I have not abandoned the Soldiers Home, or Bingo, but I sure have neglected the website. I have random Soldiers Home notes lying around for That Day When I Have Time to Update—and then, out of nowhere, I’m pulled back in by an update I can’t put off.
My friend Raymond McDade, far and away among my three favorite men in the world, is in the hospital. He is not expected to survive.
Everything happened so quickly and unexpectedly. I just started a new job at work and on Thursday cleared my Friday volunteer Bingo sessions with my new boss.
And this week I really needed a Friday Bingo session at the Soldiers Home—for perspective, for friendship, for a feeling of appreciation and purpose.
I walked in like any other Friday and noticed immediately that Ray was not at his table. I caught up with Dorothy for 10 minutes or so and waved to Harriet and Leo. Dorothy said Ray must be napping.
“Then I’m just going to have to go get his butt out of bed and bring him down here,” I told her.
When I got to Ray’s room, his scooter was there, but his bed was empty. I thought he might be in the restroom, but his new roommate asked, cryptically, “How is he?”
“Where is he?” I asked in return.
Ray’s roommate told me Ray had collapsed the night before, and when the EMTs arrived, he was unconscious and not breathing. Ray was in the hospital, if he was alive.
My heart was beating too hard. I kind of jogged to the nursing station and asked which hospital he’d been taken to. I stopped in Bingo and told the other volunteers I had to leave. I told Dorothy where I was going. She was shocked, too, which is shocking in itself: Usually everyone at the Soldiers Home knows everyone’s business.
I cried on the way to the hospital. Selfishly, I thought: This is a really bad time to lose a friend. Unselfishly, I thought: Ray needs to know people care about him.
When I got to his room, his church friends Tony and Kathy were there. Tony had been called because Ray had asked for a priest. Kathy was holding Ray’s hand. They filled me in on a little of the medical background—Ray was comatose upon arrival and not expected to live through Thursday night—and I leaned down to Ray and said, “Hello, Raymond,” right in his good ear.
He opened his eyes and even smiled a little. The three of us sat with him—Kathy holding his hand and me rubbing his shoulder and his head—until Ray’s wife and her daughter arrived. I told Ray I loved him and kissed him goodbye.
Ray made it through Friday and Friday night, and when I called on Saturday, he was alone.
With so many people there on Friday, I didn’t feel as if I’d told Ray everything I’d wanted to tell him, so I went back to the hospital.
He was alone.
For more than two hours I held his hand. He was drugged to the gills but didn’t sleep. Instead he’d doze briefly, raise his eyebrows, wake up and look right at me—and grin. He asked for orange juice. I brushed his hair. I showed him pictures of us on my phone. I reminded him how we’d met, told him he was the best friend ever and ran through a highlight reel of things we’d done together. I told him my parents, my son and my dog love him.
My goal was to smile at Ray every time he looked at me. I think I did this, except for twice: At one point Ray squeezed my hand and said, “Sandy, I’m going to have to go.”
He was looking right at me, but I was not smiling. I was crying. “Where you going, Raymond?” I asked.
“Right here in Orting,” he said.
Half an hour or so later, he looked at me and said, “Somewhere along the line … thank you, Sandy.”
I cried again.
“Thank you, Ray,” I told him.
When his friend Tony walked in, I was leaning over Ray and holding his hand with both of mine.
“Tony,” Ray said, and smiled.
“I’m going to let you boys talk,” I told Ray. I kissed him and told him, again, that I love him.
Thank God I had that chance. Thank God I went to Bingo on Friday.