Father's Dying Wish A Real Hassle

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The First Years

Father's Dying Wish A Real Hassle

HARRISON, TN—The last wish of Gerard Sumlin, who died last month at 68, is "a real pain in the ass," his children reported Monday.

The grave of Gerard Sumlin (inset), who asked that his children do this whole big pain-in-the-ass lilac-planting job.

"On his deathbed, Dad asked us to make sure there were always beautiful lilac bushes on the side of his sister Helen's house," said daughter Monica Torres, 42. "We were all crying and swore we would. But I guess we weren't really thinking about what a huge hassle it would be."

Added Torres: "I don't know anything about planting lilacs. What if we do it wrong, and they die? Then we'd have to do the whole thing again next year. Why couldn't he have just asked for us to spread his ashes in his favorite park or something?"

Sumlin made the request on April 13, upon being admitted to St. Peter's Hospital in Chattanooga after suffering a massive heart attack. His children were only able to spend a few moments with him before he died.

"Dad wasn't very lucid because of all the drugs," said son David Sumlin, 39. "At one point, he grabbed my hand and made me promise that Monica and I would plant the lilacs. In the moment, it seemed like a small request, but now that we actually have to follow through on it, that's a whole other story."

According to David, Sumlin was once extremely close to his sister Helen. As children, the siblings used to spend a lot of time playing under the family's lilac bush. However, a bitter fight over family finances drove the two apart as young adults, and they never reconciled.

"I understand Dad wanting to plant the lilacs as a gesture of peace toward Aunt Helen," Torres said. "It just sucks that David and I have to do all the work. Dad's not going to have to slave outside in the hot sun and get his hands dirty, but he gets to die with a clean conscience. Sounds like a win-win situation for him."

Monica and David grudgingly browse the lilac bushes at J&C Nursery in Harrison.

At the time of their father's death, David and Monica said they would be "more than happy" to plant the lilacs, but time and reflection on the work involved have changed their stance.

"You don't think about those things when your father is on his deathbed, but I don't know if I can afford to throw away an entire Saturday on this," David said. "I've had to work the last three weekends at the office, so my wife isn't exactly thrilled about the idea of me spending my first Saturday off in a month planting flowers for some woman I barely know."

Neither David nor Monica has ever had any real contact with Aunt Helen, making the lilac planting, slated for this weekend, an awkward one.

"I remember Mom pointed her out at Cousin Henry's funeral 20 years ago," David said. "It's kind of weird, not really knowing this woman at all and then calling her up and saying, 'Your estranged brother is dead; when can we bring over this bush?' Couldn't we just donate money to some charity in Dad's name instead?"

The request, Monica said, would have been easier to take if the preparations for her father's funeral hadn't already taken up so much of her time.

"I had to take three days off from work just to get the funeral arranged," she said. "There was the notice of death for the newspaper, the insurance, picking out a casket, coordinating an after-funeral gathering, getting a church and organist, talking to the Army because Dad's a veteran, and so on. I'm just getting over all the shit I had to do for the funeral, and now I have to deal with this."

Dreading the lilac-bush planting, David said he will be happy when his final-request-fulfilling days are over.

"Monica and I have already made a pact not to do this to each other on our deathbeds," David said. "It's tough enough losing a loved one without also losing an entire day trying to find a garden center that sells the right kind of lilac bush and then having to haul the damn thing out to some strange woman's house way the hell out in McMinnville. That's not a dying wish, that's a dying chore."

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