Wednesday, December 25, 2002

First Christmas Without My Dad

About a year ago, when my dad was in the hospital for a broken hip and often complained that he was simply FREEZING, I bought him two Polartec fleece blankets -- one maroon, one navy -- and spent a lot of time tucking him in, helping him stay warm, helping him stay alive and making what was a miserable last few months a little more comfortable.

I also bought him a grey fleece mackinaw -- an oversized shirt in the same cozy fleece fabric as the blankets. It buttoned up the front, which people who've been caring for patients or have been in the hospital know matters -- since you often can't get something over a patient's head without hurting them.

On the morning he died in the hospital at about 6:00am, it occurred to me that the two blankets and some of his clothing were still at the nursing home where he had been a week before. I had a need to go fetch his last belongings and bring them home to my house to wash them. One sister suggested they just be thrown out, but I had one of those peculiar sentimental reactions to just tossing his clothes --didn't seem right.

On a day you spend the morning helping your father die, you would think it might make sense to take it easy, not put yourself through the unpleasantness of fetching his clothes in a dingy, depressing, nursing home that same day, but I figured "this day couldn't be much worse, why not?"

Well, here's why it wasn't much fun, but still I'm glad I did it. When I got there the only nurse who seemed to know anything wasn't there. I asked for my dad's belongings and they took me down the hall to a room with shelves and handed me a clear plastic bag of his stuff. As we walked back to the reception area, I decided to open it. It contained a pair of heavy old shoes, the leather worn. Also some clothes. They had never belonged to my dad. This was someone else's clothing. I told the nurse and she made a lackluster trot back down to the room with me and handed me a paper shopping bag. No surprise -- these were also some other dead person's clothes, not my dad's. It doesn't take you long to make one painful perusal of the shelves to realize this is how it all ends up. On a dark day, the day grew darker with this realization.

After three attempts I finally got my dad's stuff. I took it home and washed it with lots of detergent and lots of hot water. I gave the blankets away to Goodwill, along with all the other clothes, save the grey fuzzy mackinaw.

This morning my son came tearing into my room at 5:26 am, announcing, "We have to get up, it's almost Christmas," I looked at the clock. "Okay, okay, when's Christmas begin?" I asked. "It starts at 5:27!" he chirped. Boy, I should have seen that one coming. I jumped out of bed to follow him to the living room, but the house was cold, so I went back to the closet to find my dad's mackinaw. I wrapped myself in it -- it was just like his arms were wrapping me in a hug -- and I followed his beloved grandson off to the Christmas tree. Thanks Dad for keeping me warm.