Friday, June 14, 2013

carry on

Dad on his submarine. He went under the arctic ice twice.

i got the first call when i was 29 years old. i remember it clearly. i had just returned to my apartment from basking in the sun poolside in atlanta. dad had a stroke. a massive stroke. he's in icu at the veterans administration hospital in my hometown.  my sister kim, living close to my parents, and mom spent the next few weeks with dad. i flew up shortly thereafter and spent a month with mom while dad was still in the hospital. he was paralyzed on the left side of his body. each day we went to his therapies... physical and occupational. he still had his speech. and only some use of his left hand. he was walking, slowly, ever so slowly, with a walker and leg brace.

as dad was learning to walk again, mom was learning to do a few things around the house and elsewhere that were dad's chores. dad was a mechanic following his retirement in the navy. he always took our cars to the gas station and filled the tanks. always. kim had showed mom how to pump gas on one of her recent visits home. mom drove the car back and forth and back and forth to visit dad until she HAD to fill the tank. i was there this time. after one long, exhausting afternoon visiting dad at the hospital, we pulled into the gas station to fill the tank. there was one car at pump #17. that tells you how many pumps there were at the station. plenty. mom pulled to the side. i asked her what she was doing. she said that kim had showed her how to pump gas on pump #17 so she had to wait until that one was free. i think i pulled out a chunk of my own hair. they are all the same i exclaimed. nope, i need to go to pump #17, we'll just wait, she said. so we waited.

dad was eventually sent home. his new role was patient. mom's was nurse. slowly any progress he had made in the hospital deteriorated. years passed. kim got married. i got married. kim moved. still nearby. i moved. 5 or 6 times. some of them cross-country. pets died. pets were adopted.  there were phone calls, oh-so-many phone calls, and visits to see dad. we brought pictures of the events in our lives.

18 years later i got another phone call. kim squeaked out the words, dad died. it was may 16, 2013. he was admitted to a local nursing home in march following a hospital stay for pneumonia. complications arose from there. my last visit home was in october. my next visit home was going to be may 29th.

Dad with Kim on the left and me on the right, Christmas, circa 1967

plans were made. flights were scheduled. photos were gathered. memories were remembered. either kim or mom told me of the coincidence. i don't remember who. dad was in room 226 at the nursing home. the funeral home was at 226 cumberland street. weird, huh? she said. before i went home for the funeral, i walked into the bank to deposit some cash. i grabbed a lump of cash for my wallet. $76. that's an odd amount, i thought. just make it $75. nope keep it at $76. i handed the leftover money to the teller for the deposit. she penned $226 on my deposit slip. i smiled. coincidence? i choose to think not.

if there was ever a time for time to be frozen, this was it. i couldn't fathom participating in a viewing, a service, and then a processional to the cemetery. steve and i arrived home the day before the viewing. i had packed some photos and pretty printed labels... husband, father, son, navy, in loving memory, friend. we made bulletin boards of memories. we put on our outfits. we went to the first viewing. i swore i wasn't going to look. i looked. he looked better than i thought he would. he was dressed in a flannel shirt with a u.s. flag pin on his lapel. people came. people wept. people consoled us. i hadn't seen some of these folks in 30 years. we laughed at the good times we had growing up. playing badminton in the backyard. playing wiffle ball. how the clothesline post was 2nd base. they didn't want to know where i lived now or what i did for work.... they wanted to know if i still ate macaroni and cheese every day. we laughed a lot. there was a woman who came who told me that her dad and my dad worked at the local army/navy recruiting office together. she said her father gave my father some $$ when they were overseas in vietnam and had asked my father to use it to buy a tobaggan for his children for christmas. he did.

we dressed again the next morning for the service. there was another short viewing and then time to sit down and listen. beautiful words were spoken. words to celebrate a life. people left. it was just family at the casket. kim and her husband spoke of the navy term "carry on". it means to resume. now we must resume. we said goodbye and i pulled the blanket up to his chin. the casket was closed, draped with a flag, and rolled out to the hearse. we followed. then a slow procession to the cemetery.

the cemetery was beautiful. beautifully decorated for the upcoming memorial day weekend. 7,000 small flags were staked at the entrance... one for each life lost in combat since 9/11. (that image and its meaning itself is staggering.) we made our way to a small shelter. words were spoken. taps was played. a 21-gun salute was sounded. the flag was precisely folded. more words. empty shells were passed along. the folded flag was presented. a painfully slow final salute was given.

we've settled into our routine lives again.  father's day is this sunday. it'll be different for us this year. as will christmas, which is also dad's birthday. there won't be phone calls or visits to dad. instead we'll look back on our memories of dad and then carry on.

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