We were moving closer towards the last moments. I suppose this is when family pulls together. This is when differences are put to the side and that regardless of whatever happened in the weeks, months or years before, this is when family shows up. And it’s always amazing too because at the time, we always promise each other to get together soon and for better reasons. But somehow, life just seems to happen. It seems there are seasons to life. There are the seasons of birth and the seasons for birthdays and then weddings. And then there is the birth of the new generation. Then there was a time like this one when we were all gathered in the waiting room of a hospital called Hempstead General in the Coronary Care Unit.
I remember sitting in the waiting room. I was sad and hurting but then again, I kept thinking about how amazing it was to see my cousin Robbie again. I thought about the warmth of hugs from my Uncle Alan and my Aunt Sondra. I thought about the smiles from my cousins Harry and Stanley, and Ro and Iris, and everyone that loved my Old Man. They were all there.
Everyone showed up at the hospital, which was good to see. It’s good to know that people care, especially at times like this when the end is near. All you need is a hug or a smile from someone you’ve known your entire life because in truth, there is no other way to heal when preparing for a loss like this. There are no magic words. There’s nothing that can make this moment right again. Not at all. All we have is the warmth from the hands of those we know best, our family.
When facing a loss or experiencing the loss of my Father, I found myself searching for something to help me make sense of this. But there is no sense in this. Dying is part of life, just like Mom told me. She used to tell me, “In the beginning, it is written. Those who lie down and those who rise up.”
I understood this from an intellectual perspective. However, emotion and intellect do not always coincide with each other.
I never listened to Mom with things like this. I had no time for it. Life was difficult enough for me to understand, let alone to understand the different concepts of God or any of the religious scriptures. Plus, I had another degree of difficulty because if there was a true God then how could something like this happen?
I needed to come to an understanding but to me, there was no understanding. I was a kid. I was hopeful that The Old Man and I would have a chance to make up for lost time. I wasted so much in such a short amount of time. I thought that maybe I could make amends to him and he could make amends to me. And maybe we could go on a fishing trip somewhere. Maybe we could do father and son things. Maybe we could build something together, like a model airplane, or do something together with our hands and bond.
Maybe . . .
“Don’t take him now, God.”
“I need him. Just for a little while longer.”
There was talk about possibly transferring The Old Man to a different hospital. Mom wanted him to go someplace else but The Old Man wasn’t stable enough to survive the trip. However, out of nowhere, Mom pulled a trick and found a way to get The Old Man into the City. He was going to be saved at Columbia Presbyterian with only one catch: The Old Man would have to make it at least 24 hours without another heart attack. And man, did they keep coming.
Within two weeks, The Old Man had more than a dozen heart attacks. I can remember seeing this happen. I can remember the look in my Father’s eyes as he looked to the ceiling. He was helpless.
They came in with the paddles and said “Clear!”
I saw this. I watched his eyes when this happened.
Perhaps he was looking around in a concerned or scared curiosity as if to say, “Is this it?”
“Am I going to die now?”
No one knew how long he would make it. But sure enough, The Old Man made sure to settle his business with everyone who came to see him. Including me.
I wanted to tell him what I was thinking. I wanted to let him know where my heart was and that I loved him, and that I always wished that he and I were closer. I wanted him to know that I was sorry, and that I was sick, and that there was something in me that couldn’t be fixed like a machine.
I had something going on inside of me. I had something that altered the way I thought, acted and behaved. They called what I have a disease. It’s a disorder. I wanted him to know that I tried so hard but no matter how I tried, I simply couldn’t find a rhythm that made sense to me. I couldn’t understand life or the information around me. I wanted to tell my Father that I was smart too, just in different ways. I wanted to tell him that it wasn’t right and that some of the things he did were wrong too. But none of these words were able to leave my mouth. I wanted him to know that I was good inside.
I wanted to tell him, “I’m just a kid, Pop.”
“I’m scared all the time.”
I have this pain that I can’t explain to anyone.”
I have these details about me that always leads me to think that I am different and that no matter how I try, I’ll never match up to anyone else.
I wanted him to know, “I just wanted your attention.”
“I wanted you to notice me. I wanted you to be proud.”
I wanted him to know, “I was screaming, Pop.”
