When my mother Sally was in the ICU after her heart surgery in December, 2016, she was assigned to Night Nurse Joey. Joey, although American, was born in the Philippines. This was enough for Sally, in her somewhat confused state, to speak to Joey of her father’s stint in World War Two in the Merchant Marine.
“Although the Merchant Marine suffered a per capita casualty rate greater than those of the US Armed Forces, merchant mariners who served in World War II were denied such veterans recognition until 1988 when a federal court ordered it. The Court held that “the Secretary of the Air Force abused its discretion in denying active military service recognition to American merchant seamen who participated in World War II.””
This according to Wikipedia. Take it with a grain of salt. Since I am not a professional blogger, you will have to deal with the quick and dirty “facts”. I don’t have time to investigate but the Wiki accounting corresponds to what I have been told.
In any event, Sally went ON AND ON about her father, Lowell, and his role in World War Two. ON AND ON. Joey took it like a champ. This was not his first Cardiac ICU rodeo.
I kept silent in the chair beside Sally’s bed. It was probably around midnight. In her state of mind, Sally mistook Joey for being of Japanese descent. No matter. She told him the story of the battle of Okinawa – how the ships on either side of my grandfather’s had sunk under fire while his remained upright in the water.
Joey, for his part, told her how his grandfather had been the Surgeon to the King of the Philippines (?) and had personally waded out to meet General MacArthur, ferrying the injured from the battle to the operating theatres.
The entire time Sally was talking on and on, I kept thinking, “Ach, Joey has to move on, has to see other patients.” Internally, I was a little impatient. But it was if Joey and my mother were in some weird cosmic locking of horns, egging each other on. I wanted to silence my mother but could not – on some level I was PAYING SUFFICIENT ATTENTION. I was in a different theater – the theater of What the Heck Is Going On? Perhaps my mother was conjuring her own father?
And then Joey told us of his wife, Irma, aged 42, who was suffering from an aggressive form of cancer. The cost of the experimental treatment was $7,000 a month, for which his family signed up. Life expectancy for Irma was a year at best. He did, however, get a discount since he worked at the hospital.
Joey and Irma have four children. Irma has great faith. Joey told me, “We’ve already cried all the tears we can cry. Now we just move on.”
I ask you: Is this possible?
Answer: Maybe. I would not have thought this two months ago.
But I do think the body accommodates this level of stress somehow. I personally burned worry out of my body after The Year of the Migraine. The body can only absorb so much before it shuts down a part of itself. This is the place – OVERWHELMED – where fear lets go. This could explain why I was not in the least concerned about my mother’s surgery. She would overcome, plain and simple. Worry was not part of the program.
Which does not explain how and why my grandfather ever stepped foot on a boat again. In fact, he was obsessed with sailing. Why??? How does Irma let go of her children and let the canvas unfurl, ripple out and flap in the wind, without her???
Did I mention that my parents sailed to Hawaii on a 42 foot yacht from San Francisco with my grandparents and two of my uncles, leaving behind three children under the age of ten? If am not mistaken, they set sail on my grandmother’s 60th (!) birthday in 1973. If you think about it for even half a minute, it will suck the wind out of your own sails.
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, my mother wondered what the hell she had done. Leaving three children behind, with only the mothers of other potential orphans to care for them.
And this, I believe, is the genesis of faith. Out in the middle of the ocean, no land in sight, wondering how one got to this place, hoping and trusting all will be well. It matters not if one put oneself in the position or if fate did. It is a long way to shore, for believers and unbelievers alike. Yet one prevails.
To unwind the clock, Baby Boomers, click here for Chris Cross’ Sailing. Then dogpaddle to shore.