To the Other Side of Love and Back
By Abigail Thouin
How can I get to the other side to help my dad transition from this life to the next? I ask myself repeatedly, as I watch this mountain of a man sit slumped over with rounded spine in a wheeled chair. Alzheimer’s sucks.
I know he is stubborn, he has always been a fighter. And, now he fights for his life and against, what I perceive to be, his fear of dying and of submitting and surrendering. A tall strong handsome man, oldest son of six sons and born to his German immigrant dad, Herman. And, his Christian Scientist mother, Peg, who was adopted later in life as both her parents died suddenly.
My dad’s dream was to play professional baseball. In 1959, Jack Schomer was #55 for the Chicago Cubs and was drafted from the minors up to the major leagues that spring. His baseball card and team roster included the likes of Ernie Banks. Dad was a right-handed pitcher; and his career, thrown away by a simple flip of a car in Colorado during spring training.
The diamond of the baseball field echoes and mirrors that of the solitaire engagement diamond on my mother’s hand; marquise cut to match that of his other beloved; the baseball field.
Dad and Mom formed a new team. We grew up with Louisville sluggers and leather gloves in every corner of the house. All 5 of us kids infielders, we played t-ball but, only my three brothers went on to play at Notre Dame, Brown and Yale. It was their passion. Baseball stitched us together as a family. None of my brothers made it to the major leagues like dad, well at least not in baseball.
Back in the 1970s through the 1980s; Dad’s baseball scout and lifelong friend, Tony Lucadello was like a third grandfather who came to visit us regularly from Toldedo, Ohio. He was a prolific storyteller. Tony’s enthusiasm and love of the game was contagious. He mentored all three of my brothers and their baseball careers. He even guided me in my competitive tennis and gymnastics with his famous: “hey, hey, hey” mantra with advice to be ready with a stance of weight on the balls of the feet to be agile and ready for both shortstop or volley on the tennis court. Or, Tony's legendary advice to, “Be the ball”.
In the 1980s, Tony had a writer by the name of Mark Windgardner, visit our family as he was gathering tidbits for Tony’s story in a later published book, the Prophet of the Sandlots. To this day, I get the book out and read it to dad and adlib the text stating, “Jack Schomer had three sons: Jason, John and Lincoln" and, my edits of ‘and two beautiful daughters’, since the author, never mentioned Dina or I. Dad laughs every time I read it because he knows, it was all about the boys. Or, was it?
German work ethic. Dad. Home plate: Corporate lawyer, father of 5 and loving husband. Now, a shell of the man he once was. Eyes blue and twinkling but, vacant. Boxed in by his failing body, he is slumped and rounded and benched.
I bargain and I plead as his first base coach and daughter. How his hands tremble, as he chokes up on emotion and, no longer on the bat. His tears fly like foul balls and, when his eyes finally do open with the faintest recognition of my voice, I call that a home run.
And, Mom; her endearing love keeps him companion as she lives only one floor below him at Sunrise Retirement Community. She reads to him daily as she holds his hand. She throws him the softballs to include: Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul, the Lord’s Prayer and a couple of jokes in hopes that he catches and absorbs what he needs.
The fact that Mom is even here today is a miracle. University of Michigan doctors wanted to let her go back in 2008 after she endured a subarachnoid hemorrhage but, dad fought hard. He coached us all by virtue of his actions on the power of never giving up on love. We’ll never know the how’s and why’s of her miraculous recovery but, my inner knowing suspects dad did have something to do with it. He dug her out with a sacrificial bunt or fly at the expense of his very own well-being. He took one for the team.
Over ten hard years, I saw the fear in his eyes with the thought of losing his beloved wife of over 50 years, Gail. I saw how his fight took flight in full force against any Power that would alter the course of his expectations that they would live a long and happy life together; a ball. Years of back and forth in rehabilitation and other serious surgeries mom endured, Dad shouldered it all: for the love of the game. Love is a gift. A present.
