Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sunday, October 27, Sunday Scribblings - Hospital


I have been submitting to Sunday Scribblings sporadically for about seven months and it has occurred to me that most of my ramblings have been very superficial and reveal very little of myself. While most of the other writers in this community take themselves and their writing very seriously, I have often trivialized the prompts and made light of whatever topic was presented. As a result, those few that read my ramblings have probably formed an opinion that I never have a serious thought. My first instinct with the prompt “hospital” was to follow my modus operandi and provide humorous anecdotes about bedpans, nurses trying, unsuccessfully, to find a vein for an IV, paper gowns, and sharing a semi-private room with a corpse. But that would have been an untruth. The first thought invoked by the prompt “hospital” follows:


My mother died in November of 1986. I was not there. I was serving overseas in the Air Force and by the time the Red Cross contacted me it was too late to come home. My father did not know to contact the Red Cross to notify me and he did not know how to make an international call. We were not the kind of family that frequently kept in touch. Communication was primarily through letters, so there was no indication that anything was wrong in Idaho. She had already been cremated by the time I was notified. I spoke to my dad and he indicated that he was fine, though I knew he wasn’t. I was a single dad with three kids who had recently survived a divorce and an immediate uprooting to a foreign country. Dad knew that my place was with them and there was no point in returning home after the fact.


In March of 1989, I was still in Europe, and received notification that my Dad was in the hospital and that his life expectancy was in the hours, not days. He was in the final stages of cancer that was so far advanced by the time he sought medical treatment, that there was none available. I left my kids with friends and immediately flew home.


When I arrived at the hospital I did not recognize the figure that they told me was my dad. He had not been a large man, but he worked in the mines for 35 years and was very strong with powerful arms and a grip that could put me on my knees. He now weighed less than 100 pounds and consisted of skin stretched across a skeleton. I am not even certain that he knew I was there. All I could do was hold his hand, put ice chips to his parched lips, a cool washrag on his forehead, and talk to him. I probably said more to him in those few hours than I had in my life. Let me explain. When I was young my mom did most of the communicating. When I reached my teens, I didn’t communicate at all with my parents. I thought I knew so much more than them, what was the point? Then I left home, went to college, got married, joined the Air Force, and never came back, other than for short visits. So my dad and I never got to know each other as adults. The man that I was trying to comfort during his last breaths was a stranger to me.


That hospital room, silent but for dad’s labored breath and my soft words to him, became a time machine. I was transported back to my youth, to our youth. The times we went fishing, watching the Friday Night Fights, the times there were presents under the tree that dad could ill afford, our late night raids on the kitchen after mom had retired to bed, going bowling, playing catch. It all came back to me in a flood. This was both my first first-hand experience with death and my first realization of who this man really was. For my entire life, I had taken both him and life for granted.


The doctor came in, said dad seemed stable, and told me that I might as well go home and get some rest and come back in the morning. I tried to insist that I would stay but he convinced me to go since I had been up for who knew how many hours, including a flight from Germany to Spokane. I had been at home for about an hour when the hospital called and said dad was gone. The nurse said that it seemed he was just waiting for me to get home.


Back at the house I grew up in, I sat in the recliner that dad had spent the best part of the time since mom died. There was a stack of papers on the end table. I picked them up and looked through them. There were newspaper clippings, both from my baseball days and from my military career. But the one thing that caught my eye was a Christmas card that I had given my parents when I was a teen. I had written a little poem entitled to my parents:
There’s a lot of things I should do, that I don’t
And a lot of things I could do that I won’t
There’s a lot of things I shouldn’t that I do
And a lot more things I should, than I do for you

Those four lines capsulize my life about as accurately as anything I could say here. Those of you who expected my usual “writing with a smirk” will be disappointed greatly, particularly Lucy. I should be back on form next Sunday.


Postscript: I carried my parent’s ashes with me for about ten years, not really knowing what to do with them. The containers began to leak so I had to make a decision. I was living in Wyoming at the time and carried them to a beautiful and unique place where I dumped them into a river that disappears underground (see website). Neither of them had ever been there and we had no connection with the area. It just seemed like a nice place. I had actually inquired about spreading dad’s ashes on the mound at our beloved Yankee Stadium, but found it was against city ordinance.

http://www.windrivercountry.com/lander/sinkscanyonstatepark.html
S

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you placed them together and that there are trout in that river. I always thought the perfect place would be Rose Lake.

myrtle beached whale said...

