BY: LARRY BIELAT
In the summer of 1982, Jim Bradley is diagnosed with cancer. When surgery is unsuccessful, he is given six months to live and placed in a nursing home. He hates the nursing home and wants to leave, but his son tells him he has to stay. When Jim’s grandson, Scott, comes to visit, Jim convinces him to break him out of the nursing home and take him to his summer cabin at Lake Paradise. Scott is willing to give up a semester of college to help his grandfather, but is he really able to take care of a dying man?
Lake Paradise is the story of a man living out the remainder of his life the way he lived it when he was healthy—with dignity—and the people whose lives he impacts as he struggles to face the end his way…
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Lake Paradise by Larry Bielat, Jim Bradley is dying of cancer. When surgery to remove it doesn’t work, he is given only six month to live and placed in a nursing home. He hates it there, but his son won’t hear of him leaving. So Jim convinces his grandson, Scott, to spring him and take him to his cabin at the lake so he can die where he wants to. But Scott is only a young college student and is not sure he can take care of a dying man.
Both touching and heartbreaking, the story is as compelling as it is moving. A really good read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Lake Paradise by Larry Bielet is the story of a man with terminal cancer who wants to die with dignity in his own home. Jim Bradley is given no more than six months to live. His doctor and son send him to a nursing home, but Jim hates it. He wants to go to his cottage at Lake Paradise. When his grandson Scott comes to visit him, Jim convinces him to help him escape the nursing home. They pick Jim’s dog from his neighbor in town and head for the lake. Scott’s father is furious but Jim is determined not to go back to the nursing home no matter what he has to do.
Lake Paradise is both the story of a man who wants to die the way he has lived—with honor and dignity—and the story of a close-knit community that rises to the occasion to help one of their own. Poignant and charming, with marvelous characters, it will break your heart even as it warms it and lifts your spirits.
Late Summer 1982:
Jim Bradley sat in silence at his kitchen table and stared at the clock above the kitchen sink. It read five-thirty a.m. He had been up for two hours. He showered, shaved, and dressed.
He looked around the kitchen at his departed wife’s cherished things. He left everything in the exact spot Lois kept them. He lost her five years ago to cancer, now the doctors told him he had the damn stuff.
Cancer, what an ugly word, he thought.
Waking early was part of Jim’s life. His job at the Dodge Truck factory for over three decades started at six-thirty a.m. Also, an avid fisherman and hunter, Jim prided himself on his ability to beat the morning sun. It was a daily ritual: coffee, breakfast, and the sports page of the Detroit Free Press—all before first light.
Surgery was scheduled for eleven a.m. Jim had packed his bag the night before. There was a shaving kit, clean socks and underwear, a couple of tee shirts, and his bath robe. He had no idea how long he would be in the hospital, so he stuffed in the last two issues of his favorite magazine, Michigan Outdoors. He was hungry and wanted a cup of coffee, but doctor’s orders were to be empty. So empty he was.
Jim’s golden Lab, Duffy, rested on the carpet by the backdoor, head on his paws, watching Jim intently. Duffy knew something was different this morning. He couldn’t smell the coffee, and his master wasn’t in his bathrobe, reading the paper. Duffy stretched and sauntered across the kitchen to brush his back along Jim’s leg. Jim gave Duffy a pat, to comfort himself as much as his canine companion.
The two had been best friends since Lois died. Jim would sit for hours and talk to Duffy, who always listened and occasionally nodded, as if in agreement. All Jim had to say was, “Let’s go outside and catch a rabbit.” Duffy would spring to his feet, sprinting to the back door, tail going crazy. When it was time to come in, the magic words were, “Want a treat?”
Duffy would hurry up the porch steps, head to the pantry door, and bark. Life with Duffy was easy.
Jim’s gaze fell on Lois’s Bible on the corner of her small desk under the kitchen window. It looked twice its original size, stuffed with her many treasures—pictures of the grand kids, special notes from friends, cards Jim had given her for Valentine’s Days, anniversaries, and even a few old love letters. There was a picture from their visit to New York in a birthday card from her mother. Lois saved everything.
An old letter sticking out of the top caught his eye. It was a letter he sent her back in 1944 from a foxhole in Germany. Wet and cold, he told her how awful war was and how scared he was. It was the letter when he had asked her to please wait for him. I’ll make it home! he wrote. I love you and want you to marry me. Please wait. I’ll make it back, I promise. When he wrote it, enemy fire had been falling around him. He hadn’t been sure if he could keep his promise.
The paper had yellowed over the years. Lois had read it so many times that the corners had become frayed. Jim gently slipped the faded note back in its place and carried the Bible to his duffel bag by the door. He slid it into the side compartment and zipped it closed.
