The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Old vet, new war

It was the toughest weekend of my adult life.

A week ago they found my dad pacing the halls at 3 a.m. in his best suit, with Bible in hand. The retired World War II vet-turned-pastor thought he was supposed to do a wedding and was wondering why his ride hadn't arrived. Then on Thursday the assisted-living place called and said Dad was found at the outer door at 1 a.m. about to head out into the minus 20 degree Minnesota night. When asked where he was going, he said he thought he was supposed to help someone. He just wasn't sure who. They brought him back to his room. He sat on the bed and sobbed for a half hour, "I think I'm losing my mind."

They called Friday morning and said we needed to find another place for my dad to live, with better security. Now.

I talked to my sisters, then drove to Moorhead to spend the weekend looking for alternatives. We had a pleasant, lucid, wonderful day with fun conversations as if nothing had happened. As if nothing was wrong. We ran errands. Did some banking. Then we stopped at Dilworth [Minn.] Lutheran Church and looked at 10 years of confirmation photos on the rack, naming names of all the kids he had confirmed back in the '50s and '60s. He remembered nearly every one. After a wonderful dinner with my daughter Kathryn, a student at Concordia College, we prepped for bed.

At 3 a.m. I awoke to hear a sobbing prayer, "Please, God, make the blood stop. Oh Lord, hear my prayer." It took more than a moment for me to register where I was and what was happening. I found my dad in the bathroom, dripping in dark red blood. It looked like something from a "CSI" episode. His nose was bleeding mercilessly. Blood covered the sink, the floor, his pajamas. It trailed into his bedroom where the rug and sheets and wastebasket were caked. I pulled the emergency cord by his bed. Two nurses appeared and worked on him for 45 minutes while I mopped, sprayed and prayed. It finally stopped. He finally slept, propped up in his lift chair. I dozed on the couch 5 feet away.

Saturday morning we drove to Jamestown to a place where my sister Ruth had lined up an appointment. It's a nursing home where some of her friends have parents. Good reputation. Only blocks from her house. Bright, clean, cheerful. All one level. Nice chapel. "Good food," said three of the residents we interviewed. The folks wear wristbands that trigger an alarm if anyone happens to wander out in the middle of a North Dakota night. We shared a nice dinner. He took a long nap. Supper. Then we watched "PT-109" and "Casablanca," back to back.

After "PT-109," the old soldier pastor who had served in the Pacific during World War II thought out loud: "I wonder how many guys were left behind on those islands? Simply never found. Never rescued. How lonely that must have been."

While "Casablanca" played, Dad clearly remembered and chuckled at the lines: "Play it again, Sam ...." "We'll always have Paris ...." "Here's looking at you, kid." As the credits rolled, Dad said: "I saw that movie in Los Angeles in January 1943, just before I shipped out." Moments later the announcer said, "'Casablanca' was first aired in Los Angeles in January 1943." He remembered.

Bright and early Sunday morning we attended my sister's church, Trinity Lutheran in Jamestown. At coffee we were served by a woman who introduced herself as Mrs. Erstad. "Her son Darin is the World Series champ outfielder," Dad told me on the side.

We introduced our dad, Pastor Ray, to both of Trinity's pastors. I told them they'd be getting a new retired pastor joining the church soon. "We'll have to put you to work," they joked. On the drive back to Moorhead, out of the blue, my dad asked: "What should I do if they ask me to preach?"

"What do you want to do?" I asked.

He thought for a moment: "I think I'll let the younger guys do it. I could just do some visitation for them at the nursing home. Bring bulletins. Cheer some of the old people up."

Dad turns 90 this year.

We stopped at Hornbackers and bought eggs, bread, Depends. I remembered from college biology that potassium helps blood clot, so I bought extra bananas. Granddaughter Kathryn came over and helped me load Grandfather's grandfather clock and a nice oak table into the Subaru. "Better take 'em now," Dad told her.

I put Dad to sleep for his afternoon nap, kissed him and stroked his hair. He patted my hand. "I don't know how much time I have," he said before drifting off.

"I know, Dad. I know."

I watched him sleep for a while before I left. Then I drove out of the parking lot. And then I drove back and watched him sleep some more.

Here's looking at you, Dad.

Check out this week's articles:

cover5Christian Zionism: (right) It challenges our Lutheran commitments.

How do we respond?: Although we live in hope that Jesus will return, God calls us to live in the here-and-now.

Key terms: From "Apocalyptic" to "Zionism."

Hollis Johnson's Pentecost: The music had a sacred source ... they sang of the infinite love of God.

Also: Listen and learn.

Also: Economy affects global mission.

Also: Synod assemblies begin.

Read these articles at our front page ...

This week on our blog:

Amber LebermanSonia Solomonson blogs about being drenched in grace.

Amber Leberman (right) writes about reality TV.

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