…continued from Pieces of the Puzzle
After yesterdays post it took three siblings and me to piece together the sequence of events from that time. I was off by a year. The years following our mother’s death was a blur of disappointment.
But it was 3am Christmas morning, 1971 that our father called my sister Janet downstairs to take him to the hospital. She was just 16 and the only one at home with a driver’s license.
Janet drove Dad to the nearest hospital in Shelby, Michigan where they examined him and wanted to send him home. My sister knew there was something gravely wrong and refused to leave the hospital.
They finally decided to send him to Muskegon, to a bigger hospital that could hopefully find out what was going on. Once there, the doctors discovered that his colon had ruptured…three days prior. How that man walked around for three days is beyond me. They said gangrene had set in and he would not survive.
My oldest sister Linda had to tell us all, on Christmas day, that our father was dying and would never come home again. I don’t remember opening gifts, but I do remember Linda had made us dinner. We sat around her table silently eating turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy and all the traditional Christmas dishes we would normally share.
Linda had started the 24-hour fruit salad tradition in our family. She made it every year, and each holiday we all looked forward to it. As we were sitting at the table after dinner, trying to find something that would change the mood, her middle son abruptly up-chucked 24-hour fruit salad onto his plate.
It looked exactly the same as what was in the bowl.
For a moment we all just stared at the regurgitated 24-hour fruit salad on his plate. And then we started laughing. It broke the tension of the day and somehow made it okay to smile again. I still laugh when I think about that moment. We managed to get through the day, and the next one and the next one.
Our father didn’t die that Christmas. But he didn’t come home either. It would be several months into 1972 before he was out of his hospital bed. And after someone reported to social services that my 16-year-old sister was taking care of us, we were all uprooted from our home. They told us we had 24 hours to find proper supervision or we would all go into Foster Care.
Two of my brothers stayed with family friends and I went to stay with our sister Linda, her husband and three sons in their already overcrowded place. Janet found a friend to stay with and our youngest brother, who was only 8, went to a Foster home.
We were scattered about.
Dad didn’t come home until spring, and by that time, I didn’t want to go back home. I wanted to stay with my sister, and I resented my father for once again pulling me back to that farm. I could have stayed with my Aunt Ruth after Mom died, and I could have stayed with Linda then, but instead I went home to help him.
He wasn’t the same man, and never was for me again. I had to help him with cleaning his colostomy bags and even cared for the wound. When I think of it, I can still smell the awfulness of it all.
Perhaps for me, this time of year brings back memories of sights, sounds and smells that no one would associate with Christmas.
I haven’t figured this all out, but I do know, to this day, I still wish I could have stayed with Linda. And by the spring of the following year I got sick….very sick.