When Ismael de la Paz, 83, felt no pain, died peacefully in his Florida home late last month. Afterward, close family members gathered in his front yard to look for his still-smoldering ashes. He had “treated us very good,” his niece, Lolita Deta, said.
But nearly 200 miles away in Pasco County, Fla., in the suburbs of Tampa, in the small town of New Port Richey, another de la Paz, 89, was being wheeled into a hospital for his 11th and final round of heart failure and high blood pressure.
He was moving to a nearby nursing home because the struggle to keep him alive at home had become too much for his physically frail and socially withdrawn wife, Helen. “Sometimes I would say to him, ‘You’re wasting your time,’ ” Mrs. de la Paz, 89, told the New York Times through a translator. But Mr. de la Paz had said little about his desire to die. He just wanted to pass.
For all intents and purposes, Mr. de la Paz’s remains stayed in New Port Richey.
The two de la Pazs did not have a relationship, and they rarely spoke. But nearly nine years ago, there came a storm of death and dread. A 75-year-old Georgia man with an enlarged heart died in his truck. According to his son, Michael, who wrote a book about the incident, those were not the only times his father had died under similar circumstances, though he could not name those before this one.
He learned about it as a teenager when the deathbed stories in his father’s Bible began to scare him.
“It frightened me,” he said. He started to change his reading habits — some of his own father’s fears had become his own, too. “I couldn’t close my eyes and think about that kind of thing,” he said.
His father still battled advanced lung cancer, and Mr. de la Paz said that despite the pain of this new illness, he insisted on bringing his father to Florida for a “final vacation.” But he ultimately was unable to take him, on doctor’s orders. “I didn’t want him to be like this for the rest of his life,” he said.