He gave the house one last check, walked with Duffy through the dining room, where the family had celebrated so many special meals, and into the living room, where Lois had Jim set up the Christmas tree each November after Thanksgiving.
He went down the basement steps to his workshop and reading place. It was his space to hide out. Two jackets hung by the door at the top of the stairs, a heavy winter coat and a light spring jacket. He ran his fingers along the sleeves and wondered how many times he had shoveled snow in the heavy Mackinaw and had raked leaves and worked in his garden in the other. His hats were also there. There was the black cowboy hat he bought fifteen years ago when he and Lois visited the Grand Canyon. Next to it were four baseball caps: one with the Detroit Tiger Old English “D,” another for the Lions, and two green and white Michigan State caps.
At the bottom of the stairs, he reached up and pulled the string for the light bulb. He surveyed the many tools he collected over the years. Some were from his father-in-law, who was a carpenter. Some were from his dad. Some had been reclaimed from neighborhood yard sales. He never missed a garage sale, and he never came home empty handed. There was always an old saw or a jar of nails and washers for which he’d find a use.
The corners of his mouth curled up when he thought about the time he came home with three winter tires. How Lois had reprimanded him at his reasoning: “The deal was too good to pass up.” That was ten years ago. The tires were still in the garage.
His shop was neat. Everything had a place: tools hung from their designated hooks, odd screws sorted into jars by size and type, a binder held owner manuals, and wood remnants stacked on shelving in the corner.
An old overstuffed chair, with a blanket covering holes from years of use, sat in the corner next to a floor lamp—another garage sale find. Two stacks of books sat beside the chair: some-to-read and some-to-read-again. Along the wall behind the chair were stacks of National Geographic and Michigan Outdoors, sorted by year—some dated to the early Fifties. Jim spent many quiet winter hours in the big, soft chair, listening to Lois’s footsteps as she puttered around on the floor above his head. Not all his time was spent reading, sometimes he napped. He brushed off imaginary dust from the back of the chair, remembering the coziness while snowstorms swirled outside the basement windows.
He looked around and wondered what would happen to his stuff if things didn’t go well at the hospital. He pulled the string to turn out the light, and the basement went dark.
Duffy was silhouetted in the light at the top of the stairs. His tail wagged, a sure indication he wanted to go out.
Jim slowly climbed the stairs, crossed the kitchen, and opened the door for his friend. “Go get a rabbit.”
Pam, Jim’s daughter-in-law, knew today was not going to be easy. Her hand appeared from under the covers, found the off button on the clock radio, and silenced the irritating alarm. Her eyes opened slowly and barely made out the red digital numbers that screamed five a.m. Unlike her father-in-law, this was not her time of day. She slid from under the warm blankets. Her feet found her slippers on the floor. Careful not to wake her husband, Tom, she sat up, reached for her robe from the foot of the bed, and made her way through the faintly lit hallway, down the stairs to the kitchen.
Pam turned on the coffee maker, and it began to drip. She always prepared coffee the night before so whoever was up first didn’t have to pour and measure.
The first drops splashed to the bottom of the glass pot, and Pam walked to the window and caught the August morning light creeping through the big oaks at the east end of the yard.
She turned and smelled the fresh coffee, poured herself the first cup, took a sip, and looked at the phone hanging on the wall next to the coffee maker, wondering if she should call her father-in-law to be sure he was awake. She figured he had probably been up for hours. Jim was an early riser and was always on time. He was the most dependable person she knew. She breathed in the aroma of the coffee and thought how hard it must be for him this morning to forego his morning cup of java. His doctor’s orders instructed nothing to eat for twenty-four hours, and nothing to drink after midnight.
Pam went back upstairs and called to her two girls, Jill and Jen, eight and nine. “Get up girls; we’ve got to be at Papa’s in an hour.”
Her husband, Tom, was snoring loudly and wouldn’t be up until after she and the girls left.
He stirred. “What time is it?”
“Five-twenty. You still have time,” Pam answered.
He closed his eyes and quickly resumed snoring. He and their eighteen-year-old son, Scott, would meet her and the girls later at the hospital.
She closed the bathroom door and turned on the shower.
As Jim filled the water bowl on the porch, Duffy ran to the back fence, searching for the critter that was never there. He marked his territory against the utility pole then sprinted to the north side of the yard where the Shuberts lived. They had a female Cocker Spaniel named Murphy that Duffy had his eye on for years. That darned chain-link fence kept them from doing what dogs do. The Shuberts’ boy was going to look after Duffy until Jim got home. Murphy was in the house, so Duffy looked for the Cocker Spaniel then returned to the back porch.