Dad’s right shoulder, injured in the car accident that took his pitching arm. It is now convex as he has shouldered much in his almost 80 years. I don’t think it is ironic that his second son, John was in a car accident after his freshman year at Brown which burned his right arm or, that my son, John during his wrestling match his junior year of high school caused a life-threatening injury to his dislocated right clavicle which required immediate surgery. The right side. Where all my current injuries and ailments reside. Right peroneal tendonitis of the right ankle, right hypermobile SI joint and right plantar fasciitis; all are mending but, slowly.
Right, now; this is the side where we live. Our family curse? Maybe. I pray for daily guidance. How can I be of service and how can I help him transition back to home plate?
How can I get to the other side of love and back?
My heart waits for the perfect pitch, as my hands hold onto the batting away of my tears as I attempt to keep my aerial view. But, Dad you have always been my home plate, a constant. My pillar of strength. And now, I stand over you crouching, shoulders slumped and rounded spine. It is now me who is up to bat! Will I swing and miss? Or, will I knock it out of the park? Run home, Jack! Run home, dad!
How do I get to the other side of love and back? The baseball field consists of 4 bases: home, first, second and third. The path flows only one way. From an aerial perspective, looking down, we see a diamond, 4 sides. From home plate, we start off running to the right to reach first base in attempt of fulfilling our dreams. Life happens, and so we divert and turn left to second base. If we’re lucky, we remain and run on the left trajectory from second to third and try to remember why, as we round the corner from third base to home plate, we left home in the first place!
Home plate, where we all begin and where we all end. Life is like a baseball diamond.
Counterclockwise, we start off and run to the right until all there is - is love, left. Home plate.
Perhaps the right sided injuries are in fact the very things that put our family back on course, to round all the bases with a final grand slam?
A baseball diamond and bases all have 4 lines like a box. There are rules to this world and this existence. Life is followed by death. The Soul, like love, is not confined to the boxy body. It cannot be contained.
How do I get to the other side of love and back? I know it is not solely through the body. I understand but, I don’t have to like it. My batting average isn’t all that great with the Official Scorekeeper but, in the Spirit of the Season, the answer lies within the Christmas gift, the box underneath the tree, packaged neatly with a bow and the tag reads:
The present. Love is not a box. There are no ins and outs. No lover. No beloved. And, corners like bases and shoulders, carry the wear and tear of this one-way journey home.
As I spill out my contents from what seems to be from the inside out; I divulge my collective bargaining with God to take me first, if it is His will, so that I may be on the other side of love to greet my Dad when the time comes. I will make the sacrificial bunt or fly to help him round the corner to home plate.
No, love is not a box. There is no inning or outing, only loving. Where walls and lines fade as we stand and face who and what we are: One team, standing in the face of love when ultimately that is all we have left. Where sacrifice like fly balls float through the air.
Love is not a box. Love is not a diamond. Love is a ball. Love is a pitch. Love is a catch. In order to play the bases and the game, we have to be willing to let go of the ball and trust that someone will be there ready to play, to hit it, catch it, and throw it back.
Dad, I see now with the 4 corners of my imagination, how you, through your beloved game, bow and roll inward with your convex shoulders and spine as you implode into mantra and manifestation of your dear friend and mentor's words, “Be the ball”. You are allowing yourself to roll with it and transform one stitch of breath at a time as your skin, like leather softens and holds your circuitious and rolling breath..."Be the ball".....
I get it now. I remember on the beach in Florida in March of 2016, when I prayed while walking the shore line for you to give me a sign. The beach deserted. I was looking down at my feet when what else, a baseball, rolled inches away from my feet, I was ecstatic to look up and to see a father and son playing catch with a baseball. It was a sign! I am just now understanding that your message was beyond just the superficial baseball but, that your Soul is now beyond the battered body's box and, beyond the corners of the baseball field.
And so I ask myself now....
How do I get to the other side of love and back to help you transition? I catch you in my thoughts and write my pitch in an infinite game of baseball. You have, and continue to, transition. It was I that needed your coaching through the wisdom and love of the game.
I'm not a first stringer. But, you have always believed in me. Together, we have made it to the majors. Because life and love is a team sport; we roll with it. "Be the Ball".... to the other side of love and back.
I love you Dad.