Just Days Before Her Father Died, She Told Him What He Meant To Her | KUOW News and Information

Just Days Before Her Father Died, She Told Him What He Meant To Her

Mar 25, 2016
Originally published on March 25, 2016 6:55 am

Earlier this year, when her father was in the final stages of lung and liver cancer, Eva Vega-Olds spoke to him for the final time. Leonardo Vega, 73, had been in hospice care at his home in New Jersey, so weak that he could barely muster the strength to answer his daughter's questions.

But still, Eva asked them — and took the opportunity to tell her father what he meant to her. And she recorded the conversation for StoryCorps, using her smartphone.

"When I was recording my dad, I was in his bedroom that he shared with my mom," Eva Vega-Olds recalls during another session with StoryCorps several months later. "There was the hospital bed in there, he had an oxygen machine, and he was struggling to breathe."

Before they began, she asked him whether he still wanted to do the interview. "Let her rip," her father answered.

His end of their conversation consisted of not much more than monosyllables. Where was he born? "Puerto Rico." How long had he lived in New Jersey? "Sixty-five years. I've been here all my life."

The former factory worker long worked the graveyard shift, leaving for work just as Eva returned home from school, then turned to work as a custodian later. As Eva recalls, his life was defined by the work he did to support his family.

Though Leonardo said he didn't know how he'd like to be remembered, his daughter, at the time, told him she knew precisely what she'd tell her own children: "You were really loyal, a committed father, funny."

She remembers that humor well.

"My family's the kind of family that if you can't take sarcasm, forget about it," Eva relates during the later StoryCorps conversation. "Like my wedding day, I remember walking down the aisle, and my dad was walking super slow. And I'm like, 'Dad!' And he says to me, 'Shhh, it's my day. I finally get rid of you.' "

When he returned from the hospital to find hospice nurses awaiting him at his home, Eva says, he turned to her and said, "I think they think I'm gonna die."

And while he continued to get weaker as he approached the end of his life, Eva says she and her father had not spoken in depth about the prospect of his dying — until the conversation she recorded for StoryCorps.

"Do you think you're dying?" she asked him.

"Everybody dies," he replied.

"Are you afraid?"

"No."

"I wish it wasn't happening right now," she told him. "What are you most proud of, Daddy?"

"My kids."

"Your kids?"

"My family."

She did the interview with her father on a Tuesday afternoon. He died on Thursday night, that same week — on Jan. 29.

"My dad's a working-class fellow. He bought a home, paid off his home and was able to die in his home, with his family around him," Eva Vega-Olds remembers, in the session two months later.

"For him, that was the pinnacle of what your life should be. And I think that he did achieve his dreams."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. Today, we'll hear a daughter's final conversation with her dying father. Last winter, Eva Vega-Olds recorded her father, Leonardo Vega, who was in the final stages of lung and liver cancer. When they spoke, he was in hospice care at his home in Passaic, N.J. Mr. Vega was so weak that he could barely answer his daughter's questions, so she took the opportunity to tell her father what he meant to her. After his death, Eva came to a StoryCorps booth to remember that last conversation.

EVA VEGA-OLDS: When I was recording my dad, I was in his bedroom that he shared with my mom - that was the hospital bed in there. He had an oxygen machine, and he was struggling to breathe. But I said, dad, do you want to do an interview? And he said, let her rip, and so we did.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VEGA-OLDS: Daddy, where were you born?

LEONARDO VEGA: Puerto Rico.

VEGA-OLDS: And you know how long you've been in New Jersey?

VEGA: 65 years. I've been here all my life.

VEGA-OLDS: He was a factory worker, worked the graveyard shift, you know, so he's leaving for work when we're coming back from school. And then later on, he was a custodian, and he was always working.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VEGA-OLDS: How do you want to be remembered?

VEGA: I don't know.

VEGA-OLDS: Well, I plan on telling the kids that you were really loyal, a committed father, funny.

My family's the kind of family that if you can't take sarcasm, forget about it. Like, my wedding day, I remember walking down the aisle, and my dad was walking like super slow. And I'm like, dad, and he says to me, sh, it's my day. I finally get rid of you (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VEGA-OLDS: Do you remember teaching me how to swim?

VEGA: Mm-hmm.

VEGA-OLDS: I remember you throwing me in the water, and I was screaming and crying like I was going to drown. And I was like, no, I can't swim. And then you yelled at me, well, then just stand up (laughter). Do you remember that?

VEGA: Yes.

VEGA-OLDS: When we took him home, he came back to hospice care and the nurses were there. He looked at me, and he said, I think they think I'm going to die. And I said, well, if you feel differently then do differently, but every day he got weaker and closer to the end.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VEGA-OLDS: Do you think you're dying?

VEGA: Everybody dies.

VEGA-OLDS: Up until that moment, we had not talked about him dying.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VEGA-OLDS: Are you afraid?

VEGA: No.

VEGA-OLDS: I wish it wasn't happening right now. What are you most proud of, daddy?

VEGA: The kids.

VEGA-OLDS: Your kids.

VEGA: My family.

VEGA-OLDS: OK. Let me end it for now.

I did the interview Tuesday afternoon, and he passed on Thursday night. You know, not for nothing, but my dad's a working-class fellow. He bought a home, paid off his home and was able to die in his home with his family around him. For him, that was the pinnacle of what your life should be, and I think that he did achieve his dreams.

GREENE: Eva Vega-Olds remembering her father, Leonardo Vega, who died in January. Their interview is archived at the Library of Congress along with all StoryCorps interviews. It's also featured on the StoryCorps podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.