Jim bent down and hugged his friend. “Be good, old boy. Take care of the farm till your dad gets home. Won’t be long…I hope. Keep those damn rabbits out of here!”
Jim straightened, feeling old as he went back inside and shut off the kitchen light. He picked up his bag, locked the back door, and walked to the driveway gate, latching it behind him. Patting Duffy good-bye again, he walked to the front of the house. He set down his bag and sat on the front porch to wait for Pam. It wasn’t long before her black Mercedes turned the corner and rolled into the driveway.
A smiling Pam had the window down. “Good morning, Papa. How’re you doing this morning?”
“Great, Pam. Slept like a baby,” he said, knowing both statements were lies. He tried to hide his fear by saying, “I’m ready for the game to begin! Let’s kick this thing off.” He turned to his granddaughters in the back seat. “Well, good morning, ladies. How are Papa’s beautiful princesses this morning?” He climbed into the passenger seat next to Pam and put his bag in his lap.
They smiled. “Great, Papa. Could we stop at McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin?” Jill chimed. This was done many times when Jim had the girls for the day.
“Sure, we got time. Anything my ladies want, my ladies get.”
Pam looked back at the girls as she backed out of the drive. The look read: Out of bounds. She knew Jim must be hungry.
The Mercedes crept down Jim’s long street, past the homes of proud Ford, GM, and Chrysler workers—union men who strongly opposed the invasion of foreign autos after World War II. These were men like Jim who went to war as young men, lost friends and family, and still carried hard feelings about helping Germany and Japan build and import their cars.
They say that time heals, and people forget, but if you lived through the war or fought in it, you never forget. You can’t forget. But funny things were happening in the world. GM owned Mercedes and Toyotas were being made in Tennessee. Chrysler became Dahmler Chrysler when a German company became partners with one of Detroit’s oldest manufacturing stallions. Jim marveled that the Chrysler Detroit tank arsenal built those big babies that kicked the crap out of Rommel and now Rommel’s kids were probably living in castles, on the Rhine, with the stock their grandfather owned in Dahmler or Volkswagen.
Slim Donnahoo sat on his porch sippin’ coffee and reading his morning Free Press. He waved at Jim who waved back. Old Slim was not so slim anymore. In the Fifties, they both fought to unionize Dodge Truck. Both had scars to show for it. Now retired, they were enjoying the fruits of all those years at Dodge Truck—fruits the unions won.
A little farther down, Max Fracassa, a decorated war hero, stood on the corner, halfway through his morning walk. They made eye contact. Jim nodded. Max waved, turned, and started back on the second half of the trek he made in wind, rain, snow, or heat, seven days a week, probably reliving his march into Berlin.
“Which McDonald’s are we going to, Mom?” Jill asked.
“The one on Kelly Drive, dear. We’ll be there in a few minutes. Dad, will you be okay smelling Egg McMuffins?”
“I’ll be fine,” he said, smiling. “The girls are hungry, and I enjoy watching them eat.”
His mind flashed back to growing up on the west side of Detroit within walking distance to Briggs Stadium, Home to the Tigers baseball team and the Lions football team. He and his buddies were known as the Vernor Highway Boys. They sold programs for Tiger and Lions games. They went to Western High School, except Tony Spada. His mom sent him to St. Ambrose High School, and he later became a priest.
Jim was a fair student in school. His love was baseball and, at six feet, 175 pounds, he was big for his time, and could throw a fastball that few guys in the Detroit public league could hit. Some pro scouts showed interest. Then the war broke out. Everyone’s lives stopped. The Vernor Highway Boys joined the army together, except for Father Spada…
That Sunday afternoon in 1941 was etched in his mind, like the moment it was announced that John F. Kennedy had been shot. The family was home from church. Mom was in the kitchen making her famous pot roast.
The table was set with her best china as usual. In the living room, Dad was listening to Van Patrick doing the pre-game football show from Chicago as the Lions readied to play the Bears.
Jim raised the lid on Mom’s roast. He leaned over to get a good look and a whiff of that slab of beef, potatoes, carrots, and gravy. Mom’s pot roast was his favorite meal, next to her meat loaf, or fried perch, which was usually served on Friday. Mom watched him with a smile, waiting for his usual compliment.
“Holy cow!” Dad bellowed from the front room. “The Japs just attacked Pearl Harbor. Those sons-o’-bitches!”
Dad never swore in the house—this had to be bad. Mom and Jim ran into the living room.
The President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was addressing the nation. “This morning, December 7, 1941, the Imperial Government of Japan willfully and without provocation attacked the United States of America’s Naval Fleet at Pearl Harbor.”
