Kevin O'Hara: My Dad and Larry Bird

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PITTSFIELD — One wintry December afternoon years ago, my mother rang me at home, sobbing. "Kevin, your father has taken to the bed," meaning he had given up on life. No surprise, because he'd been slipping away for months. Dad had always been a man of great vitality, a little dynamo with a sharp wit, who hated the thought of growing old. But his "taken to the bed," at age 75, came as a great shock to his family.

Things only got worse a month later when his younger sister died suddenly in New York. I went into my parents' bedroom to break the news, and he took her death so hard that he actually keened — the Irish version of the Bible's "weeping and lamentation." For weeks thereafter we could do little to lift his spirits, and finally had no choice but to admit him to Jones Two on BMC's psychiatric wing.

Remarkably, Dad's depression lifted that very first day, for he found his admission a homecoming of sorts, having worked in the hospital's maintenance department for years. By the third day, however, he had fallen back into a dark hole. But even at that low ebb, he retained some of his old waggishness.

I heard about one morning group session — a survivors-on-a-deserted-island exercise — where he simply walked out while the therapist was assigning roles. When asked where he was going, my dad pulled his unlit pipe from his mouth, and replied, "Forgive me, but I've decided to swim home."

The following evening, Dad literally took a nosedive. At the time, Jones Two wasn't a locked ward, and since Dad knew the hospital inside out, it was easy for him to skip out while the other patients were headed to the unit's kitchen for dinner. He hobbled down the stairs to rehab on the first floor, slipped past the nurses' station, and headed to the north end of the building.

OUT THE WINDOW

In the meantime, my longtime friend, Colin Harrington, a therapist on duty that evening, had noticed his escape and given pursuit down the stairwell. Reaching the first floor hallway, he caught a glimpse of Dad disappearing into the last room on the right, and arrived at the door just in time to see Dad jump out the window. It was a week before Christmas, and a heavy snow had just fallen. A lucky thing because it helped cushion his fall. Only eight feet, but no small matter at his brittle age.

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By the time Mom and I arrived at the hospital, Dad was back in his bed, sporting a snout the size of a goose egg. Needless to say, his leap was the "jump heard around BMC." In response, administrators called for a thorough "root cause analysis," to see what went wrong, and how to avoid such mishaps in the future.

As eyewitness, Colin was called upon to offer evidence whether Dad's intent was suicidal, or merely to escape. He testified to the belief that the jump was not suicidal, because the patient seemed future-oriented. How so? the committee asked, and Colin replied that in entering the room he had seen the patient straddling the open windowsill — one leg in, one leg out — and lighting his pipe. Therefore, it was Colin's opinion that if Mr. O'Hara was truly intent on dying, he wouldn't have bothered to light up.

Actually, it was Dad's pipe that had broken his nose.

On Christmas Day, we brought Dad home on a four-hour pass for quality time with his family. After Mom's sumptuous meal, my brother Kieran put the Boston Celtics game on the TV. Dad used to love high school basketball, but never warmed up to the NBA. But these were the Larry Bird Celtics, and what a terrific team they had those years.

Kieran then had a great idea to mute the TV and put on the radio, to hear Johnny Most's colorful call of the game, with his signature "fiddles and diddles." That turned the trick, and a passionate fan was born. Dad quickly recovered from his depression, and never took to his bed again. And it was definitely Larry Bird & Company who pulled him out of his doldrums.

Following Dad's hospital release, his five sons celebrated his return to health by taking him to Boston Garden for a Celtics win over the Bad Boys from Detroit. There he enjoyed a memorable afternoon cheering on Number 33 and his terrific mates. In fact, Dad lived to the end of the Larry Bird era. He was 82 when he passed, so our family was blessed with his presence for a bonus seven years of overtime.

Kevin O'Hara is a longtime Eagle contributor. Visit his website at www.thedonkeyman.com


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