He is in and out of and consciousness
In the South China Sea, my first deployment overseas in the Navy, around 2100 LT Berger brought me into his stateroom to notify me of the Red Cross message warning my father was nearing the end of his battle with cancer. There were other messages and I refused to go. I wanted to stay and complete the deployment with the crew.
Previously, on a ‘work up’ cruise to Canada from our home port of San Diego, I received a similar Red Cross message regarding my father. Quickly I was whisked away from the mission.
As a Navy Rescue Swimmer I’m trained to leap into action to save someone in distress, a pilot that ejects, a man overboard, anybody. I was supposed to be the one to jump into the sea and save those who had just experienced the worst moment in their lives! “So Others May Live” was our motto. How could I leave? But I did, it was my father, how could I not be there in his time? My father’s surgery went well. I stayed at home with my mother for a few days, saw my high school friends, generally had a good time. Not much of an emergency.
Back in the South China Sea, the night ocean was calm and warm. LT Berger gave me his best fatherly advice, he was only 5 or 6 years older than me, but I always looked and acted younger. Who jumps out of a helicopter into the ocean to save someone they don’t even know? Somebody young and full of themselves, that’s who. Still I refused to leave the mission, yet the Captain of the ship had already changed course to close the distance between the ship and Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Once we were close enough, we launched the helicopter, with me as the emergency and another crew flying the mission.
We landed on the tarmac in the early stages of the middle of the night. At this point, time lost all meaning and significance. The Air Force has much better billeting accommodations than the Navy. I couldn’t believe they gave me my own room. After a shower I decided to call my family to let them know I was on my way, flying out of the Philippines tomorrow morning would be a 20 something hour flight. The phone was in the hall hanging on the wood paneled wall just outside the door to my room, the U shaped hook held the receiver, the push button numbers on the base. The wood paneling had about six inches between each of the thin black grooves, as I talked to my mother, aunt and father I ran my finger up and down that groove. The paneling was familiar since a house we lived in when I was a kid had the same type of wood paneling. At night, sometimes, I’d lay in bed, facing the wall, running my finger up and down that narrow black groove listening as my mother and father argued about money and not being able to pay for groceries. The phone had short push buttons, just like the phone on the kitchen wall at home where my family lives. I was probably talking to them on that same phone. The phone I was using was black; although the cord was long it wasn’t as long as the one at home. It reminded me of walking around the kitchen, sitting at the dinner table talking on the phone. Our phone at home was that kind of green yellow only the phone company could make.
Aunt Joy gave me the prognosis, she is an LVN. He is in and out of and consciousness when he is awake he is sometimes not lucid. A word used in medical terms, not often in conversation. He is telling funny stories and acting like he is driving a car. My dad has always been a great and funny story teller and loved driving.
He’s been hanging on just to see me, he tells me. I tell him I will be there soon and that I love him. He tells me he will see me on the other side. And I say Ok. That was the last moment I spoke to my father.