Three years ago we were in Scotland when I got the kind of phone call everyone dreads.
‘If you want to see your father alive, you have to get to Miami in the next 24 hours”.
My father, who was then 79 had suffered a massive stroke. They didn’t think he would live through the night. But he did. Although on life support and fed through a feeding tube he had the constitution of a bull elephant, and through sheer willpower he dragged himself back to life again.
The doctors told us that he had suffered a massive brain bleed, and that this would happen again and again, unpredictably but surely.
He taught himself to walk and to function and with immense support from my mother, he recovered fairly well. It was pretty incredible to watch.
Then, a year later, he suffered another stroke that put him back in the hospital. But through sheer willpower, he came back again, but not nearly so far.
In the ensuing year, he suffered numerous smaller bleeds, and a constant deterioration of his condition. His ability to recover suffered as well.
Over Thanksgiving, we all went down to my parent’s home in Florida.
My father is bedridden now. There is a hospital bed in a sunny corner of the living room. It overlooks the sea. He can no longer walk. With enormous help, he can make it from the bed to a chair that is nearby. That is the extent of the world he now inhabits.
For much of the time, he does not know where he is. His mind has become untethered from reality. He asks where ‘Arthur from Forest Hills is’. He believes the Queen of England is waiting to meet him in the lobby of their building.
But on Thanksgiving, we wheeled him to the table and he was with us. He sang songs and laughed and even fed himself. It was a major achievement.
It is a bit sobering to look at my father now. This man who went to the Citadel. Who served in both WW2 and Korea. Who spent his life selling life insurance, but took care of his family. Put his two children through college. Saved enough so that my mother is taken care of for the rest of her life. Who was always as strong as an Ox, and as stubborn. It is a bit sobering because only 28 years separate us.
John Bell, my college roommate came to visit the other day in NY. He is a doctor who lives in Colorado Springs. His daughter is now at Williams, where we met, more than 30 years ago. It seems like it was only yesterday. Project that timeframe forward and I am my father’s age.
Sometimes 28 years does not seem like much. At other times, it can be a lifetime.
And every so often you realize, it’s the difference between life and death.