The following is an article that Lola Gillebaard wrote which won the Readers Digest Writers Award. It was published in six different countries.
OLD ENOUGH TO DIE
by Lola Gillebaard
He shuffled toward the chair and groped for its right arm, clutching it as he sat. The radio blared on the table next to him, and he leaned closer to hear the morning news. He put one sock on, then rested.
Even though he'd lost his sight, he knew that the sock was tan. His wife always put that color in the upper right-hand corner of his top dresser drawer. He was putting on the second sock when it happened. "Sue, I'm sick," he hollered, "I'm sick."
His wife was just coming up the stairs and saw him heaving violently. She rushed to the linen closet for towels. When she got to him, he was slumped in the chair. "Mickey, don't leave me!" she screamed. Her husband's eyes were closed, but his lips moving.
She yanked out the radio's plug and put her ear against his lips. "I won't, Sue, I won't," he whispered. Then his body slipped to the floor. Sobbing his name, she put the towels beneath his head, and ran to call for help.
* * *
My father was unconscious thirty-six hours. The doctor said he'd suffered an abdominal aneurysm, but his damaged blood vessel could be replaced with plastic tubing. My mother refused. She and Dad had agreed that octogenarians had no business in surgery to prolong life, and the doctor held no hope for recovery. Dad was in the hospital three weeks, then went to a nursing home.
Mom had insisted that I delay my flight across the country until Dad's condition stabilized. When I arrived in North Carolina from California, I dreaded seeing my father in a nursing home, but he looked much better than I expected. He was clean-shaven, and the little fringe of hair that remained around his head was neatly trimmed. He smelled good.
He grabbed for my hand when he heard my voice, asking about my husband and our four sons. I said they were fine. He asked me the date and what time it was. I told him. He asked me again. Then he asked me about my husband and sons. While answering, I rubbed the top of his head and remembered how he used to do that himself when he was arguing a hot political issue. He held Mom's hand and looked like a drowsy little kitten who enjoyed being stroked. His contented expression reminded me of how he made me feel when I was little.
One summer night when I was five, I asked him to come outside and watch me ride my bicycle. He was reading the paper, but he accepted my invitation. I had pajamas on, and he waved as I pedaled in front of him, smiling the same big smile as on the day he'd announced that I had a brand new baby brother. I smiled back.
Just then my left pajama leg caught in the bicycle chain, and I fell. My leg was bleeding, and I was crying. He ran toward me and, with his pocket knife, separated the shredded pajama leg from the bicycle chain. He carried me into the house, washed my leg, and told me everything would be all right.
I cried even louder then, because I knew that next he would reach for the big bottle of Merthiolate. While holding me tight and dousing my leg with the blazing pink liquid, he blew as hard as he could. He looked like a picture in my storybook of the old north wind in darkest winter. He made me laugh while I was still crying.
I snuggled against his chest. He told me about how little I was when I was born, about how I surprised everyone by coming two months early, and how the doctor said I'd never make it. When I made it to two days old, the doctor said, "Okay, you may as well give her a name." My mom said, "Lola Mehegan Dawson."
"My God," the doctor said, "that name'll kill her for sure!"
Then, my dad said, "Cutie, you were so little that I could have put you in my pocket." I giggled and thought what fun it would be to ride in my father's pocket while he worked at his drugstore, especially when he was making banana splits. I was sure he would dip some bites into his pocket just for me, when no one was looking.
Now he couldn't even get well. He looked tired. My mom searched his face as if she wanted to tell him something. But she said nothing.
Dad had a private nurse, but Mom had been staying with him in the afternoons. I planned to stay this afternoon and night to give them a break. Dad couldn't feed himself. He had to be turned every hour and have his body rubbed with a special lotion.
The afternoon went well. Dad slept a lot, though he and I did have a frequent conversation about age. "Cutie, how old am I?"
"Dad, you're eighty-eight. You had your eighty-eighth birthday just before you got sick."
"Good. I thought I was older."
"Dad, how old did you think you were?"
He said, "I feel like I'm a hundred." We laughed. And then he said, "Cutie, I'm tired."
I rubbed his head and he went back to sleep. Later, he woke up and asked how old he was. "Dad, you're eighty-eight."
A long stillness followed, and I thought he had gone back to sleep. Instead, he said, "Eighty-eight years old...That's old enough to die." I was glad that he couldn't see the tears in my eyes.
Mom was waiting for me the next morning with coffee brewing. She searched my face for news of Dad. I told her I had enjoyed my night with him and what he had said. She said that she knew Dad was tired. Tears started, but she dried her eyes, and insisted that I go to bed. When I awoke, the house was quiet. By my watch, I'd slept four hours. I looked out the bedroom window. The car was not in the driveway. I washed and dressed and decided to catch a bus to the nursing home.
Lunch trays were being removed when I got there. I met an orderly carrying Dad's tray. The food had not been touched. His door was half-open. I saw Mom leaning over him, holding his hand in hers.
Dad's eyes were closed, but Mom was pressing her cheek against his. Her lips almost touched his earlobe. She kissed his ear before she spoke. "It's all right, Mick. Don't stay. Don't stay just for me."