In February 1995, my father called. Caution threw up a hand. This wasn’t about my birthday.


“You don’t know
who this is?” he said in his belittling tone.

“I didn’t expect you to call. You usually drop by. Are you okay?”

“I need you to drive me to St. John’s Hospital Tuesday morning.”

“What’s the matter? You never go to the hospital.”

“The doctor says I
need a stent in my heart before he works on my legs. It’s varicose veins again.”

“Why didn’t you call me earlier? I would’ve driven you to the doctor.”

Dad hoped the stent would repair his heart and keep him on his feet, as if his long-term symptoms caused by a lifetime of smoking, drinking and barbering didn’t exist.

I recalled Dad holding onto the doorframe when he walked up the step into our kitchen. He could barely ambulate from his car to our house.

A WWII Marine who never missed a day’s work, I’d thought my Irish dad invincible as a child. Now very ill at age 72, Dad must recover his health and sobriety to live independently.

“I’d be happy to drive you to St. John’s.”

A sister joined me in the hospital’s waiting room during Dad’s surgery. While he slept, the surgeon gave us two minutes and no hope for Dad’s recovery. Two days later, the doctor discharged Dad after delirium tremens ran its course. I should’ve never left my father alone in the hospital.

Our vacant downstairs bedroom made the perfect infirmary. Each day I observed a clear decline in Dad’s health. He couldn’t eat. Not even meat and potatoes.

For three days I waited for a return phone call from his doctor. Remarkably, Dad walked to the car for an appointment with a local physician.

“Mr. O’Brien, I suspect internal bleeding is distending your stomach.”

We fell quiet on our drive to Troy Beaumont’s emergency.

That night, after my family and I left his bedside, Dad suffered cardiac arrest. Without consulting the signed DNR document, Beaumont staff stabilized him enough for transport from Troy to Royal Oak.

Our sister from Kentucky drove in an ice storm to stand with us in Dad’s bedside vigil for five days.

He would wake and attempt to talk. We’d ask questions and he’d nod or shake his head. Yes, he knew we loved him. Yes, he loved us.

Then his kidneys failed. The nurse removed the breathing tube. At last, Dad could talk. He was ready to meet Jesus.

March 3, 1995, our father let his last breath surrounded by his five daughters and several grandchildren. George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue ushered him into Glory. How he loved that music!

Dear Reader, come February, I remember Dad’s phone call-our two difficult and blessed weeks together. I’m now one year shy of the age my father said goodbye.

Thus, within the peace of his repurposed infirmary, I write for dear life. This perennial memory of my father in the kitchen door.

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