Its been two months since my father died. Nearly seven years ago he had a stroke. I went to New York, packed for a funeral. It was a bad bleed in his head. We were told he could go anytime. At first he refused to believe he had a stroke. His mother died of a stroke in 1966. Maybe what he was experiencing didn't seem to fit his idea of what a stroke would feel like.
I was in his ICU room when he told the nurses that he wanted to go to the john. That’s how he phrased it. He was told, no, you cannot. You cannot walk. He got angry. I am going to get out of this bed and go to the john myself, he protested.
You cannot walk.
That was a moment to witness. The beginning of indignities for this proud man who had overcome so much in his 87 years.
My heart broke a little. Okay, a lot.
When he was 26 years old he was shot in his back, his shoulder, his head somewhere on the Siegfried Line between France and Germany. The surgeons had to remove a kidney.
He was sent home on a hospital ship. He told us that coming into New York Harbor he understood how the immigrants must have felt seeing the Statue of Liberty. I picture him, young and strong, despite his injuries, filling up his lungs with the promise of homecoming, a moment of hope and determination. It was 1945 and we had won the war.
Several months later, while still classified as a patient, he met my mother at a dance for Catholic singles. There hadn’t been any single men around for the years of the war, of course, they were all in the armed forces. My mother was 22 with a good job, a job that before the war was filled by a man. Wars change things, don’t they?
Years later, my mother, struck with the same affliction that took her grandmother, her mother and her younger brother, had forgotten so much. She didn't remember her children’s names much of the time, but sitting next to her on the piano bench, she looked me straight in the eye and told of the moment she and my father met.
And there he was. That’s how she phrased it. And there he was.
A moment clear amid all the confusion that Alzheimer’s brings. One moment, one life changing moment seared into her above all the other moments of her life.
And there he was.
They arrived at the dance at the same time. She was removing her coat on this February evening, turned around. And there he was.
I was a romantic child and I had her tell me the story several times when I was a little girl.
She recognized him, she told me. And of course, being the insistent child I was, I asked my father about that evening. They looked at each other in those many times I badgered them, again, again, and he said in his own way, I was overcome by romance. And then he would trill a little song and be his silly self, his funny self. And Mom would smile at him.
And all would be right with the world.