The United States was going to war…
Pam pulled into the drive-thru at McDonald’s. There were three cars in front of her. The pleasant voice came over the speaker. Pam gave the order to the screen and pulled up to “the first window.”
Jim handed Pam a ten-dollar bill and told the girl to keep the change.
Pam pulled back onto Kelly Drive and headed south to Holy Cross Hospital. Morning traffic was heavy. The sun was now rising over the buildings, suggesting a clear day ahead. Pam parked the car, and Jim entered the hospital hand-in-hand with his granddaughters.
This was just check-in. He had already filled out the admission papers and the blood work had been done the week before. His name was at the top of the list.
The receptionist pointed to her left. “Down the hall, Mr. Bradley, to the second set of elevators, up to the third floor. Turn right, and you will see the door marked ‘Pre-Op.’ You can go with him, ma’am. There’s a waiting room next to Pre-Op.” The receptionist looked up at Jim. “Have you had anything to eat or drink, Mr. Bradley?”
“Nope, and I sure am thirsty and hungry.”
“Well. You have a good day,” she replied.
Jim didn’t need to hear that. How was he going to have a good day? People said dumb things all the time that meant nothing—stupid things like “have a good day” as you were about to get your gut slashed open and your insides dumped onto some cold, metal table.
Why am I letting this bother me? Jim thought. No coffee, no caffeine kick, no food, not much sleep. Maybe I’m hallucinating. Calm down. In situations like this Lois used to tell me to stop acting like an old fool. Her voice filled his mind as the elevator doors closed. ‘Will you stop it, Jim. She’s just doing her job.’ Lois would be right again—she always was.
The elevator stopped at the third floor. Jim hoped the door might not open. If it was stuck, he could spend the day with Pam and the girls between the second and third floors. They might postpone the operation for a week, or maybe cancel it altogether.
The door opened. Damn. He looked around to make sure he hadn’t said that out loud so the girls would hear. They turned right down the hall to the door marked “Pre-Op.”
As they entered, the girls spotted the book shelves and magazines on a table in the corner. They looked up at Pam, and she gave them the go-ahead. Jim and Pam got in line for the reception window behind two old men with their wives. Jim hoped he didn’t look as scared as they did.
“May I help you?” the volunteer behind the desk asked as his turn came.
“Jim Bradley. Scheduled for surgery at eleven.”
She fingered down her list and found him. “Have you had anything to eat or drink this morning?”
“No,” Jim snapped. “I was told not to.” Lois’s voice came to him again. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I miss my coffee, and I’m a little grouchy this morning.”
“Are you allergic to any medication?”
“That’s another question I’ve been asked twenty times…no.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Bradley. We have to ask. Have a seat, you will be called shortly.”
They walked over to where the girls were looking at magazines and sat down.
Pam had been quiet. She reached over and put her hand on Jim’s knee and softly whispered, “Everything is going to be just fine, Dad. You’ll see.”
That’s another one of those dumb things people say, Jim thought. She doesn’t know! He had said those same words to Lois five years ago, and she died two months after her operation. Pam means well, but the doctor doesn’t know how extensive this cancer is until he opens me up.
Jim turned to Pam, placed his hand on hers, and nodded. “I pray everything will be okay. I want to be around to attend Jill and Jenny’s weddings someday. I’ll even wear one of those tuxedos.”
Jill heard the comment and curled her nose at her grandfather. “I’m not getting married. I don’t like boys.”
Jim smiled sadly. How he loved these two little girls. He muttered under his breath, looking into her eyes. “We’ll see.”
A USA Today on an empty chair caught his eye—probably left by someone now on the operating table. He picked it up and scanned the front page.
The headlines read: ISRAELIS AND PALESTINIANS FIGHTING, MASS MURDERER CAPTURED IN CALIFORNIA, AND STOCK PRICES FALL SHARPLY.
“So, what’s new?” he asked himself, folding the paper and putting it back. These were the same headlines last month and again last year.
A door opened. “Mr. Bradley,” called a young woman in green operating scrubs holding a clipboard. She stepped into the waiting room.
Jim rose and whispered to Pam, “I thought St. Peter was a big guy dressed in white with wings, sitting behind a telephone book.”
The young woman looked at Jim and grinned. “I heard that. I’m Mrs. Saint Peter. My name is Margaret, and I’ll be prepping you for surgery this morning. Will you come with me?”
“Are you with Mr. Bradley?” Margaret asked. “I’ll come get you when he is all settled.”
Pam nodded and sat back down. The girls watched intently.
