Can he find his way back to us?

A light dimmed in our family last week at Christmas. And we don't know if it will ever burn brighter again.

Going in we knew Christmas 2007 was shaping up to be different than all of the previous Dec. 25ths in our 34-year marriage. The day before Thanksgiving my wife, Carolyn, had foot surgery that placed her in a special boot and on walking wounded status for the next few months. That translated into a great deal of pain and no mobility, not even for Christmas shopping.

And, for the first time ever our two daughters, 25-year-old Kristen and 28-year-old Jessica (and her family) would not be joining us for the big day.

The table was set for an odd holiday and in a way nobody could have foretold, that's just what would happen. Joining us for Christmas were my parents, Frank and Margie Forbes (88 and 86 years old respectively) who recently moved to McMinnville.

My dad, a true patriarch, is a self-made man, a success story and a bonifide American hero. He was the starting quarterback for Stanford University football teams back in the mid-40s. In 1941 he went to war and became a bomber pilot for the United States Army Air Forces, which was the predecessor of the U.S. Air Force.

Once the air war in Europe during World War II got into full swing, pilots and their crews were limited to no more than 25 missions they were allowed to fly. Because my dad was one of the first pilots into the war, he flew - and trust me, this is not a typo - 317 missions out of North Africa into Southern Europe, especially Italy.

After the war he went on to a highly successful career with Aetna Life and Casualty (insurance), ranching (at one point he was a partner in the second largest cattle operation in Colorado) and vice president in charge of insurance for what was then Pacific Southwest Airlines.

He and my mother have been married 63 years and they have had a full and enjoyable life together.

After a lovely Christmas celebration, complete with dinner and a movie, the four of us retired for the evening. The dawning of Dec. 26 brought it ample evidence that our lives had changed forever.

While we didn't know it at the time, my dad had suffered a stroke during the night. His speech was off, his confusion apparent and his coordination was a problem.

We got him to the hospital in McMinnville where a battery of tests revealed what we had suspected: He did indeed have a stroke. Doctors and nurses were intent on treating the wreckage; my mom primarily was left picking up the pieces.

Today as I write this almost a week after the stroke, he is still trying to find his way back to us. His speech remains, at times, garbled, he struggles to feed himself, it's difficult for him to walk and the glow that used to emanate from his eyes seems dimmer.

He struggles to name his children, to say where they reside or what he personally is doing. His long-term memory seems intact, not surprisingly, but he struggles with the short-term items. How far back short-term ends and long term begins remains to be seen.

Our hope is that the trooper that he is will provide him the strength to fight the battle for life and living. Our reality is that at this point the future is one big question mark.

My mom struggles to make sense of all this, of having to all of a sudden take over his tasks - driving, writing bills, etc.

They are card-carrying members of Tom Brokaw's 'Greatest Generation' and their impact on family and country has been significant.

I hope my 'old' dad can find his way back to my mom and us again. At this point in my parents' lives, I would like for them to have a happier ending.

To many of you in this community, I remain a stranger. Still, I've been impressed during my seven years here by the powerful goodness that comes out of Lake Oswego. If any of you have it in you to think good thoughts, perhaps to offer up a prayer for Frank Forbes, I would be very appreciative.

Thank you and best wishes for a happy 2008.

Martin Forbes is the editor of the Lake Oswego Review.

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