  He was good at making friends wherever he went.  He traveled the world, working in the Middle East for ten years.   

And he enjoyed every little bit of happiness this world has to offer up.  Papa Callan was well-loved—by his family, his neighbors and his loved ones.  But I will say this, he loved his friends and they loved him.  

 Yes, friends.  And that is everything.

And so, creative people out there (and I believe you're all creative when you know it or not)—your assignment for this week is to add a little sugar to your life.  Yes, go ahead and get that Dunkin Donut with the smiley face.  Most importantly, be kind to your friends, and make new friends.  And whenever you see an opportunity, make up a little song and dance to celebrate the ordinary moments.  They may not be so ordinary, after all.                                                              

 R.I.P. John J. Callan                                             



  1. Many sweet lessons Jamie,
    Thank you,

  2. Dear Jamie, What a lovely tribute to a lovely man. My sympathy to you and yours. Catherine H.


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