Jim picked up his bag, and he and Margaret disappeared through the double doors.
They walked down a dimly lit hallway into a bright large room.
Nurses scurried between cubicles framed by curtains. The room was cold. “Here, Mr. Bradley. You’re in number seven. Please remove all your clothes and place them in this plastic bag. Do you wear dentures or have any partials?”
“Do you wear hearing aids?”
“Please put this gown on and get up on the bed. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She smiled as she left, closing Jim inside the curtains.
Well, here we go, he thought, as he unbuttoned his shirt. He stripped, folded his clothes, and stuffed them into his gym bag. He put on the gown, but couldn’t tie it behind his head. “I wonder if there’s a man alive who can tie one of these damn things,” he mumbled.
He lay on the bed, pulled the cool sheet over the lower half of his exposed body, closed his eyes, and let out a big sigh. “God, I’m scared. And here I am praying again when I want something. Why do I always wait to call you when I want something, God? This must really upset you. I’m probably like most people. Why don’t I thank you more? Is being a good person important? I’d like to know, but I hope I don’t get your answer anytime soon. Please get me through this. Give me a little more time, and I’ll try to do better, I promise. I’m sure that’s another line you hear thousands of times a day. But, God, I promise—”
The curtain slid open, and a dark Hispanic-looking man in green scrubs walked into the cubicle with Margaret.
“Mr. Bradley? I am Dr. Ortiz, and I will be your anesthesiologist. I have a few questions and some forms for you to sign. First, are you allergic to any medications?”
Jim crossed his arms and looked up at the lights. He slowly said, “No, and I haven’t had anything to drink or eat.”
“Second, do you want a spinal or general anesthetic?”
“You mean with a spinal I would be awake and watch this thing?”
“No, you’ll be asleep with either choice. Some people prefer one over the other. The spinal may give you a bad headache for a short time in recovery.”
“Forget the spinal,” Jim said. “Just put me to sleep.”
“Okay.” Dr. Ortiz showed Jim the papers he was holding. “Here are the forms allowing some residents to view the procedure. Also, by signing, you are giving permission, once again, for the operation. Do you have any questions for me?”
Jim signed next to the last highlighted X. “How long after surgery before I come out of it?”
“You’ll start coming out in about two hours. Then you’ll be in post-op for about six hours. If all goes as planned, you will be in your room this evening. You’re not going to want to sit up to watch baseball, but you’ll be in your room. The nurse will give you something for pain. They’ll try to get you up tomorrow to walk, if all goes well.”
Jim feigned a smile. Did he have to add that: ‘if all goes well?’
A cute little blonde nurse checked his vitals and started an IV—to his surprise with professional ease and no pain—Dr. Pearson came around the curtain in his game gear. Tommy and Pam were right behind him.
Dr. Pearson shook hands with Jim. “Good morning, Jim. Have any questions for me?”
Tommy stood at the end of the bed and put his hand on his father’s ankle. Pam walked around the bed and gave Jim’s a soft squeeze.
“Doc, I know this is not going to be easy, but I am not ready to fold my tent. I’m giving you permission to cut out what you have to. Get it all. I want to live.”
“I’ll do my best, Jim. I hope you know that.”
In the middle of the doctor’s explanation of the procedure, Scott stuck his head around the curtain.
“Well, Jim, you’ll be ready to go in a few minutes,” Dr. Pearson said as he left.
Pam and Tom left Scott with his grandfather and followed the doctor out of the cubicle.
Scott leaned down and kissed Jim on the cheek. “How you doing, Papa? This is like old times when I was little, and you bribed me with a piece of chocolate for a kiss.”
Jim was lucky. He saw Scott grow up every step of the way becoming a fine young man. Jim attended Scott’s little league baseball games and every high school football game. Scott was a fierce competitor. Jim was proud of him. Scott was a chip off the family block.
“You ready to go? To surgery I mean…” Scott said.
“Don’t worry, Scott. Your papa is going to show you how this Bradley fights!”
Stories had been passed around about Jim Bradley’s days as an athlete. How he won medals for bravery during the war and scars from union fights. Like the time Jim stepped between two men in the plant who were about to tangle. One man had a steel pipe, and the other had a knife.
Everyone backed away, except Jim Bradley. He boldly stepped between the two men. Both were his friends. He placed a steady hand on each of them, spoke softly, and the fight was over. Nothing happened. The story changed slightly over the years. Jim never told it. The men present that day told it often.
An orderly appeared. “It’s time to go, Mr. Bradley.”
“Let’s roll,” Jim said. “Say a prayer for the old guy, Scott.”