Maybe it wasn’t out loud but I was screaming in other ways. I was drowning in this thing called life and losing to a relentless emotional quicksand that wouldn’t let me go. No matter how I ran, how fast, or where I hid; no matter where I’d go, there I was. There was no hiding from me. There was no stopping my thoughts. There were only a few ways that I knew how to do this and none of them were legal and none of them were healthy either.
I wanted him to know that I wish there was more between us. I wished I was different or “Normal.”
I wished I was someone he could have been proud of.
I wished there were more things that took place between us like our New Year’s Day walk on the beach..
I could remember the very first time we did this. I was so small. Young as young could be. The Old Man bundled me up in extra warm clothes, my puffy blue coat, a pullover hat that was knitted by my Grandmother in Miami Beach, Florida. And mittens that were the size of footballs. I put on extra socks to keep my feet from getting cold. I had no idea where I was going but that was fine. I was a boy with his Father. Nothing else was important. Nothing else meant anything to me. I was my Father’s son and together, we were going on an adventure.
This was the start of our special tradition between The Old Man and me. This is when we started our yearly trip to the beaches at Point Lookout.
We went every year on New Year’s Day. We kept this up, even when we didn’t get along. We treated this as our day of truce. All the bullshit and the resentments were put to the side and each year, I made sure to place my feet in some of The Old Man’s footprints. And do you ask why?
The answer is because as angry as we might have been with each other, I admired my Father. I wanted to be like him. I wanted to follow in his footsteps; hence, this is the reason I made sure to step in some of his footprints at the beach: To be like my Old Man . . .
I wanted more of this. I wanted more things that we could share so we could push the bullshit to the side. He just had to make it one more day. Just another 24 hours and then we could get The Old Man to a better hospital. Just another 24 hours, please.
Dear God, I thought to myself.
I know you and I haven’t been on the best speaking terms. And I know that nothing I say means too much right now.
But if you could just see your way clear to making it one more day, it would really mean a lot to us.
Thanks . . .
Just one more day. Just 24 hours and we could get The Old Man to a better hospital. Just 24 hours.
No heart attacks. Please . . .
I found myself pleading with the world, powerless and hopeless as ever. I remember begging and pleading. Just let him get through these next 24 hours without a heart attack. And he lasted for a while too. Things looked promising for a moment but The Old Man’s lungs were filling with fluid. There was only so much more he could take.
Sometimes all the prayers and all the people in the world can come together but no matter what we do, when the time comes, the time comes.
He couldn’t make it.
I thought about a Sunday in late August. I was somewhere around the pre-teen age. The Old Man took me to Wantagh Park to fish for snappers. We took our rods and some buckets. The sun was high and hot. The sky was the shade of blue that only comes around in the summer months. We waded out into the shallows with the water up to our knees.
I recall watching the little red and white bobber as it bounced in the indentations of the waves. I felt the sun on my skin. I saw The Old Man with his eyebrows pressed down as if he were deep in thought.
His salt and pepper hair was usually parted to the side but the wind was gentle enough to blow The Old Man’s hair in the breeze. His skin was olive and tanned. And there he was: My hero. My Father, The Old Man and my introduction of what it means to be a man in this world.
We fished for a short while and then I stepped on a shell that pierced the bottom of my foot. I was bleeding and the pain was sharp. The Old Man took a look at the bottom of my foot. He asked if I was okay to stay or did I want to go home.
Of course, we stayed.
I could have lost my foot. I could have lost both of my legs and felt the most pain in my life but there was no way in hell that I was about to forfeit a moment like this with The Old Man.
We didn’t have many times together. He was always at work. The Old Man was up before the sun and out the door before the world was awake. And later, The Old Man always came home later or after dark. He was out there to earn a living. He was our provider. He was the glue to my Mother’s life. He was the backbone to our family.
We just needed him to go 24 hours.
24 hours, but The Old Man’s heart couldn’t take it.
I remember the talk was quick before the medication took hold.
“TAKE CARE OF YOUR MOTHER,” he said to me.
I agreed, but I worried, “Who the hell is gonna take care of me?”
“I’m proud of you, son!”
Did you hear that God? He said he was proud of ME!
I always wish I could see him . . . just once more
I have some things to say.
We’re winding down now, folks. We’re close to the end here. I wanted to thank you for being here with me.
Sometimes, I’m not sure that I can do what I do alone.
Then again, I’ll never have to be alone . . . because I have you.