Of Ponies, Life, and Laughter

November was not typical for me and my family.

I’m wondering how much of what happened this month I should write down. What do I want to remember? What should I try to forget? Don’t worry, I’m not thinking about putting it all in this post. I wouldn’t do that to you.

Some of this is going to be sad, so you don’t have to keep reading if you don’t want to. But not all of it is sad.

My brother called me at work one day. He had been taking care of Dad at home, acting as Dad’s 24/7 nurse, doing everything and more for Dad. Mother, a retired nurse, was helping, too, and she described those couple of weeks as “the shift that never ends.”

When brother John called me, he said, “Mel, I can’t do this anymore. I’m sorry.”

He had done so much to keep Dad from going into the hospital, but he is only one man. My heart broke at the despair in my brother’s voice.  If only he would believe, as I do, that he did more than anyone else could have done for Dad, for far longer than any of us could have done it. My respect and gratitude for what John gave Dad is boundless. 

So we called 911, and Dad took a ride to the hospital. Dad was having a cascade of events that individually weren’t insurmountable, but for an 86 year-old with congestive heart failure, the outcome didn't appear promising.

Still, we held on to the thought that Dad had pulled himself back from death many times before.

The attending doctor, Dr. Blue, examined Dad, told us he was in atrial fibrillation and was beginning to get pneumonia. Dr. Blue asked Dad if he wanted to be resuscitated, should his heart stop. Dad had always answered “yes” in the past.

This time he said, “No, let me go.” In some ways I was stunned to hear this, but in other ways I understood. Life had become a struggle for Dad. He was tired. He was nearly ready.

You can see where this is going, but that’s not all to the story. Dad was still Dad, and the next professional in the room was Cassie, the telemetry lady, who came to hook up Dad’s heart monitor. She hit it off with Dad right away, and they began to flirt, shamelessly. Cassie had a scarf on, and said it was getting in the way. So she took it off.

Dad said, “Is that all you’re going to take off?”

They bantered like that for a half-hour. Cassie, I’m going to write you a note. You had my dad laughing out loud in the hours before he died. Thank you, dear lady.

Later, Dad had been admitted to a room, and I was giving his health history to a wonderful nurse, Sandy. Sandy acted as if she had all the time in the world to spend with us, made Dad comfortable, and sat down at the bedside computer to ask us a long list of questions. We were going along fine, until she asked Dad, under standard procedure, if he was in an abusive relationship.

“Yes, she beats me, “ Dad said, blue eyes twinkling.

“Dad, you can’t say that about Mom! The nurse will have to report it and they’ll go arrest Mama!” Even as well as I knew my dad, I was flabbergasted.

He wouldn’t back down, and was having quite the little chuckle at how flustered he'd made me and Nurse Sandy. We finally got him to admit he was kidding, but it was like pulling teeth. So ornery! That was his last little joke with us.

A few hours later, he passed away in the Intensive Care Unit.

Mama overspent a tad on Dad’s gravesite, and I fully supported her decision. His grave is on a hill, overlooking a lake with ducks and swans. We have an old photo of Dad feeding ducks at a lake; he was completely obsessed with feeding  all creatures great and small. Beautiful, ancient live oaks, evergreen, draped with silver Spanish moss, flourish near his grave. Beyond the cemetery is a tidal saltwater creek teeming with the fish, clams, and oysters he loved. 

We learned that the cemetery property was formerly a pony farm. Mother and I smiled when we heard this. How fitting for the little boy who’d had a Chincoteague pony from the time he was a toddler, for the man who'd realized a life-long dream of working with horses. Dad had traveled far from the coastal family farm of his youth.

He didn't know we would bury him on a pony farm. I can picture Dad chuckling. He would approve.



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