vol. 3 no. 3
St. Calvin’s Day
A few days before he had strep throat. They gave him antibiotics. The antibiotics gave him an upset stomach. No. It was not an upset stomach. It was a stroke -- deep in the ventricles of his brain. He could not swallow.
A man can live without water for three days. He can live without food for three weeks.... My father could not swallow the water left on the tip of a straw.
I knew I needed to go home. And nothing would ever be the same from that moment forward.
I drove to the mountains on March 1st. My mom had turned the back corner of the farmhouse into a mini-hospital. We had a supportive family doctor. My sister is an R.N. I have 5 other brothers and sisters, lots of nieces and nephews -- everyone wanted to help. We divvied up shifts around the clock. Aunts uncles cousins neighbors churches friends - they fed and took care of us -- and we took care of him.
First we gave him time - i.v. fluids - to see if the symptoms of the stroke would abate. They did not.
At one point in time I dipped the tip of my pinkie finger in honey and put it to his lips -- to just get some moisture in his mouth. He gagged.
I told him I was sorry.
I’d never do that again.
On March 3rd showing no improvement we took out the i.v.
On March 4th my sister who lives in Alaska bought an emergency plane ticket for $1200 (half price) and boarded a red eye.
On March 5th before daybreak, I held my dad’s hand. For days he’d been agitated. It was like he was trying to tell everyone everything before time ran out. People from church would come visit - he would pray for them. He would ask about their mother - and pray for her. Tell us to do this and that. Call our uncle. Call this place. Call that place. Call somebody else....Talking non-stop.... as many things a man can do from a hospital bed, he had done. For 5 days he had not slept.
Early that morning on March 5th, I held his hand and told him. “You must rest. You must sleep. Mary is already on a plane. She’ll be here tonight. You need to save every bit of strength you have today.” He heard me. He slept all day.
March 6 - daybreak. His grandson, my nephew, Christan was coming from Washington State. The same conversation -- “You must rest. He’ll be here tonight” -- but I really didn’t need to.
There was a change. My father was lucid - intelligent - thoughtful - kind - the man that had raised
me. As calm as calm could be. He had found peace. And it stayed with him.
On March 7th my niece Celena had her first baby. Sweet beautiful Sabra.
On March 8th he got to hold her. His second great-grandbaby. I think there was enough love in those moments to last her a lifetime. Yes, I think there was.
On March12th - early - my dad sent my sister Lana to the store to get "A pin and a pretty card" for my mom. It was their 58th wedding anniversary.
March 16th was my niece Beulah's birthday. She was five. She climbed in his bed with a Dora the Explorer birthday hat on her head -- and he hugged her and they giggled.
March 17th - St. Patrick’s Day was a beautiful day. A little sunny - a little cloudy. I opened the windows and let the spring pour in. We could hear tractors, my Uncle Pete's chickens. Peepers. You could smell spring on every breath of air.
I held my dad’s hand and we talked about gardening. He grew up on a dairy farm on Barclay Road beside the French Broad River. I recanted every story I remembered - Aunt Agnes learning to drive the Model A Ford on the farm road and taking out the fence. My Aunt Nadine learning to cook. Her corn bread was so hard - when he teased her about it, she threw it at him and it broke a window.... Milking cows. Logging in the winter.... Every story I remembered. I told him what I was going to plant when I got back to Bynum: Collard greens beets turnips.... The day turned a little colder -- I needed to close the windows. As I stood up he lifted my hand and kissed it. I think it was to thank me for taking him back to the farm one last time.
At 5 minutes to midnight, his breathing faltered. My sister called out. We came running. My brother Chan and sister Lana prayed. I told him thank you for taking us on trips and loving us no matter what we did. With his last breath he sat up, kissed my mom on the cheek and said “I love you.”
At 5 minutes past midnight. On March 18th. We called it. We called it done. We were - are still - broken hearted. But we know we were given a gift - the gift of a lifetime. A gift of 18 days.
- an original story by Cynthia Raxter.