So today is my parents’ 61st wedding anniversary, both a happy and a sad day for us. Happy because – in this day when more and more marriages seem to have a shelf life equivalent to how long a quart of milk will last – how many people achieve any kind of loving longevity. Happy because my parents weren’t just married for 58 years when my Dad died, they were crazy in love with each other, best friends, pieces of a puzzle that always fit together.
But it’s sad because – like any good love story you watch on a movie screen or read about in a book – you don’t want it to end, even though logically you know it must. My Mom, God bless her, doesn’t look at today as a sad day. She thinks about the happy times, all the years they had together and all the memories they made, when so many others never have love at all, or have it cut short by illness, or grew apart and never reconnected. My Mom has always been a glass half full person, something I aspire to be and work hard at becoming.
I have 2 stories to share with you, stories I’ve never told before, one for each of my parents. I share them to honor them and to try and demonstrate how much they truly loved each other.
In May 2001, my Mom became very ill with chest pains and was admitted to the hospital, where quickly we learned she needed quadruple bypass surgery. They told us to let her talk to people that night (and we did, putting the phone near her ear and letting her speak to her grandchildren and my sisters) and that – if she made it through the night – they’d perform the surgery the next morning.
Eventually I sent my Dad home to rest and I was back at the hospital at the crack of dawn, resting my head on the side of my Mom’s hospital bed, holding her hand and trying to sleep a little while we waited for them to take her to the operating room. Finally they arrived and I accompanied her there. She had no fear, no apprehension. She believed she was in the best hands possible at the great St. Peter’s Hospital and that all would be well. But . . . as she was wheeled into the room, she stopped the attendants and called me over. “In case anything happens”, she said, “take care of Dad for me”.
That’s all she could think about. She was more worried about what would happen to him, the man who burned a grilled cheese sandwich in the toaster oven when he forgot to take the plastic off the cheese slices, than she was about whether she’d survive. And, honestly, I knew what she meant because my Dad would have been truly lost without her. He wasn’t the same person when she wasn’t around. There was an emptiness in his eyes that only her return could take away.
And fortunately she not only survived, she thrived and has done so very well in the 13 years now since she had the surgery. She looks at every day with optimism and joy and embraces what life either has to offer or throws your way. She rocks our world.
And now for the story of my Dad. As some of you may know, I was the lucky one in my family, the person who got to spend that last night with him in the hospital. We talked a lot that night because we knew, we all knew that the end was very near. So I read him his favorite Bible passages and we talked about what kind of life his grandkids would have and how sorry he was that he wouldn’t see it. I told him he was the best Dad ever (although I think he already knew that) and that it was OK to stop fighting the fight if he was ready to go.
About 5 hours before he died, when he really began to struggle and his ability to speak was becoming compromised, he gestured me closer and he said to make sure my Mom always had flowers on their wedding anniversary. It was the next-to-last thing he ever asked me to do; the last thing was to call my Mom and my sister at 5:00 a.m. and tell them he wanted them at the hospital. They came and he was gone by 8:00 a.m.
So today I honored my Dad’s wishes and bought my Mom a big bouquet of her favorite flowers and told them they were from Dad. I know that he knows I did it and that he’s proud of me. And I made my Mom happy today and he knows that too. How many people get to play a small part in a great love story? I did, I do, and I always will.