I considered Rose Lake but didn't know how long it would be before I got back up there or how much of them would be left. Why anonymous?

raymond pert said...

Thanks for writing this post. I always liked your mom and dad and I appreciate knowing more about the story of how they passed away and what it meant to you.

Thanks, too, for the pictures. I always enjoyed coming over to your house, especially to listen to music. Last night, the dj on XM radio's channel 40 played Steppenwolf's "Monster" and I was right there in your bedroom. I remember the turntable being on the floor, but I might be wrong, the room crammed with Yankee stuff, and great record albums: Cold Blood, Cream, the White Album, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, and many others.

It all comes back, maybe with inaccuracies, but my enjoyment was not and is not inaccurate.

myrtle beached whale said...

RP,

Your memory serves you well. The Yankee stuff dominated my room and my life. Don't forget "Ten Years After," "Creedence", "Guess Who" and "Zeppelin". God how my mom hated that music. Straight from the devil. Funny how benign that music really was compared to todays "Gangsta Rap" and "Thrash Metal." We thought we were heavy dudes and much of it was actually ballads.

gautami tripathy said...

I always communicate well with my dad. But I still regret that I was at times not a good daughter to him.

Although I know he was proud of me.

sundaycynce said...

Really incredibly deep and poignant, MBW. I see you can actually do serious writing as well as your usual glib humor. However, since I am writing this comment with tears welling in my eyes, I would just as soon you stuck to your humor and "smirks."

I am sorry you didn't have the time to say goodbye to your mother, but I have a hunch the special time with your dad before his passing has given you some important peace of mind.

Lucy said...

Rick, I am FAR from disappointed, in fact just the opposite. Your poignant story of your love for your parents moves me and your writing brings tears to my eyes and chills to my skin. I am so impressed that your serious writing is just as affective as your humorous posts. As much as I love to laugh, I also love honesty, emotion and depth. You've really opened up in this post and I thank you for sharing.

myrtle beached whale said...

wow, I am glad this is just a momentary glitch. I am making people cry. That usually only happens when they see me coming towards them.

Herb Urban said...

Thank you for sharing your touching story. I never got to say goodbye to my dad, as his death caught us by surprise. It is always worse when you never have a change to tell your loved ones how much they mean to you.

payrollprincess said...

I have known you for almost 4 years and I always love to learn more about you. It must have been very hard losing your parents so close together. You write so well that I can almost place myself where the events of the past have taken place. You have such a talent for writing. Look out James Patterson.

myrtle beached whale said...

I write more like Floyd Patterson, but thanks.

Redness said...

You've made me laugh now you made me cry! Heartfelt writing, so poignant, so real, so beautiful, Thank YOU!

myrtle beached whale said...

I can't wait until next weekend so I can stop making people cry.

tumblewords said...

A lovely gesture. My mother passed in 1986 (near Spokane)as well and I didn't say goodbye because I was sure she wasn't going. My father passed away, suddenly, 6 years later before I arrived at the hospital. These times and regrets must be a normal part of life, although I rarely comment on them or share them... I enjoyed your post, have a hangup in my throat and am looking forward to your next humorous post!

myrtle beached whale said...

The serious post is both liberating and terrifying. I invest nothing in the superficial posts.

Inland Empire Girl said...

I really enjoyed this post. I especially liked the black and white picture of your dad walking on the street. I want to make sure Mom sees this. She will remember that young myrtle beached whale. I love it when you make us laugh, but I hope you tell more of these stories.

myrtle beached whale said...

Believe me it wasn't easy posting the photo of me heading for the Air Force in my Birth Control Glasses.

Pinehurst in my Dreams said...

I have difficulty writing close to my heart. Makes it too easy for someone to slip in a knife.

Your post was sad, but very enlightening. Makes me want to see my Dad - not just talk on the phone each week.

The pic of your dad holding the baby. . . I know that face. Whether from the bowling alley or around the valley - I had seen your dad before.

Oh, and the birth control glasses, apparently didn't work. . .