I am not old, nor am I young. I am not calculating, nor am I a sentimental fool. I like to think that I am a woman of my time. Yet, as my father lay dying, surrounded by machines, tended by nurses, visited by doctors, I learned a lesson in love that is timeless.
My father had been ill for a very long while. He bore his illness with great dignity, thanking those who cared for him and often caused him pain. He never gave up hope that he would get well, he never abandoned his faith that God would watch out for him. Through the months and years of his sickness, my mother nursed him. She wore herself to a frazzle yet never complained. I saw her exhaust herself as she moved him from bed to wheelchair and back again. She slept on a couch near the hospital bed in their living room for more days than I can count. I thought she was crazy. I thought she would die before him and for what?
When I found the answer to that question, I was humbled beyond words.
In his last days, my father was barely lucid. He was in pain. He was medicated. He was dying. Yet, everyday my mother was there by his side. She held his hand. She brought his favorite aftershave. She combed his hair and spoke to him kindly and gently as she had for over fifty years of their marriage.
I came to visit when I could and one evening I walked in to the intensive care unit to find my father had taken a turn for the worse. The nurses were sticking tubes in him. My mother stood quietly in the corner of the room watching, her face expressionless. Suddenly a nurse called to my father, trying to determine if he could hear her.
“Can you hear me?” She hollered. My father’s eyes fluttered.
“Do you know who that is?” The nurse hollered again and this time she indicated my mother.
My father’s eyes flickered. They rested on my mother’s face. Without hesitation, with the greatest affection, with the voice of a young man, he gently answered.
“That’s my girlfriend.”
I had to look away or I would have cried. Now I knew why my mother cared for my father so diligently. I knew why he cared for her all the years before that. Because she was his girlfriend. Because he loved her and she loved him and in all the world there is nothing more precious than that. When he died he left that love behind so I know that, while my mother may be lonely, she is never alone.
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