Scott bent down and kissed his grandfather’s forehead again. “Good luck. We’ll be praying. I’ll be here when you get out.” He clutched and squeezed his grandfather’s hand, holding back tears.
“Just have a Whopper and large fries waiting,” Jim joked.
Scott smiled. “How about a couple of beers?” he said as his grandfather was wheeled out. The thought that this could be the last time he saw his family struck Jim like a sledgehammer between the eyes. Fear overwhelmed him.
It was time to find out.
The operation took just over three hours. Dr. Pearson, wearing scrubs, pushed through the doors and looked around the now-crowded waiting room. Tommy and Pam rose, and the doctor crossed the room toward them. Tommy tried to read him. Scott held his breath.
Dr. Pearson didn’t waste any time getting to the point. “Your father’s in intensive care. He came through the surgery well.” There was a long pause before the doctor continued. “But I’m afraid I don’t have good news.”
Tommy’s head dropped. Pam put her hand on his shoulder. The girls hugged their mom’s legs. Scott couldn’t catch his breath.
“We removed about twenty inches from your dad’s colon. The cancer was invasive. It has progressed to other organs, and, at his age, that’s not good. I know he won’t be happy when he wakes, but there isn’t any more we could do. Chemotherapy and radiation won’t help at this point. I’m sorry I don’t have better news.”
Tommy was stunned. They hadn’t expected this. Jim had looked so good. Pam hugged the girls.
“I’ve seen cancer at this stage a lot of times,” Dr. Pearson added. “My advice is that we don’t put him through any more procedures than necessary. We’ll make him comfortable and control the pain.”
Pam hugged the girls tighter, muffling their questions: “Is Papa going to be okay? What does the doctor mean?”
Tommy asked, “How long does he have, Doc?”
“Maybe six months. We really can’t tell, and it won’t be easy for him. The best we can do is manage the pain and make him comfortable. I’m really sorry I don’t have better news.” The doctor rose and left the room.
The Bradley family sat and stared at the floor. Scott walked to the window then turned back to his family and let the tears flow. “Why didn’t I spend more time with Papa? How many times did I turn down weekends at the cottage, ball games, fishing trips, walks in the woods? I thought Papa would live forever.”
Jim got to his room from post-op just after seven. The family stood in the hall while the nurses organized him and hooked up all the medical equipment. He was heavily sedated and barely conscious. There was a tube down his nose to his stomach, an IV with a morphine pump and other devices to monitor his vital signs. The nurses finished getting Jim settled and told the family they then could spend a few minutes with him.
Jim opened his eyes and looked around the room, trying to focus. Tommy kissed his dad on the forehead. Jim reached for his son, but all the wires and tubes made moving impossible.
“Boy, I could use a cold beer,” Jim mumbled.
“I’ll bet you could, Dad. I’d love to have one with you.”
Jim kept opening and closing his eyes. “What did the doctor say?”
“He said everything went as expected.”
“Did they get it all?”
“I’m not sure, I don’t know. We’ll talk more with the doctor.”
“You never were a very good liar, son.”
“Dad, just rest. Dr. Pearson will be here in the morning. He’ll answer all your questions.”
While Tommy held his father’s hand, Jim closed his eyes and fell asleep.
Scott told his mom and dad to go home. He would stay with Gramps. Scott sat as close to the bed as he could, looking at this rugged old man. He thought, Someday this could be me. That’s life, it just keeps repeating itself. Like a wheel, you’re born, you grow up, go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, they grow up, you get old, and Bingo! you’re gone. The wheel just keeps rolling, over and over again. The story doesn’t change.
Scott hadn’t thought like this before, but seeing his grandfather—who had always been so strong, so independent and self-reliant—hooked up to all this machinery gave Scott a feeling of helplessness.
He walked to the window and looked across the parking lot to the city. In the distance, the expressway looked like a long snake of lights leading people home. Rain fell against the window, blurring the vision.
Jim stirred and groaned. Scott turned and quickly went to him.
“Get the nurse, Scott. I’m really hurting.”
The nurse responded to the call button in seconds. “What can I do for you, Mr. Bradley?”
“The pain,” he groaned.
“Where does it hurt?”
“My stomach…all over.”
The nurse pulled down the covers and raised Jim’s gown. The incision shocked Scott. It ran from Jim’s pelvic area almost all the way to his heart. It was a twelve to fifteen inch, red gash held together by staples. It was ugly.
After replacing the gown and the covers, the nurse guided Jim’s hand to a blue switch on the IV line next to his bed. “This is for pain, Mr. Bradley. It’s morphine. You just press it, and the medicine automatically goes into your IV. Use it as often as you need.”
