His Dad Was Different (and alive)

His Dad Was Different (and alive)

He called to tell me his dad was getting close to crossing the rainbow bridge. We’d just celebrated his 96th birthday with chocolate cake and banana pie. The slide show was a hoot. The people around were my second family. When I was cracking up in high school, this man, never wavered. He never understood much of what was happening, but that didn’t stop his “coaching” from influencing my life.

“If one of your kids wants to ride a scooter and kill themselves, there’s not much you can do about it. Do your best. You’re kids are going to do whatever they want.”

But it was my friend, my best friend since pre-k, who called. We shared a backyard fence between our two houses. I broke my collarbone flipping off their trampoline. He was a bit removed from the emotions of the moment. He’d just come from his dad’s bedside. “If you got anything else to say to him…”

“No, I think I’ve been saying everything I need to say when I visit him.”

“Okay then. He’s been on death’s bed before. Don’t count him out.”

He’s a doctor. He’s been attending to both of his ancient parents. It’s a nice issue to have. I lost my mom a few years ago, at 88. She was ready to go. She would tell us, “If the lord would just go ahead and take me, that would be fine.” She was starting to lose her faculty. And she moved, during the pandemic, into an assisted living facility on the same floor with my friend’s older parents. She floundered while they stayed steady. A bit bored, perhaps. A bit loopy. But consistently giddy at my visits.

My mom was going downhill fast. I would visit her a few times a month. I would call her every night before bed.

“When they are gone,” I told my friend, everything will be different. “Say what you want to say. Spend the time. And also, take time for yourself. Don’t go down the rabbit hole that opens up around Hospice and all the conversations that are easily forgotten. Just love them. Once they are gone, it changes the conversation.”

It’s odd, these days, I feel closer to my mom than I did when she was still hanging on in the beautiful suite on the fifth floor overlooking the pond. She was losing her momentum. She could no longer read, one of her main pastimes. She would watch bad television. She would tell me she didn’t know how to find her email.

The last time I was in my friend’s parent’s room, Leave It to Beaver was bright and large on their big TV. They weren’t really watching it. But it would catch them occasionally, and I found myself competing with the Beaver to have a conversation. I guess that’s a bit like life. At some point, when you’re ready to go, you tune back and forth between the real world and the world of black-and-white television.

“Thank you for letting me know,” I said to my friend. “And, let me know if there’s anything I can do to support you or your family at this time.”

“No,” he said, “We’re going to Colorado for a few days.”

A week later he texted me, “Well, he just sat up and ate an entire Big Mac, so…”

Read more Short-Short Stories from John.

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