Who is Douglas MacArthur?
This will be the cover for my chapbook. The image is one my father drew in pen and ink. It is uncertain whether it was drawn during adolescence or adulthood. At this point, we will never know. Dad passed away in 2013 from a massive stroke. In a previous story, I mentioned flashbacks. Another one was watching Dad have the stroke. Before I get into my feelings about this traumatic incident, I must go into a brief history of why my father is, was, and always will be one of my heroes.
My father, Reginald Freedman, was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on February 16, 1948. This was during a time where Apartheid was still very much in effect. He went to boarding school growing up and served in the South African military. At the age of 20, he had a stroke which debilitated the right side of his body. It took him 2 years to learn how to talk. A couple of years later, he “ran away” to Israel. My mother, who was living in Valley Stream, New York (Long Island), did the same thing. They met while living in Arad, a town off the Dead Sea. Part of their stay was during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. They married (twice) in 1974 and stayed together until my father died in 2013 from a stroke affecting the left side of his body.
One of the scariest parts is that Mom and I watched him have the stroke. Dad was known for sometimes falling asleep in his wheelchair. This was partly because he enjoyed smoking marijuana (all three of us did), but it was also part of having MS since 1999. We heard him snoring and thought nothing of it while Jeopardy! was on the air. The title of this story refers to the Final Jeopardy! answer that night. We did everything we could to wake him up, which included throwing water in his face and shouting in his ears. Nothing worked. Throughout that time, he was breathing heavily and discharge was coming out of his nose. We were still stoned, but we had to come down as quickly as possible before dialling 911. I can never forget that night, especially my dog barking in a panic and my father being carried out unconscious in a stretcher.
The one day I went to see him was the day Mom and I had to make the decision whether or not to take him off life support. After a week, he was not able to breathe on his own. We decided immediately that dad would not have wanted this under the circumstances. It was still a dilemma. Although he was a fighter, he never would have wanted to be completely dependent upon us. That day, we decided to take him off. We thought he would die shortly thereafter. Every day he was in that bed was agonizing, as six days passed before he died. Those were more excruciating than the day itself. Mom gave me the news while I was coming home from class. “Daddy’s gone.”
We buried him three days after it happened. My family is Jewish, so we observed the Shiva period and opened the doors to those wanting to pay their respects. Two days after the burial was Father’s Day. This was devastating, but I felt my world shatter a day later. That was because it was my birthday. That was the first time I was able to cry through that entire period. That was when it all became real.
To this day, I still have visions of him being carried out by the paramedics. Some days, I deal with it better than others. But, I wanted to honour him by using his drawing on the cover. I wanted to put a splash of colour into his shirt, as he was a man who had the the cognition of an analytical chemist, but the imagination of a visual artist.
Reginald Freedman (2/16/1948–6/11/2013)