Six years ago, I received a phone call from my father. At 88 years of age, and my mother at 86, it had become too difficult for them to make it to the grocery store alone. One of my sons was going to help that afternoon but was held up with something at school. It was early evening and I was almost home after a busy day, feeling tired myself.
Undergoing just a momentary irritation realizing that I needed to return to that side of town from where I had just come, there was no way I would deny my dad’s request due to my minor inconvenience. I had been helping them a lot over the past few years with trips to the doctors, assisting with yard work, and giving ongoing computer lessons. Impressed that they accepted the challenge of learning how to use a computer in their 80’s, my piles of step by step instructions sat dutifully next to the keyboard, untouched. They liked the more personal assistance.
Once at their home, they provided me the handwritten list of staples needed including, low fat milk, canned peaches, and chocolate Ensure. An hour later, I returned with the goods, carried them in, and put them all away with my mother’s help.
My father patted me hard on the back, like he always did, and gave me a big hug, saying, “You’re alright, kid.” Over the years I had discovered this was his way of telling me he loved me. With my own hugs and smiles for both of them, I was off to my home for the night with the promise that I would talk to them the next day.
Mid-morning the following day, I received the dreaded phone call that my father was on the way to the emergency room, not expected to make it. He didn’t.
Nine short months later, I laid next to my mother in her bed rubbing her back. She had been diagnosed terminal just seven weeks earlier and was pretty hazy with the heavy doses of morphine she was receiving. “I love you, mom.” I said, not expecting her to be able to respond but hoping she would hear me.
“I love you, too,” she managed softly and squeezed my arm as best she could.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said reassuringly, holding the tears until I was outside.
Early the next morning, I received the second dreaded phone call that despite my attempts to push reality out of my mind, knew was coming.
As hard as it has been to experience the void of their loss, I am still so grateful for the opportunity to have been with each of them just one more time before they passed from this life. We held no unrevealed feelings, no animosities, nothing that had gone unsaid.
Everyday over the past six years, I have marveled at how powerful love can be. On my wall hangs a frame containing something I wrote and presented to my parents way back in 1995, on their 50th wedding anniversary. It was a short piece called The Old Woman.
The Old Woman
Yesterday, I met an old woman sitting alone by the lake. We struck up a casual conversation. Then, she became very serious and asked if she could share something with me. Of course, I obliged and listened intently as the old woman started telling me about two wonderful and loving individuals that had evidently had a major impact on her life.
She laughed as she recalled how as a child, she believed her parents had found her in the ditch. That they had brought her home, washed her off, and decided to keep her. I watched her face light up as she spoke of how loving her mother and father had been throughout her life. Through wrinkled skin she smiled as the simple memories of childhood played in her mind. The woman recounted that her parents were never selfish, they always had given more than their share, and how they had remained supportive through many trying times in her life.
While shifting her frail body, the woman described that as she grows older she can see how much of an influence these two beautiful people had on her own life. They were great role models for teaching about working hard, supporting those you love, and the importance of responsibility. She learned about appreciating what you have while always striving to better oneself.
Tears filled the old woman’s eyes as she told me of her children who were grown and had families of their own. And how her parents had loved them as they had love her – openly and unconditionally.
The woman then grew quiet. She stared at the lake and all the beauty surrounding it. She was remembering. Remembering her life and the people she loved. After a long time had passed, she looked back at me. At almost a whisper the old woman said, “I will be with them again one day, you know.” And I believed her.
To the most special parents in the world on your 50th Wedding Anniversary. Thanks for picking me up out of the ditch!
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