While we were staying in Nashville, we received a call relating some grim news: our brother-in-law Frank had suffered a severe stroke, and was unconscious. Within a few hours we received even worse news: he’d been declared brain-dead. The following day, he was taken off life support and pronounced officially dead. So we found ourselves scrambling to rearrange our plans so we could drive to attend his funeral in Arkansas, knowing we’d then have to turn around and come right back to Nashville.
Frank Slavik was born in Canada to parents who had immigrated from the former Czechoslovakia. You’d never guess it to hear him talk, but he didn’t learn English until he started to school. His memorial service began with a relative singing the Canadian national anthem (she also had sung at Frank and my sister’s wedding years earlier) and a Canadian flag was displayed near his coffin – he was still a Canadian citizen. At one point another relative read a biblical passage in Czech, and to our later amusement, she made a mistake and said “excuse me”, as if anyone would know the difference.
Frank was an avid outdoorsman who loved to hunt and fish. In earlier times he canoed in the Yukon Territory and rode a motorcycle. He also obtained his pilot’s license and with two friends bought a small airplane. One day the two friends took it out for a flight and never made it home alive. Nobody knows what went wrong, but after that he gave up flying. But he obviously missed it and the plane, of which he kept a framed photograph displayed in his home – a photo that was placed in his coffin.
He was the father of twin sons, now grown, of whom he was very proud. Whenever possible, he attended the many athletic events they were involved in – soccer, basketball and baseball. When I announced that I was about to become a father myself, many people warned me about the responsibilities and drawbacks. His comment to me was just, “it will be one of the most rewarding things you’ve ever done.”
He was one of the most giving, unselfish human beings you’d ever hope to meet. A handyman with a knack for fixing just about anything, he always eagerly volunteered his assistance or advice whenever he learned that we were having some kind of vehicle problem (which was all too often). A couple of days before he died, he was doing some handiwork for my parents.
But he hated having anyone else make a fuss over him. Even when he sliced off the end of his finger in an accident, he didn’t seem to think it was such a big deal. His last words, spoken to his wife on the way to the hospital, were “I’m sorry you’re missing work because of me.” He might have had a fit if he’d known what a fancy coffin his sons picked out for him.
You got the impression that he didn’t consider himself very popular at work, due to his yankee accent and mannerisms, and his progressive views that were rather out of place in the deep south. He might have been astounded had he known what an overwhelming display of love and support came from his co-workers, some of whom attended his funeral. They wouldn’t even allow anyone else to sit in the chair he occupied at work, as if nobody else could possibly take his place. The last we heard, it was still sitting empty.
The truth is that everybody loved Frank. It was just impossible not to. I’m very proud to have been his brother-in-law for 33 years.
Fittingly, his last act on earth was to save the lives of three strangers as an organ donor. But the organs did not include his heart, probably because between his stroke and his official death he also suffered massive heart failure. It was probably the only time his heart ever failed anyone.