He pressed the switch twice. The nurse checked the monitors, made some notes on his chart at the foot of the bed, and left.
Scott sat down next to his grandfather again. “How’s that stuff working Gramps?”
Jim looked up at his grandson and smiled—the morphine must have kicked in. “It only hurts when I laugh, so don’t make me laugh.”
Scott smiled back and shook his head. Even in all this pain, Papa still tried to make people smile.
“You don’t have to stay, Scott. I’m going to be doing a lot of sleeping. You go on home.”
Scott sat there holding his grandfather’s hand. Jim softly squeezed Scott’s hand and fell asleep. Scott stayed until midnight.
Tommy and Pam talked as they drove home in the Mercedes. Big decisions had to be made. Pam’s sister had picked up the girls in the afternoon, took them to supper, and then to her home for the night.
“What are you thinking?” Pam asked.
He squinted through the steady rain and heavy traffic. “I don’t know. We can’t take care of Dad at home. I’ve got to work, and you don’t have any experience. We can’t have a nurse move in. We don’t have the room. I guess the last resort is we have to look at a nursing home.” He merged into traffic and worked his way into the far-left lane. Traffic began moving faster, but it was still stop and go.
“He won’t like that,” Pam said.
“I know, but we have to do what’s best for him and the family. He can’t go home. He can’t move in with us. So, what’s left? He’ll understand it’s for the best.”
“I think you’re being overly optimistic,” Pam said, as she turned away.
Nothing was said until they turned into the driveway.
“What about his house?” Pam wondered aloud. “All his things?”
“I really haven’t thought that far ahead,” Tommy said getting out of the car. He put his arm around Pam’s shoulders. “I’ll stop over tomorrow and let his neighbors know what’s happening. I’m sure they’re all wondering what’s going on.”
The next day, Pam and Tommy got to the hospital midmorning. Pam’s sister still had the girls so she and Tom would be free to be at the hospital and care for Jim. While Tommy looked for the nurse in charge of his father, Pam went to Jim’s room.
Tommy leaned on the counter surrounding the nurse’s station. “How did Mr. Bradley do last night?”
“Not very well but that was expected. No one goes through this type of surgery well, and at his age, it’s even tougher.”
“Has the doctor been in to see him?”
“Yes, and that didn’t go well either. Your father read him the riot act. Dr. Pearson explained he did all he could and that seemed to calm down your father. We are trying to get him up for a short walk.” She handed Tommy the doctor’s card. “Dr. Pearson said to give him a call. He would like to talk to you.”
“Thanks,” Tommy said, tapping the corner of the card on the counter. “And please don’t let the old guy get to you. He’s all bark.”
The nurse smiled. “We can handle him.”
When Tommy went into the room, Pam was wiping Jim’s face with a cold wash cloth. He looked years older than when he signed into the hospital the day before. Jim was upset.
“Dad, you look great.” Tommy lied.
“I feel like shit, and I know I look like shit. They won’t let me have anything to eat or drink.” He groaned. “I want some coffee.”
“Be patient, Dad. You can’t put anything in your stomach for another twenty-four hours. They want you to get up and try to walk. Can you do it?”
“I can get up and polka if they’d give me some coffee!”
Two nurses came in to help Jim sit up. They slowly turned him to the side of his bed, put slippers on his feet, and helped him out of bed. He shuffled out the door and down the hall with a nurse on one arm and Tommy on the other. After only ten feet, they turned back to his room. Jim was exhausted.
While Jim rested, Tommy went to the pay phone in the hall and called Dr. Pearson. “It’s Tom Bradley, Doc. What do we do now?”
“We’ll keep your father in the hospital for about a week. He won’t be discharged unless he has twenty-four-hour care. Can you manage?”
“I don’t see how,” Tommy said. “Pam and I aren’t good at this sort of thing, and we don’t have the room.”
“Well, then I suggest a nursing facility until he gains strength and can walk on his own. Then we’ll re-assess his situation. There are a couple excellent facilities in the area.”
“I don’t know how well you know my dad, but he’s not going to take this well. You’ll have to help us, Doc.” Tommy wasn’t looking forward to this conversation with his father.
Dr. Pearson continued, “Someone from Social Services will visit him. They know how to handle these situations. They will give you the names of a couple places. You can check them out then make a decision. Take your time. Your dad will be in rehab for a while. I’ll be by to see him this evening when I make my rounds. I’ll talk to him.”
“Thanks, Doc. We’ll start checking around in the morning.”
On the third day after surgery, Jim needed less morphine. The tube was removed from his nose, and he had his first cup of coffee and some Jell-O. Around ten a.m. an orderly brought a tray with a mirror and some warm water and soap. He handed Jim his shaving kit. Shaving didn’t make Jim feel better. He only did it because the nurse told him Father Provechio, from St. Cecelia’s called and said he was coming by later for a visit.
