“To the world you are a dad. To me you are the world.”
BEEP…. BEEP…. BEEP
I rolled over and turned off my alarm, opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling, it was Halloween. I had never gone trick or treating in the big city of Lansing before. Do they have more candy since it’s a city? A hand gently touched my leg. Startled, I looked down to see my Mom sitting on my bed at the Ronald McDonald house across the street from the hospital. This was odd. I always woke up before my Mom.
“Your father passed away last night.”
I closed my eyes. The tears formed at the corner then ran down my cheeks.
Two weeks earlier…..
We owned a place in Northern Michigan near the sand dunes. This is where I spent most of my summers. Most weekends that I didn’t have a baseball game were spent up there. It was also where we spend two weeks every August as our big vacation each year. The itinerary was usually as follows; arrive Friday night and eat dinner in the park before going to the sand drag races in the neighboring town. On Saturday, we took our dune buggy out on the sand dunes for the day and ate a picnic lunch on the shore of Lake Michigan. At night I would play with the other kids in the park or go to the arcade to play Mortal Combat with the quarters I saved up that week. At night we had a big bonfire with our neighbors and roasted s’mores. I never liked eating them, but I loved cooking them so my parents always ate more than they wanted too. Sundays I would play in the park, maybe hit the dunes one more time before lunch, than pack up and go home. It was awesome!
Every October we would go up one final time to winterize our place. We always went as a family, except that year. For some reason, my parents wanted to go alone that year. This was very strange. You see, my parents weren’t ones for date nights, public displays of affection, or anything like that. When I think back on my parents’ marriage, I think of the mom and dad on the Wonder Years. They go to work, come home to cook dinner, shuttle the kids around to their stuff, go to bed and then repeat. On holidays or birthdays, you can see them smiling at one another and trading a kiss, but that was it. I don’t think it was a bad thing, just a sign of the times. So when they told me they wanted to go winterize our place alone, I was confused. I got over it quickly, because it meant I got to have a sleepover at my friend’s house and who didn’t love a sleepover as a kid!
When my parents picked me up the next night something was strange. First, they came to the door together. Why? It was cold out, so why didn’t one of them stay in the car to keep it running and stay warm? Second, they were smiling ear to ear, both of them. Yes, I am sure they were happy to see me, but this was different. This smile had nothing to do with me. To be honest, I had never seen that smile on either of their faces before. Third, they said everything went smooth, and they had a wonderful time together. Winterizing our place never went smooth. Remember the on-going joke in A Christmas Story with the dad consistently going into the basement to fix the furnace? Well, substitute my Dad for the father in the movie and our place for the furnace. Something always went wrong, which led to my Dad saying some words or phrases I wasn’t allowed to repeat.
As strange as this situation was, it felt amazing. There was an aura I never felt before and it made me smile involuntarily. So we went home as one big happy family! It was late when we got home so we began our bedtime ritual where I picked one of my parents to tuck me into bed and say goodnight. That night I chose both. First, my Mom gave me a hug and kiss, then my Dad. I told them I loved them. My Dad said, “I love you too.” Turns out, that would be the last thing my Dad ever said to me.
In the middle of the night, my Mom rushed into my room and shouted to wake me up.
“Go in my room and keep your Father from getting out of bed! He’s had a stroke and I have to call 9-1-1.”
Cell phones weren’t around back then so my Mom had to run down the hallway to the kitchen to use our wall mounted phone. As I sprang from my bed and ran to my parents’ bedroom in fear several things went through my head.
“9-1-1? This must be serious! Also, my Mom is running, she never runs! My Dad had a stroke! Wait, what’s a stroke?”
I sprinted through their bedroom door only to come to stop so sudden it was as if I hit an invisible wall. What I saw was a nightmare, a real life nightmare. I didn’t know what a stroke was at the time. All I saw was my dad as a zombie. He was sitting up with his arms reaching out in an uncoordinated manner. This horrendous groan repeatedly left his mouth that could not be deciphered. Half of his face was slumped downward and it continued down his body as that side’s arm was lower than the other. His eyes were open but rolled back so all I saw was white. He was violently trying to stand up. I started screaming and instantly tears streamed from my eyes.
“Mom said not to let him stand up.”
I screamed this over and over in my head as I did all I could to push him in the chest to keep him down.
Ever have a horribly vivid nightmare while sleeping, but as soon as you wake up you can’t remember the details? This is what happened to me. I remember vividly everything up to the point where I first pushed him, and then it’s blank. The next thing I remember is sitting in the waiting room of the hospital crying with my head in my Mom’s lap. My Mom was right; he had a stroke and was transferred to a bigger hospital in Lansing.
My Dad spent two weeks in the hospital, while we stayed in a Ronald McDonald house across the street. He went into a coma after the stroke and never came out. The doctors told us the brain damage was so bad, that if he did come out of it that there was a very small chance he would know who we were. They said he would be destined to live in a nursing home pretty much as a vegetable. My Mother knew he wouldn’t want this so she had him taken off life support and the night before Halloween he left us. I never got to properly say goodbye.