The night of Friday, July 12, 2019 seemed like any other. That was twelve days ago, and life has been insane since then, so much that I don’t know my life before it.
To fill you in…
I’d returned home from a busy day at work, wrapping up the week and preparing to begin work on the next to last project in my final Capstone class (before I graduate later this year in October.) I was just getting home from a get-together at Pastor Paul’s house at my Gay Church book club, ready to strip down to shorts and get lazy, ready to enjoy the weekend, if possible.
My cell phone rang. It was my older sister, Nickie.
“Hey, Brian… Are you there?”
Everything after that is now pretty much a complete fog until I arrived in Texas.
A bit of backstory.. Dad had been at the VA earlier in the week, due to excessive diarrhea and generally feeling weak. He had gone on the carpet in my parents bedroom, unable to control himself, and my Mom told me earlier in the week via a regular checkup phone call.
“He’s not doing good, not at all…”
I was concerned about Dad because he’d called me a week prior for about 30 times one day while I was at work. Each phone call, he was asking where Mom was, and I knew this was his Alzheimer’s kicking in, and even when I played along (“We’ll find her! Just calm down… I’ll see what I can do, ok, Dad?”) I found it difficult to keep changing the subject this time. He just wouldn’t give it up. While Mom would sit beside him while he called me on the phone, I could hear his worried voice and he kept going on and on about car insurance and making sure ‘that woman’ paid it with the money his wife gave him. ‘That woman’ and my Mom were the same people.
“Hey! This is Mom!,” she’d say in the background, sounding like an innocent schoolgirl, which is exactly spot on for describing my Mom, the sweetest woman ever. She chuckled sometimes, and it became amusing to listen to Dad and try to change the subject whilst being concerned and respectful of Dad’s fake fears.
After Dad was released from the VA, he was home one day until Mom called me and told me Dad had fallen, in casual conversation, and she couldn’t pick him up. “He’s too heavy,” she said. “He’s not big, I’m just not that strong.” She had mentioned calling the office and had asked if anyone there could help. (When I heard that, I became so insanely mad. While I understand the apartments can’t legally help, it sounded cold and disheartened.)
I called the office and bitched out the woman there, asked for the owner’s name and number, called him and bitched him out on voicemail, and the owner actually called back later in the day, saying ‘how dare I’ and what Dad had put him through over the years. I felt as if he may had been echoing heresay at the lady at the apartments, but I let it go. Anyhow, we ended our conversation actually apologizing to one another, but this was after he’d threatened to evict my parents on the spot and ‘go down there with papers right now.’ He managed 12 properties, he said, so I knew he was full of it, but I felt bad for throwing my anger on him so we made up anyhow.
About an hour later, I called Mom to see if anyone had helped her yet. I’d gotten busy with work and forgot to call her back immediately right after.
“I can’t talk now, Bub. I’m resting,” Dad said when Mom handed him the phone.
“Dad… I don’t like you being on the floor, we’re gonna try to get someone to come help you, ok?”
“OK, Bub. I’m ok. I’m just taking a nap. Mom has pillows and I’m alright.”
“Ok, hold on, Ok? Love ya, Dad.”
“Love you, Son.”
That was the last time I spoke to Dad.
Back to the Present…
My sister Nickie proceeded to tell me that Dad had fallen during his sleep and hit his head on his popcorn machine, and possibly was without oxygen for an extended period of time. My Sister wasn’t crying, yet, but she did sound worried and I could tell in her voice that it was bad. Real bad.
“Ok, just let me know if I should pack now and go down to Texas, or…”
Over the next hour, I began packing immediately. I threw a few pairs of socks and underwear, undershirts and other things in my suitcase and began taking things to the car. I packed up my Dog’s belongings, and phoned Nickie again.
“Should I go down now?,” I asked.
“Yeah, I think so,” Nickie said, her voice crackling with emotion.
