“Dad’s on his way to the hospital.”
That was all I needed to hear when picking up the phone at 3:00 a.m. Panic set me in motion. Shoes, wallet, cell phone. Brush teeth before heading out. Thank God Dunkin Donuts is open for coffee. Oh God, please be with him. Whatever is going on, we both know he’s afraid. It took 30 minutes to get to the hospital where my mother, two brothers, a sister-in-law and niece were seated in the ER waiting room. No one had been allowed to see Dad yet; the other two brothers were on their way. When my out-of-state sister was contacted, she, too would be heading to Chicago.
When the paramedics took him from the house, Dad couldn’t breathe.
Anyone who’s ever been in ER can relate to the dread when first seeing a loved one hooked up to countless beeping machines, needles piercing bruised skin up and down the arms, and for us, cracked dried lips forced open to hold the tube that kept my father alive. His hair was plastered back, not in his usual side part, so his face became fully visible—his pale face. The uniform gown hung off his shoulders to reveal patches that attached his chest to monitors with numbers I didn’t comprehend. His body, covered in a thin white sheet, appeared shorter than the strong man’s vertical posture I knew as a child. And as Mom sat beside the bed in a chair, and Phil stroked her back, and Steve and Bob stood bravely by the curtain, I walked up to Dad and took his hand in mine, gently as to not disturb the reddened tape which secured the IV. I had two rosaries with me. My St. Pope John Paul II beads dangled on the left of our clasped hands, and my grandma’s beads dangled on the right. It was Grandma to whom I prayed with eyes closed. I began with a Memorare, followed by the routine Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and then started talking in my head to a woman I had never met. She was Dad’s Mom, and old pictures showed that we shared the same cowlick. I spoke to her with an unconscious ease about motherhood and wondered what my dad was like when he was a kid, and I asked her to hold his hand through mine because, having two boys of my own, I like to believe that every son feels safer when he’s got his mom by his side. I prayed to Grandma to join me, as parents do, in supporting this stage of “life.” I don’t know how long the conversation lasted, but I remember that once in a while I felt myself smile as if I heard her response, and I remember feeling a calm come over me as if everything was going to be okay, no matter the result of this tragic night. I opened my eyes to find the blood pressure screen in clear view, as if no other machinery existed. I almost giggled, which might have seemed inappropriate for the circumstances, but my heart bounced at the sight of the numbers. She was listening. Those numbers were her way of assuring me that she was there, as she had been there when Dad entered this world, as she had been there when I entered this world, too.
“What’s does that say?” I asked out loud to whomever was behind and around me.
“130 over 68,” one of my brothers replied.
“Say that again, please.”
“He was near stroke levels when they brought him in.. 130 over 68 is unbelievable,” said another.
“Now say it without the word ‘over’.”
“Geralyn, it’s been that way ever since you closed your eyes. It’s a good reading,” Phil explained.
“1-30-68,” I whispered and smiled. “That’s my birthdate.”
Whether Dad was going home with my mom here on Earth or going home to his mom in Heaven, I was at peace because Grandma answered my prayers. Everything would be okay, and it is.