I picked up a couple lists of donation requests from the library. One was for the local VA, just little things patients might need like basic clothing and toiletries. I’m going to buy some things to drop off next week. It reminds me of my dad and all the time he spent living in the VA hospital, and I like the feeling that memory gives me.
I’ve been crying. I don’t miss him I don’t think. I don’t think I’m necessarily mourning him. I’m sad about what his life might have been and the things he might have enjoyed but never tried.
When my husband and I chose our new hometown and bought our house, we intentionally chose a location with a good VA hospital nearby that has a spinal cord injury unit. My dad’s hometown VA didn’t have a spinal cord injury unit. When I was growing up, because he was paraplegic, he had to leave the state every time he needed surgery. Even in later years when a new VA SCI unit opened in our state, it was a four hour drive away. That’s why he died in a hospital four hours away from home and anyone he knew. So we chose an area with a good VA hospital with an SCI unit. We moved halfway across the country. We bought a house with a ground floor bedroom and bathroom that were meant to be his, right off of the living room and the bright, open kitchen and the giant deck he could’ve rolled out onto. We have a three car garage that was meant to hold his van. The local gym is wheelchair friendly, and I had imagined us going there together when he first started doing physical therapy at the VA and told me how much he liked it. The gym has an indoor pool with a wheelchair lift, which I have never seen anywhere else before but knew such things existed because he had talked about how great it would be to have a pool with a lift when he first moved into the VA hospital and started expressing what I saw as hope about fifteen years ago.
I thought we would have holidays together at my house. I always imagined Christmas. I was going to buy him one of those electric fireplace space heaters so he could keep his room as hot as he wanted all winter long. I was going to cook him such good and healthy meals his diabetes would be under control. The idea was that he could live with me because he was bed bound and needed full-time care, he could go to the nearby VA hospital for appointments and surgeries, and he could either continue living with me or move back to his own home if he ever got well enough to live alone again. I wasn't trying to hold him hostage. I just wanted him to stop threatening to let himself die of neglect in our old hoard house instead of staying in the nursing home because it wasn't the only option beyond living in the nursing home. He could live with me. And he seemed okay with that. He was in on the plan before we ever moved. The plan was why we moved here.
And once we moved and bought the house, he didn’t want any of it. He wanted to stay in the hospital, occasionally shifting back home for a few weeks at a time until he had to be hospitalized again, shipped back across the state and then released to the nursing home to convalesce, where he spent most of the last years of his life lying in bed naked, watching basic cable and complaining about the food. I wonder if he ever planned to move in with me.
I believe I could’ve done a good job taking care of him. Maybe I never could’ve made him happy. It was just so wonderful seeing him hopeful in those first years after he moved into the hospital and away from my mother. It gave me hope too. I see now that it was probably the novelty of a new location and being away from my mom that brightened him up, but I thought it was a whole new him. I thought maybe he'd had a depression that started to lift after moving away from Mom and the house, like I had.
My husband and I have money. More even than my parents, who collected more in disability payments than anyone else in the family could earn. We have a comfortable home that is pretty well kept if I do say so myself and feels like a high-end hotel compared to the dilapidated house where I grew up and where my dad wanted to live. We have access to pretty much anything we could want or need. I thought it was going to be good with him here.
So, anyway, I’m going to buy some undershirts and underwear and toothpaste and things from Walmart to donate to the local VA hospital. Is it ridiculous that the thought of the VA hospital makes me feel comfortable and homey in a way memories of my childhood home do not? The hospital was where I had some of the best times with my dad. That was where I saw him happiest. Things were happening and changing when he was there, and it was usually the holidays when I was there. I bought him gifts to make him comfortable, like a laptop and the mp3 player I filled with his favorite jazz albums, the accessories along with his cell phone that he stopped bringing to the hospital during his multi-week stays because he’d rather have been bored and cut off from everyone than take the chance they might be stolen. I never understood that. I was trying to make his day-to-day life more livable no matter the circumstances. What's the point in saving everything for when you're not in the hospital when you spend all your time in the hospital? I brought him his favorite restaurant foods to eat, and his face would light up. Whenever I gave him something, a laugh would escape as he’d express delight and then say thank you, like he was so happy at what you’d brought him that he couldn’t just smile, he had to laugh. He was always so good at receiving gifts.
Maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to visit him at the VA hospital all the time if he’d lived here. Maybe I would’ve resented him for being so close I could visit every day when I have a daughter and husband who need me. If he'd lived with me, he probably would've made our home less comfortable like he did my childhood home. I remember not wanting to come home at all when I felt good because he was so often irritable or angry or yelling and I couldn't seem to make myself small enough in that house to feel like I was existing in space of my own. But I wish he could’ve been happy longer. I wish we could’ve spent happy times together living in the same part of the country. I wish we could've celebrated holidays together without his being in the hospital and my being in a Holiday Inn. I wish I could’ve been there when he died.