The last year has been full of ups and downs with my dad living at the nursing home. We have come to know a lot of really special people and some of them have died. My dad recently said he feels like all of the room numbers are placed on a roulette wheel and when your number comes up, you are outta there! At first I chuckled but I think he’s on to something. The visual of the roulette wheel has stuck in my head and it helps to take away some of the sting of loss. It feels more like death is not this scary thing, but just a game of chance. We started to think of the people we have lost in the last year and we stopped counting at 15, it was too overwhelming. The odds of your number being called increases when you are in a group of people over 80 years old, so it is not surprising but it is still tough. Every time my dad calls and says,”I have some sad news.” I brace myself for who it will be.
I just got off the phone with my dad and he told me our dear friend Leroy died a few minutes ago. Leroy was one of the best people I have ever met. He was a big guy like my dad and just as silly. He had massive hands, like big bear paws. He loved fancy jewelry and often wore flashy rings. In the last few months he got really into having his nails painted. It was so inspiring how self expressed he was. It made me smile so wide seeing these massive masculine hands with bright red nail polish with white polka dots that he flashed in my face. “Whatcha think?” he’d snicker.
January 19th was Leroy’s 88th birthday. I got him a musical card with a dancing pickle and wrote him a little note about how much joy he brought into my life just by being Leroy. He showed that dancing pickle to everyone in the building. He was always singing or telling jokes, making everyone smile. He had the best memory of anyone I’ve ever met. He told me stories of his childhood, stories about his late wife, and dirty jokes. Every time I saw him, which was multiple times a week, he would ask me to marry him. I always said yes.
When the weather was nice he would sit outside in his wheelchair. He would be so happy to see me pull in the parking lot. He was my personal welcoming committee. I would sit on the bench next to him and we would talk for a few minutes before I would go inside to visit my dad. Sometimes he would tell a silly joke or a story from his past or sometimes we would sit together with our eyes closed and feel the warmth of the sun in silence. He had a calming affect on me. No matter how amped up from the day I was, Leroy helped center and ground me on my way into the nursing home.
During the winter he would get cold so he would ask for a “wrap around” which was a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. On particularly cold days he would have multiple blankets wrapped around and over his head like a hooded mummy on wheels. I always giggled seeing him wheeling down the hall, a massive pile of blankets just with a small hole for his eyes, singing some song from the 50’s. It was a sight to see.
Sometimes, he would stop me in the hall, point at my purse and ask, “You got chip money in there?” I liked his style and would buy him a little bag of chips from the vending machine. Even though we’d get in trouble from the nurses, it made us both laugh.
I loved Leroy. I loved his spirit, his sense of adventure, his warmth and his kindness. I love that he brought joy and laughter to my dad and to everyone he met. He will be greatly missed everyday by my dad and the other women that sat with him at meal times. Activities wont be the same without his snarky commentary. I miss him beyond words and going to the nursing home will not be the same for me.
Leroy, you were a special man. I will miss hearing your voice yell out to my dad, “Here comes your beautiful daughter!” When the warmth of the sun hits my face I will think of you.