When he was alone, Jim took Lois’s memory-stuffed Bible from his bag, held it lightly to his tender chest, and looked out the window. The sun was beaming through puffy white clouds. He closed his eyes and drifted into memories of happy days with Lois. He missed her so…
He thought back to the first time he saw her. He was in the sixth grade and on the playground. Lois was sailing back and forth on a swing. His eyes followed her blonde ponytail tied back with a blue ribbon. Her short blue dress billowed as the swing brought her closer to him then would flatten against her legs as she arced away. Her smile was so bright and cheerful, it gave the sun a run for its money. She glanced his way as the swing went higher. They made eye contact. “I’m going to marry that girl,” he thought.
And he did…
Jim was asleep when Scott arrived with a box of Saunders Chocolates and a fishing magazine. He sat quietly, looking out the window, occasionally glancing back at his grandfather.
Father Porvechio tapped on the door and poked his head around the corner. “Is this Jim Bradley’s room?”
Jim’s eyes opened at the sound of his parish priest’s voice. “Yes, Father, come in.”
Jim perked up at the sight of the short, heavy sixty-year old man in a black suit. They had been friends for more years than either wanted to count.
“Excuse me for not getting up, Father.”
“Hi, buddy, that’s all right. I know what surgery can do to us old guys. I had my ruptured appendix out two years ago and couldn’t sit up for a week.” He looked over at Scott. “Who’s this young man?”
Jim followed the priest’s eyes and noticed Scott for the first time. “Oh, Scott, I didn’t hear you come in. This is Scott, my grandson, Father. He’ll be a sophomore at Michigan State this fall.”
“You were asleep when I got here. I brought you a box of Sunders Chocolates and a fishing magazine.” Scott glanced toward the priest then back at his grandfather. “Do you want me to leave, Papa?”
“No, no, stay. I’d like you to get to know Father Porvechio. He’s a great guy. He was there when your grandma died.”
The priest smiled and pulled a small prayer book from his coat pocket. “What do you say we pray, Jim?”
Jim closed his eyes. Father Porvechio placed his hand on Jim’s chest. He asked God to bless him, look after him, and hold him in the palm of His hands. The priest’s voice was soft and strong. He pulled a small silver container from his pocket, opened it, took out a host, blessed it, and gave Jim Communion. As Jim held the Eucharist in his mouth, Father Porvechio put his hand on Jim’s head and prayed in Latin.
“Thank you, Father, for coming,” Jim said softly.
“We don’t know why God does what he does,” Father Porvechio said. “We are just called upon to accept that His Will be done. Just continue to believe in Him, and He will be with you every step of the way. We’ll talk again. Now I have to go. There are six other Catholics waiting for me. I’ll stop by again tomorrow.”
The priest shook Scott’s hand. “Take care of your grandfather, Scott. He has done so much for our church over the years. The church would have fallen down around our ears, if your grandfather hadn’t been there to fix everything. He has always been there for anyone who needed anything. Now he’s the one who needs us.”
Scott choked back a lump in his throat and nodded his head in agreement.
Father Porvechio put his hand on Jim’s shoulder. “God is with you, Jim.” The priest patted Jim’s shoulder and left.
Scott opened the box of chocolates, set them on the bedside table, and said he was dirty and smelly from work and had to go home and shower. Dinner was in the hall anyway and would soon be in the room.
Later that night, Jim was unable to sleep. He lay watching the lights from the street dancing through the window and across the ceiling.
“Well, maybe I’m going to get some answer to those questions I have secretly asked all these years. Will I spend eternity with Lois? What about guys who have been divorced and remarried three times—do they spend time with all three wives? Are they even in heaven? They promised before God to love and honor till death then bailed out. What about those guys?
“And the Ten Commandments—we should love one God. Are Muslims in heaven? How about Buddhists and Indians, are there different heavens for them? The Bible says to believe in God and His Son, and you’re in.
“Is Hitler in heaven? How about Capone, a nice Catholic boy from Chicago? Am I going to be able to have my morning coffee on a cloud and look across the sky at Attilla the Hun? What about ‘Don’t judge lest ye be judged? We have judges. They judge every day. Are they in heaven?
“How about: don’t look at a woman and lust. I have—I’m guilty. A man looks at a Victoria Secret catalog. Guilty. We see those babes on TV, dancing in short, tight skirts—guilty.
“I would love to get some answers. But not too soon—I can wait.”
© 2018 by Larry Bielat