I raced the 1,971 miles down Route 66, I-40 and Hwy 287, a trip I have taken many, many times over the years. My two chihuahuas, Pippa and Gopher, were secured in the backseat in their carrier, and being as quiet and friendly as ever while we barreled down those dark desert highways. It was a trip I was very familiar with: I spent nearly all of my past two years’ worth of work vacations to go down and help my Mom and Sister Kristie with Dad. He had become somewhat stabalized, I’d thought, over the past year. No long VA stays or emergency room visits until just recently. It seemed like a typical visit, nothing too crazy, and I suggested that the VA look at Dad’s medicine and adjust that if possible. It seemed like the water pills may not have been working correctly again, or his inhalers were becoming too addictive again. I was afraid that he’d fall asleep and wake up not breathing, or fall and collapse… and it seemed like this is exactly what my worst fears were… and it had happened, all of it.
Through darkly lit highways and empty small towns with flashing red lights, my dogs and I made it through the trip, and I kept repeating to the universe while I smoked endless cigarettes out my car window.
“Let it be OK. We need Dad to be OK. Please, God. Please…”
I rushed through the doors at Hurst, Euless Bedford Methodist Hospital in Bedford, Texas. This was the hospital where I was born on May 9, 1975, and where my Grandmother (Mamaw) Bea passed away back in July 1983 when I was 8 years old. This was the same hospital where I stared the prospect of cancer in the face back in 1991, when I had a tumor removed, the result of a hate crime which nearly left me crippled and dead in the forest. Despite those terrible things, the hospital held great memories. Our family Doctor, Dr. Guthrie, had been Chief of Staff back in 1974, a year before I was born, but somewhow had also been our family doctor over the years. In fact, he was there when my Grandfather passed away in 1971, a man who I never got to meet. The hospital held alot of history for us, and still does.
Today was different.
When I rushed through those emergency room doors, my heart lept out of my chest as I reached for my Dad’s door in ICU, wondering what state he was in. “C235,” my sister Kristie said. “Just come up when you get here. His eyes open now and then. It’s kinda creepy. Just get here.” She’d texted me through the night to help keep me awake, along with my sisters Nickie and Dineen.
“I’m here,” I texted her.
When I opened the door to C235, I wasn’t prepared to see what I saw. Dad was laying there with his head held in place by a neckbrace, and I could tell they had taken out his dentures – there was a series of tubes and a breathing mask over his nose, and he was completely red in the face. His hair was unkempt, as usual these days, and his arms were red and bruised with the persistent skin nicks he’d always get because he was on blood thinners. Dad was falling apart, and this sight was a sight I’d never quite seen. He was completely restrained.
I collapsed on my Dad’s bed and cried like a baby while my Sister and Mother held me.
“No, Dad, No! No!”
“Come back, Dad! Come back…”
I cried like a baby, and it was a cry I needed to have. I met up with the Chaplain at the hospital, who I’d talked to during my drive down, and asked for more information about Dad. What I heard wasn’t good.
“He may had been without oxygen for up to 30 minutes. We will pray for him on the phone right now, OK?”
It set me up for the next few days, when my sister Dineen arrived from Arkansas… and hearing those MRI and EGG results.
I sat with Dad over the next couple of nights, held his hand, looked into his sometimes opened eyes, and I didn’t see him in there at all. It hurt me to look at him, to not look at him, and I expressed grief to one of the Chaplains over feeling as if I needed to keep my eyes on him because it may be the last time I’d ever see my Dad’s face again.
Dad’s doctor, Dr. Smith, made regular check-ins with my sisters and I each morning. Ocassionally my Mom was there, but she had been out paying rent and running errands that had been neglected for too long. Dr. Smith’s morning check-ins, and Dr. Nassau’s (the brain doctor) each told us grim news and it was never good. The only good thing we heard was that dad’s basic functions seemed to be in tact.
I asked Dr. Smith what he thought his personal thoughts were after one of his daily check-ins. “It doesn’t look good… to be honest. But keep up hope. He may still be able to hear you. Sit with him, talk with him as if he can hear, because just maybe he can.”
I was devastated, gutted.. cried like a baby in the arms of aunts in their cars smoking cigarettes. I cried while eating Subway sandwiches and sipping on sweaty soft drink soda cans, and I cried while walking through my parents apartment one night, going crazy over a picture of my Father and I near his messy recliner which read: “I love you, Bub.” I never lost my shit as much as I did when I saw that.
“Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining,” I replied to a text string my Sisters and I were exchanging about Dad’s funny little saying and phrases, things he’d obtained during the war and over his 40+ years as a barber who owned three businesses and salons when we were young. “Remember the six P’s! Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance!” We laughed, trying to mask our tears with good memories.
All those memories… all those times we’d shared, those times he had when he was young that only he witnessed, or that only he was the sole survivor of… were now all gone?
“Is he brain-dead completely? Like…,” I remember asking Dr. Smith, and a few of the nurses, including two in particular – Jamie and Kellie. “Well, it doesn’t look good,” they’d say after explaining test results from different x-rays and notations nurses had taken.
My sister told me the rest of the story over the course of the 3 days we each stayed in the hospital, in between family visits by aunts, uncles, friends and cousins. My sisters told me that Dad had fallen onto the wheel of the popcorn machine and the metal bed frame, and lost consciousness after not being able to breathe. Mom had been watching him all day, and had just stepped in the shower before bed. Apparently, Dad rolled off the bed (attempted to get up?) and rolled onto the floor and onto some pillows, and got his head wedged there. Mom called 911 when she saw it, and the Ambulance arrived within minutes. Apparently, as the Chaplain told me, they revived him three times, which meant they had to re-start his heart three times on the way to the Emergency Room.
My three Sisters and Mom each sat in the conference room as the results of the MRI were read. When I looked up at my sisters they each had tears in their eyes, and Mom was looking away, trying not to make eye contact. It was obvious to me what was going to be said…
“Your Dad appears to be somewhat brain dead. The back part of his brain, which controls basic motor functions, is alright, but the front of his brain, which helps with all other advanced functions, appears to have many areas where atrophy had occured. He went without oxygen for a very long time,” Dr. Smith said.
The Chaplain was there, too, to discuss Pallative care, and letting Dad go with dignity.
“That’s probably the best option,” I chimed in. “I don’t want my Dad to be in any pain, and if he has no chance of ever recovering enough to realize his grandkids are in the room, or his kids or wife are, then I’d rather him go peacefully and without pain.”
My Sisters and Mom echoed my sentiments, and with that, we were off to celebrate my Sister Kristie’s 34th birthday, which seemed impossible to do, but got us out of the rut of the hospital and some time away to breathe. We met with aunts, uncles and friends at Texas Roadhouse and tried our best to put on happy faces.
While each of us took turns watching Dad, the others were out making plans for my Dad’s passing. We agreed to delay Dad’s release from the machines until Friday night, a day later. We wanted to be able to spend a little more time with Dad, too, and tell him how much we loved him and how hard this was. And boy was it hard! It was the toughest thing I’d ever had to go through in my entire life. Sitting there watching my Dad brain-dead, unaware if he could understand me or not.
After my Sister’s birthday party, I watched my Dad with my Sister Kristie, and I swear, I could look into his eyes and see that he was not there, but I no longer felt the need to act as if his body WAS him. I felt that his spirit had actually left that morning, and I could no longer feel his spirit there. It’s hard to explain, but it actually put me at peace, because I could feel he was in no more pain, and was proud of his kids and how we honored him by sitting by his bedside for days on end.
I prayed: “Dad… I know you might not be here in this body, but even if you are, I want you to know how much I love you and… how much I hate that you can’t go to my graduation this October. You called me every day to ask about it, and sometimes I didn’t call you back, because I couldn’t handle you keeping to ask about where Mom was. Now you know, that she was right there with you the whole time, and she cared for you for almost 50 years of marriage and took very good care of you, and of us, and so did you, Dad. You taught me so much. You taught me to be strong and to always work hard and appreciate what I have. You taught me to never back down, to always be me, and never take no for an answer. I love you so much… I hate that you’re gone… and I just want you to walk into that light and go see your Mama, and go see your son Tommy, and your brother John, and go be with those people you miss so much, and we will see you soon, OK? I love you so much.”
I ran my fingers through my dad’s salt and pepper hair as his eyes closed, and we never saw them open like that again until the night we pulled the plug.
