I remember it was an ordinary Sunday. Martin Luther King weekend, and my son Jake was beside himself with excitement about getting to play "pond hockey" on a frozen surface in our friends' neighborhood. An entire posse of boys had gathered to play, which was exciting in and of itself for a boy who lives in a neighborhood with no kids. Off they went to play. Even my daughter Emily went to take in the action, since not all the boys were "little." I was excited to have some alone time to work on my book of the moment and to revel in the silence. Then came a phone call from my sister-in-law, who along with my brother, was spending the long weekend in Florida with my father.
"Something is wrong with your dad." That was all she said, because at that time that was all she knew. He'd sounded funny on the phone, they'd rushed over to find him still in bed at noon, talking crazy, acting crazier. They called 911 and what transpired from there was three months of hell. From what we can deduce, he got up fast from a sound sleep, his blood sugar had plummeted during the night, and he went right down, striking his head on the hard tile floor. He had suffered a massive head injury similar to that which killed actress Natasha Richardson. Luckily for him—and us—he was blocks away from a major trauma center and got speedy medical care that saved his life. We still don't know all the details, such as how he managed to get himself back into bed or what exactly happened. He doesn't remember a thing about it, which is probably just as well.
My son Jake, who is extraordinarily close to my dad, refused to hear a word about how injured my father was or that he wasn't out of the woods by a long shot. Head injuries are funny, I told him. You just never know what you'll get back on the other end. He'll be fine, Jake said, refusing to believe otherwise. He simply wouldn't consider any other alternative. I wasn't sure if he was in denial or if he knew something I didn't know. Either way, I allowed him his illusions.
A long and frustrating two weeks after the injury, my brother and I drove my dad home to Rhode Island where he lived with my family for more than two months. Both my kids loved having my dad living with us, especially Jake who found an ally in his grandfather. "Aw, let him stay up a little longer" or "Does he really need another shower?" What ten-year-old wouldn't love having his own defense attorney living with him? My dad got up early each morning to eat Rice Crispies with Jake before school. Jake hasn't had them since he left. "I only eat those with Da," he says. He will never forget those mornings with his grandfather.
It took six months for my father to acknowledge that he'd been injured in Florida. Prior to that he might say, "I did not" when we'd reference the head injury. So, to hear him say, "I hurt my head in Florida" was a big victory. Slowly, we watched him regain his strength and he returned to living independently in April, forty pounds lighter than he'd been before the injury. As his mojo returned, he started driving again and began working on his boat, getting it ready for the season. One day last summer when we were out on the big boat that only he can run, we were coming into the dock—a tight squeeze on the best of days—when an odd gust of wind hit us, carrying us away from where we wanted to be. Dad slammed it into reverse, poured on the coal, and got us out of there. He realigned, did it again, and hit the mark as he always does. Still got all his reflexes? Check. It was a good test and one he passed with flying colors.
Today, he is back in Florida where it is finally warm after an unprecedented cold snap. He drove himself down after Christmas and is having a grand old time. People asked me if I was anxious about him going back to Florida by himself. Sure I was. But he's going to be 76 in April. Who knows how many more years he can spend in sunny Florida, his favorite place to be in the winter? I want him to go and have fun for as long as he can—provided he calls me by 10 a.m. every morning. Otherwise, as he's been told, I'll call 911.
After nearly losing him a year ago today, I'm grateful for every minute we've gotten to spend together this year. I'm grateful for the months he lived with us and micromanaged my life, our summer days on the boat, our Friday lunches at the Creamery, for holidays and birthdays and dinners with the kids. Turns out Jake was right. Da was going to be just fine. Sometimes kids really do have all the answers.