In a year, everything had changed for Robert Wollman.
It started with walking trouble. But by March, Bob discovered the problem was much deeper than old age.
It was Parkinson’s disease. And on top of that, his cancer had snuck back and wedged itself between his ribs and lungs like a thief in the night.
Bob had survived growing up in foster care, fighting in the Korean War, and the death of his wife of 60 years. But his battle with terminal cancer has been declared a losing one by doctors, giving him less than six months to live. Today he spends his days at the Calvary Hospital Hospice when the only thing the 85-year-old wants is to make his peace at home.
“I feel terrible leaving him there in the hospital every day, and he tells me how lonely he is,” said Steven Wollman, Bob’s son. “It’s a very difficult situation to be in when you see someone you love suffering and you want to help them.”
As much as Steven would love to bring his father home, it’s just not something he can afford to pay for. So to help make his father’s wish come true, Steven has started to raise money on the GoFundMe crowdfunding site. With a goal of $30,000, more than $1,000 has been donated toward Bob’s cause so far as of last weekend.
“I got to tell you, a lot of the people donating are perfect strangers, and I think it’s wonderful that there are people out there who have the heart to help people they don’t know,” Steven said.
After going over the expenses in his head, even half of his goal would be just enough to bring his father home, even if for a little while. Today, the Parkinson’s has stolen Bob’s voice and a bit of his coherency. Some days are better than others, but his plea is still the same. After growing up in an institution like the foster care system, Steven said, his father would rather not die in one.
When he visits Bob, sometimes his eyes are closed and there’s little talking. So to bring joy to his dad, Steven put all of Bob’s Army photos into an album for him to look through in the hospice. Bob enlisted in 1952, serving for two years. The photos, Steven said, help remind him of who he was.
“He’s disappearing on me and becoming a shell of a person, and that’s really hard to deal with every day. And it’s tearing me apart,” Steven said, through tears. “It really is.”
Bob worked hard with his own business in Mount Vernon, living in Riverdale since 1963. In fact, he moved his family to the community the same weekend another one-time resident, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. And he has watched the neighborhood change and grow over the years.
“My father was a good guy,” Steven said. “He gave to his community and he gave a lot of himself. And when I went to school, he came to all the school plays. He always stood behind us as a dad. We were a close-knit family, and we still are, even though there aren’t many of us left.”
Steven isn’t Bob’s only visitor, however. His daughter, Stacy Wollman Wojtowitz, visits when she can from Las Vegas, but stays close to home to care for her disabled husband.
His sister-in-law and cousins make their way out to the hospice, too, sometimes. The only one who can’t really make regular visits, Steven said, is Pumpkin, Bob’s Chihuahua, whom he misses dearly.
The GoFundMe money not only will reunite Bob and Pumpkin, but go toward a 24-hour home aide and any other medical equipment he may need.
Steven himself is ill. He suffers from stenosis in his neck as well as flatback syndrome, which is when the lower part of the spine loses it curvature and is basically imbalanced. At one point, Steven was paralyzed for more than a week.
“I’m getting surgery at the end of the month,” Steven said. “I have systemic lupus, and it’s flared up, and I’m on medication for both. It’s really bad, and it’s a lot more than I can handle right now. But my focus is my father.”
Steven would rather not use the money raised on funeral expenses, but instead toward making the rest of his father’s life comfortable.
“With any donation that comes in, it eases my heart a little bit because there are people that care and want to help,” he said. “I’m grateful for everything that’s come in so far, and it all being put toward what it’s needed for. But I hope we can do better because it’s not enough, and I can’t bring him home yet.”
It was a good day for Bob in a recent visit, but at the same time, still a bad one considering he was still in a place he didn’t want to be.
“He put his arms out to hug me and he said, ‘Please get me out of here’, and he just wants to be with me and with his dog and be with his family,” Steven said. “He’s my father and a veteran, and I just want to see the right thing happen to him.”