My aunts and uncles gathered around my Dad’s room, all holding hands, as the Chaplain Mary led us in prayer at my request. My Sisters, Mom and I were crying, and my uncles and aunts were nervous and welled up, too. We each spent about 5 minutes alone with Dad. I had gone to Wal-Mart with my step-sister Dineen to get some things like electric candles and things to decorate Dad’s room with. I’d brought a family photo album earlier in the week, and we put up pictures and set up fake blue roses in two vases I’d bought. The hospital didn’t allow us to use real flowers in ICU since they could disturb patients’ allergies.
“We’re ready?,” Nurse Kellie asked. “Just let me know when you think he needs more morphine, OK? I’ll do what you guys all want.”
My Sisters and Mom sat there and held dads hands for the next two hours as he slowly passed. The nurse had said it appeared as if he’d go quick, but he didn’t, and his heart got as low as 40 and then suddenly, after two hours of us being by Dad’s side, kissing his cheeks and telling him how much we loved him, I could fell his body die. Dad’s eyes closed for good, his skin became super pale, and his chest stopped moving. My sister Dineen, having a nursing background, kept checking Dad’s pulse and saying how weak it was.
“Dad… are you there? We love you. We love you so much… Just go into the light,” I kept saying, kissing his clammy white cheeks and looking into his slowly closing eyes.
The heart rate machine, turned around so we couldn’t see it, showed 40 and 0, my aunt Betty said, and kept alternating.
“He’s stubborn… He’s a tough old cow…,” I laughed. “Dad… we love you so much, and we’re so sorry…”
And within the hour, Dad was gone. He expired at 10:51 PM, the nurse said.
We gathered behind Dad’s bed as they rolled it out into the hallway, draped in an American flag, and the hosptial began their Military Procession through the hospital at around 2 in the morning, when everything was finally in place.
“Tonight, we lost one of our soldiers… who bravely fought for our country in Vietnam. Lance Corporal, and proud Marine, Roy Thomas Bolding… departed Earth tonight, and went to be with our heavenly Father. We tahnk you for your service, Mr. Bolding, and may God be with you…”
My Dad was gone, and life would never be the same. In fact, I’m still grieving as I write this, but I wanted to get this on paper before the weariness of time, regret, sadness and depression takes hold and I begin to forget. As I sift through Dad’s belongings that I took home with me.. his antique lighter collection, his Vietnam mementos, or his vintage barber shop stuff, I’m reminded of what a unique person he was, despite all his grouchiness and alcoholism and yelling fits. We’re alike that way.. I have my quirky interests, too, from ham radios to old laptops, and I remember even shining his antique lighters sometime in the mid 80’s for $5. “One day when I pass on, you’ll take care of these, right?,” Dad asked once. “For sure!,” I replied.
Lance Corporal Roy Thomas Bolding was a great man who cared deeply for his family, for his country, and for his kids, and did his best to provide as much as he could. His job in Vietnam, he told me long ago during one of his 80’s alcoholic rants, was preparing dead soldier’s toe tags and processing paperwork for soldiers who had deceased during the war. He was in Okinawa at one point, and remembers filling out paper work for his friends from back home in El Dorado, Arkansas, who died way too young, and for some reason, Dad got to live to fill out their death forms. It affected him so much he became an alcoholic in the early 80’s after his Mom passed right next to us, and it continued on throughout the 90’s and had ended up as one or two drinks each night that Mom would make in the kitchen, almost on autopilot.
Sure, he wasn’t a perfect Dad, but these days, who is? Every man and woman has their faults, and they do the best they can with the tools they have. Dad was running from trauma he obtained during the war, and he couldn’t help the way he had become. (At least that’s my theory.)
I prayed on the way home on Saturday last weekend: “Dad, I know you tried your best, and you provided for us well, and I want you to know how much we appreciate that, and how much I want you to be proud of me. I wanted you to be there at my graduation in October, and you were so looking forward to it. Just know that I will be looking for you.. up there, somewhere up in the clouds.”
God, watch over my Dad, and Dad, watch over us.
ROY THOMAS BOLDING, 3/4/44 ~ 7/16/19
WE LOVE YOU, DAD. ALWAYS.