Exactly 21 years ago today, Tuesday, July 6, 1999, I lost my father. Rushing to Sandpiper Convalescent Center in the late afternoon, I was pleased to show him his checkbook. He will be so proud of me to know he did not have to ask for his checkbook. Today, I have it balanced and ready for him.
Parking at the side entrance, I grabbed my bag and rushed inside. It was dinner time at the center so I knew Dad and Dudley would be in their room eating dinner. Dudley was weak. He could not move his arms properly due to Multiple Sclerosis, so a nurse would be feeding him. As for Dad, he would be sitting on the side of his bed, eating. The umbilical cord feeding tube still attached to his body, although not in use. Dad insisted on eating food, not something dripping into his stomach for nutrition. His doctors had told him if he eats food, he will aspirate it and choke to death. “I’ll take that chance,” he said. “After all, most of my independence is gone. I want to eat, and I WILL EAT!”
Walking carefully along the path to my dad’s room, I knew it was only a matter of time before Dad would breathe his last breath. Medical professionals told me to ‘be prepared.’ To which I responded: Just how can I be prepared? I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do. I don’t want to lose him, but I know soon this nasty, horrifying esophageal cancer will take him away.
Dad was 84 years old. Once a tall, dignified man who sang gospel songs and quoted scriptures from the Holy Bible, no one would suspect during his marriage to my mother, he was an angry man. He and my mother spat words of hatred daily from their lips. Never did I ever hear them share any love for one another, or for me. In the public eye, no one saw the hatred they shared. The volatile fist fights. Shaking. Screaming. I cringe each time I think about the Domestic Abuse I saw so much within my family. At times, I wanted to run away, but where would I go? I stood as the referee — stretching my arms wide to stop their fights. Fortunately, after their divorce, Dad change his demeanor. He hugged me, and once I heard him say: “I love you.” I looked around. Shocked to hear him say those words of affection directly at me.
Never did I see his anger after their divorce. Now, my Dad was a calm, loving man. So welcoming and kind! As for my mother. She changed — for the worse!
Strolling along the corridor of the nursing home, I saw residents in wheel chairs, walkers and canes. One wrinkled gently woman with gray hair held a doll baby wrapped in a pink blanket in her lap. I had been warned if her baby slipped from her lap do not assist her. Let a nurse or a CNA (certified nursing assistant) help her. The woman suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. She remembered a baby girl she had lost years ago. Now, she was caring for her.
Such a heart breaking scenario just to walk inside a nursing home. The lonely, isolated residents are trapped inside what once was a productive and perhaps happy lifetime. Working hard to build a good life for their families, suddenly left to either be alone, or unable to care for themselves. Now, alone — many never receive family or familiar visitors. I made certain my father was not one of them. I visited daily, even when Dad would shout at me to “leave. I don’t want you here.” The only dates I missed was whenever my acute bronchial asthma left me weak and ill.
Regardless how cruel he could be as he shouted for me to leave him, I stood firm. Dudley struggled to tell me he was ‘mean’ to me. I laughed. “Dudley, it’s ok. I can take it. He’s my father.”
I loved him. I wanted to visit with him, to embrace him and his love for one of his four daughters. I was only one. My sister, Dolores, and her family, came to visit regularly from Georgia. The other two sisters were “Too busy. They had lives to live.” How I wish they could see what I saw after we moved him to Charleston. Gone was the hatred. Violence. Shouting, and anger. Replaced by a man who smiled, laughed and told me He loved me. How I cherished hearing those words.
He welcomed my oldest sister, Dolores, giving her a hug. This was our father. A new man who was struggling to live as esophageal cancer threatened his body.
Today Dad will be so proud of me. He won’t ask for his checkbook. I’ll give it to him quickly so he can see, his money is safe. I’ve paid the nursing home. I’m not like my mother. I’ll not spend his money.
Headed towards his door, I met one of the nurses. She was pushing an oxygen tank in the direction of Dad’s room. “Uh-oh.” I said. “That isn’t good for someone.”
She didn’t answer me. Placing my hand on Dad’s closed door, I noticed her hand met mine. She shook her head no.
Oh no. Not today. Please God. Not today. I screamed. Someone placed an arm around my waist forcing me to turn away, leading me to a chair.
Where’s my phone? Oh. I left it in the car. I need to call Phil. He’s on his way home from New York.
I placed my face in my hands, to cover the heartbreak of my tears. I knew without a shadow of doubt, my father was dying. I could do nothing to stop it. I prayed. Please God. Give me strength to let him go with dignity. I cannot and will not disobey his wishes. Years ago while we dined at a restaurant, Dad looked at an elderly man walking with a walker, struggling to remain upright.
Dad told me when the time comes, please let me go with dignity. Do not allow them to resuscitate me. Promise me, you’ll let me go with my dignity.
I looked at the man. His son helped him to move. A tear danced in my eyes. “Dad, I promise.” I touched his hand, squeezing it with loving gestures.
Moments seemed like hours as I listened to the nurses begging my father to come back. “Mr. Perkins. Mr. Perkins. Breathe. Your daughter is here. Breathe…”
Someone touched my shoulder. “Barbie, if you say the words, we can bring him back.”
“No.” I said. “I promised him. He’s a DNR. I cannot let you resuscitate him. Just let him go. He’s at peace. Let him go!”
“Your husband just landed. He’s on his way here.”
When Phil arrived, I fell into his arms. A nurse wanted to know if I wanted to say goodbye to my father.
“Yes,” I muttered.
I remember walking into the room. Dudley mumbled, “I’m so sorry.” Dudley and I had developed a way to communicate. I walked over to him. Dad’s curtain was pulled so his body would not be seen.
I patted Dudley’s bare head. “Thank you,” I said, tears pouring from my face. “You were such a great roommate and friend. Truly the odd couple. Thank you.” I kissed him on the forehead. He laughed.
Dad’s body felt like dry ice. Clammy. Cold, almost frozen to the touch. I kissed his bald head and his cheek. I love you, Dad. I will never forget you. Go in peace to see your family and your identical twin brother Lewis. I love you. I love you and I will miss you, but you will always be in my heart. Always.
Exactly 21 years ago to the date, July 6, 1999, I recall everything on that date as if it was yesterday. Words cannot describe how much I miss him. His laughter. His Shakespearean, boisterous voice. His singing, and trying to teach me to harmonize and yodel. The compliments he gave me during the holidays. He enjoyed our “fancy dinners” and fun. I focus on the good times. The times he and I traveled to Georgia to see family. The moments he shared with me about how much he missed his identical twin brother, Lewis. Until Lewis’ death, both of them were inseparable.
Such good memories. Yes, I could focus on the domestic abuse I listened to in fear, serving as the referee, telling both of my parents If you want to hit someone, or hurt someone, just do it to me. Not each other.
Years ago, Dad and I talked about those times. He hoped I would forgive him. And forgive him, I did. After all, I loved my father. He was the one who gave me strength. He taught me courage, and he always said for me to stand tall and voice my concerns about the world. “Don’t look back on life,” he said. “Move forward!”
One thing I will always remember is the day he was on TV, being interviewed after he was elected Mr. Sandpiper. The TV announcer asked him if he was a writer. Yes, he was. He was a poet and biographer. He laughed. “No. I’m not the writer in our family. My daughter, Barbara…now she’s the writer!”
Walter W. Perkins, my father, although today is the 21st year of you leaving this earth, I want you to know, you are still in my heart, even with the tears pouring down my face. I love you and miss you terribly.
In memory of my father, Walter W. Perkins, December 19, 1914 – July 6, 1999.