I want to bowl. Sounds crazy, but I really want to bowl. I worked in an office for a while that had a bowling league. I had the best time! I bowled with folks from work that I really didn’t have a relationship with except for the ‘high five’ on the bowling lanes. And I loved it!
I have fond memories of bowling. Not me, though, my Dad. My Mom used to bowl, too. She had a slew of trophies but I didn’t get to watch her bowl unless we went out as a family. She bowled with a league from work, so I would usually not see her until afterwards on bowling night.
My Dad bowled for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I used to go hang out with him at the bowling alley and he would give me coins to play the pinball machines. (Y’all remember pinball machines?) I would play for a while and then come back for more quarters. Sometimes I’d be gone for a significant length of time because I was doing well. Other times, I was there with my hand out, in what seemed like just minutes later.
When my Mother died, I used to go to the alley to hang out with him. I wouldn’t see him otherwise. I even joined the league, but I didn’t go much. I went a couple times, but my friend Peter bowled on our team and he and I had a falling out, so I didn’t really want to face him at the bowling alley. And I had a crush on another guy at the alley, but he and I had an ‘I-almost-got-raped’ moment, and I thought my Dad might be able to tell, so I was dodging him as well.
At the end of the season, when they won their money, the team didn’t think I deserved any. But my Dad insisted that he had put in for me all those weeks – so I got a bonus at the end anyway. I didn’t really want it to end. I wanted to believe that I could still go to that alley on any given Thursday night and he would be there. That was not to be.
A couple years later, after I had been living in Las Vegas, one of his ‘girlfriends’ called me.
‘Your Dad is in the hospital,’ she said. ‘You need to come home.’ Almost immediately, I began to get calls from the hospital.
He had a stroke. They had trouble getting to him because he was in a doorway, blocking their access. They literally destroyed the door to get to him. I flew out immediately.
When he was in the hospital as a result of the stroke, I called my friend the nurse to visit the hospital with me to interpret his chart and all his ailments. When I visited, they told me that they needed me to sign documents to move him to a nursing home for therapy. After much chaos and conflicting information, I signed all the appropriate paperwork and he was off to a nursing home.
Ultimately, he spent two years in that nursing home out in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. Far away from friends and family. Hardly anyone got to see him very often. I was 3,000 miles away. His sister was several hundred miles away. She went a couple times. I sent things. I was broke most of the time and struggling to keep my head above water. I was not in a position to help. I felt awful, but at the time, I thought I had no recourse.
He had a pension that was keeping him in residence there, and I got regular and positive reports from the nurses. I even got to speak to him occasionally. Until, a little less than two years later, I got a second phone call from a hospital.
‘Your father fell and broke his hip, we decided that he was a fine candidate for surgery, until, soon after the surgery, he had a stroke. His diabetes flared up as a result of the surgery and now he has an infection. Also, it is possible that as a young man, he had syphilis because that disease has appeared as well…’ The Doctor kept talking, but I stopped listening. What could I do?
The hospital started to call me daily asking for my permission to do this or that procedure. Much of it I didn’t understand, but I said yes every time. His body was falling apart. I had to get there quick, fast and in a hurry.
When he went into the hospital this time, I called my dearest friend to hold my hand through the finale. I knew it was the finale even before I arrived at the ICU that day.
‘Your father is here in intensive care,’ the Doctor said. ‘He’s had a stroke and he is unresponsive.’
We would stand in the doorway of the room and call his name. Nothing. His eyes would roll around in his head. When we told him that I was there, still nothing. No response. I visited him every day and stayed for hours at a time. I would leave the room to go cry for several minutes away from his room, or outside. I would then return to his room bright and cheery and start talking to him and calling his name over and over again. No response.
Things went from bad to worse. The Kidney Doctor called to say they wanted to do dialysis. The Heart Doctor called because they were concerned about something or another going on with his heart. The Lung Doctor was afraid that he had pneumonia. He was no longer eating food. They wanted to put a tube in his neck to send food to his stomach.
The Orthopedic Doctor called to apologize because he thought my Dad was a good candidate and he didn’t expect all these complications, and he thought he was doing a good thing…I let him off the hook immediately. You couldn’t have known, I said.
Too many different Doctors were calling. I finally said that I wanted to speak to ONE person who could tell me my options. They sent me the Social worker. The Social worker basically said, ‘He is taking up a bed in the intensive care unit and with all of these things happening his body is shutting down so I suggest hospice care.’
They moved him into a private room. I sat by his bedside every day and read the Daily Word aloud. I cried a lot. I had no brothers or sisters to help carry the burden. My husband was not emotionally available to me at the time. My children did their best to comfort me. They were seriously into Nordic Mythology and the Vikings at the time. My Number One son told me, ‘Valhalla is ready for him, Mom. He is guaranteed safe passage.’ Somehow, that comforted me.
So I am in the room, and I am nearing the last day of my ‘spontaneous’ vacation. I’m reading the Daily Word. His eyes are rolling around in his head looking here and there. The nurse comes in as usual. I step back so she can give him a shot - he snatches his hand away and says, in PLAIN ENGLISH, ‘I don’t want this anymore.’ We look at each other, startled, neither of us believing what we have just heard. He looks into my eyes and says in a clear voice, ‘I don’t want this anymore.’ And moments later, his eyes started rolling around in his head again.
You heard that? I said to the Nurse.
Yes, yes I did, she replied.
I kissed and stroked his forehead. I said, I love you, Daddy. And I left that day.
He used to say that when he was in the Marines and he came home for TDY, his heart would leap as he saw the trestle bridge over the Trenton River that says, ‘Trenton Makes - the World Takes.’
He was cremated and, years later, scattered onto the Trenton River.