Eight years ago today, my father passed away. He was 83, and had somehow contracted a MRSA infection in his lungs.
The day the nursing home called to tell me he’d been taken to the hospital via ambulance, I’d been looking forward to enjoying an uneventful mid-week day off from work. I remember hearing a cacophony of blackbirds in the tree in front of the house next door. When I moved to the kitchen, the birds moved to the tree closer to the kitchen window. When I moved to the back bedroom, they moved to the tree at the back of our yard. I remember thinking how weird that was…eerie, almost…like some kind of omen.
At first I didn’t realize how serious things were. The nursing home advised me to call the E.R. at the hospital. They matter-of-factly told me he was now stable, on a ventilator. A VENTILATOR? He wasn’t breathing on his own??? I was having a bit of trouble getting my breath myself.
“Should…should I come there?” I asked dazedly.
“Definitely,” the nurse responded emphatically. (That’s code for “death could be imminent.”)
As we drove the hour south, did I reflect back on the last time we’d spent time together, just a couple weeks prior to that? It had been such a good day. Perfect. The weather had been spring-fresh, shuck-off-your-winter-coat warm. We sprung him from the nursing home and drove him down to the lake. The wind was brisk, but we managed a short walk. He told us the story of when he was a cook in the Marines, and an officer’s wife was having a party and she’d totally botched the giblet gravy. She came running to the mess tent and implored my dad to help her out. He whipped up a batch of giblet gravy and saved her hide that night. The next day, the gravy wife’s officer husband promoted my father from private to corporal. Coincidence? It’s all in the giblets.
One of the things my dad missed in the nursing home was decent food. He was really craving a good steak. So we took him to “the Ponderosa” and got him a steak and potato dinner. He enjoyed every bite – – so much so that he thought he would push his luck and see if he could also procure some popcorn – – another treat they apparently do not serve in the nursing home.
We stopped at a gas station on the way back. Alas, they didn’t have popcorn, but he was very interested in the sticks of cheese. So we got him some of those and went on our way. My last memory of him in good health is the look of sheer delight on his face as he bit into that cheese stick. For some unknown reason, after we’d hugged goodbye and were leaving his room at the nursing home, I turned back to look at him. Had I not done that, I would have missed that tiny, private moment of sheer joy.
This is the day I prefer to think back on when the anniversary of my dad’s death rolls around. I don’t like to think of those knotted-gut days between when I got the call and the day he died (three days later). I don’t like to think of his cold, expressionless face (still lined with the indentations of breathing tubes) as my oldest sister and I verified the identity his body at the funeral home. Instead, it warms my heart to remember his face as he bit into that cheese – – that “cheesy smile.”