Memorial Day is not one of my favorite holidays. Oh, I know, we must honor the memory of those who fought and served our country. For that, I am extremely grateful and I do want to remember.
But, eight years ago, on the day before Memorial Day, Mark came into the living room, collapsed on the floor, and instructed me to call 911. I will never forget that day. I ended up calling neighbors, and their daughter, who was pregnant, offered to stay with the kids. As Mark left in the ambulance, my neighbor told me that he sometimes suffered back pain that could be relieved with a muscle relaxer. I remember teasing and joking, never dreaming of the nightmare that lie ahead…..nor, the life-changing events.
All of Sunday night, Mark was on a gurney in the hospital, writhing in agony and pain. He was given shots of pain relievers, even morphine, but received no relief. I stood beside him, or sat on a chair as they wheeled him off for x-rays, a CT Scan, and then a milogram. I don’t know when I felt so helpless, or so alone.
Finally, in the breaking hours of Memorial Day, another doctor was dispatched to have a look. He read through the results of the tests, then took Mark in for surgery. In his mind, he was semi-sure that when he saw Mark the next day, he would get up from the bed and be OK. But, such was not the case. Instead, Mark was sent to the spinal cord injury unit of another large teaching hospital to learn how to live as a paraplegic. Mark was 38 years old at the time.
When I think about this and this strange odessy we have been on in the past eight years, I cannot help but feel a sadness….sad, because I see a certain look in Mark’s eyes as he watches the kids and I know that he is aching inside to be able to do more with and for them. He had built this house we live in from the ground up, with some help from my father and brother. To think of this rugged sturdy man living his days in a wheelchair seemed so foreign.
This morning, we decided that we would visit my father-in-law’s grave. We put flowers on the grave for the summer on Memorial Day and we needed to get this done. There is another sadness because no one else sees fit to do this. My father-in-law was always a giving, caring person who loved his family so deeply; the fact that no one puts flowers on his grave just breaks my heart. But, on the other hand, I am happy to do this, as I know it would please him.
We stopped at Michael’s to pick up the flowers, as they have good quality flowers that last well.
My father-in-law’s grave is located in the Korean War Vets section, so we put a red/white/blue theme on the grave.
After buying the flowers, we drove right to the cemetary. I had bought several sprays of various flowers, and I dumped the contents of the bag on the ground and began to arrange them. As I worked, Mark noticed a couple with an older man…..the older man was walking funny, with his belly thrust forward. Suddenly, he fell onto a bench. As Mark commented on this, I saw the man’s head moving strangely, indicating that he was breathing erratically.
At this point, the man that was with him hollered to lower him to the ground. I got up, wondering if the couple needed help, and yet, not wanting to get in the way. Within seconds, the man yelled, asking if anyone had a cell phone! Mark immediately gave me his and I ran to the couple.
The older man was lying on the ground, his face quite red. The younger man had called 911 and was talking to the dispatcher as his wife went off to get blankets. Another woman appeared with a pillow for his head.
The older man seemed very coherant when I arrived; apparently, he had lost consciousness for only a short time. I stayed with the couple, learning that they did not know this man…they met him over at a monument. The wife saw him walking strangely, and told her husband she was afrraid he was going to fall down. He had told them that several of the names etched on the memorial were friends he had gone to school with as a youngster. Although it was sunny out, it was not swelteringly hot, so it hardly seemed like the heat caused the man to pass out.
As we awaited the arrival of the EMTs, the elderly man told us about himself. We learned his name, he asked that we call his sister and tell her, and he felt so funny lying on the ground in the cemetary. The last time he had been lying on the ground like this was in Korea in 1952! He was a total delight. He said he had no medical problems, and then giggled as he said that the EMTs will be surprised to see a LIVE man lying in the cemetary!
As I became a little tired, I looked at the little bench where he had been sitting. There was an inscription on it….it was dedicated in the memory of Dr. J Bruce Iuppa. Dr. Iuppa was the name of the Dr that delivered Michelle. I felt the tears burning in my eyes, but was able to fight them off. What an emotional moment that was.
When the medical team arrived, I went back over to my family and finished arranging the flowers. My father-in-law had picked the most wonderful area for his grave…..under a pretty tree with a bench nearby. He had told us how wonderful this place was, but we never really appreciated it until his death. He certainly picked his final resting “place” very well!
Here is a picture of the grave with the arrangement.
And, the back side of the arrangement.
After checking out the elderly man, the EMTs filled out what seemed like mountains and mountains of paperwork. Since the man had driven by himself to the cemetary, his sister had told the EMTs on the phone that she would drive him back to her home. The man had declined a trip to the hospital, as this is the first time that anything like this had happened to him.
When the man’s sister arrived at the cemetary, the man arose from the bench, walking towards her. They embraced, sharing a kiss on the cheek, then walked over together to speak to the medical people.
Although this started out as a rather unusual adventure, I somehow felt as though my life had been made just a little better, meeting this warm and wonderful Korean veteran at the cemetary!
Happy Memorial Day!