"I got to thinking one day about all those women on the Titanic who passed up dessert at dinner that fateful night in an effort to 'cut back.' From then on, I've tried to be a little more flexible."
(Erma Bombeck)

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This is love

This last month has been difficult, as I watch my parents, both 88, contend with the ravages of time. I have long known how immensely blessed I am to still have both of them around. I've tried to prepare myself for the inevitability of losing them, but the thought of not having them here on this earth makes me want to run and hide.

I guess it's because, no matter how old you are, your parents are your touchstone. Especially when I was going through breast cancer treatment six years ago, my mom was the first person I wanted to call whenever I had a test or something scary was happening.

I remember one particular test that I had to do about three years out from the diagnosis. After all of the radiation, surgeries, and chemo I had received, there was a possibility that the cancer had returned to my bones, so I was being checked out for that.

After the test, I showed up on my parents' doorstep to give them the good news, and rang the doorbell. Mom (who is half-blind now), opened the door, recognized me standing there, and pulled me to herself, exclaiming, “Oh, I've been so worried about you! How did your test go?”

I can't get that moment out of my head because I immediately felt more loved and cared about than ever. I knew that, if everyone else in the world failed me, my mom would always love and care for me. It was feeling of comfort that I never want to lose.

Now Mom is having some difficulties and things are scary for her and dad. They are tending to each others' needs as best they can, but they need more help now. The other night, I watched as my dad patiently took my mom's blood sugar, prepared her insulin injection, put drops in her eyes, then the eye ointment, and placed food and drink in front of her.

I thought to myself, “This is love.”

How could they have anticipated, back when they met at 20 years of age, where their love would take them?

Two children, three grandchildren, five great grandchildren and 68 years of marriage later, here they are.

My dad, who has always been the quiet type, decided to write his memoirs a decade ago. His strong suit has never been writing or grammar, but he instinctively knew that he wanted to leave something behind. It may have been because his friends were all dying off. So, he wrote. Every. Day.

He wrote about his life in installments, starting with his childhood, entering the service during WWII, meeting my mom, and on to his career choice and having a family. It was incredible to read about things I had no idea about, especially how he felt about them. I don't know if he knows what a gift he has given us.

I have been thinking a lot about my parents lately and how their love for one another has taken on new meaning, so I decided to go back and read a little from my dad's memoirs.

Here's an entry he wrote, dated April 4, 2004:

“I need to kind of reminisce some things to remember down the road. First of all, tomorrow is Ginny's birthday and she will be the same age as me. I am so glad and happy that we are both still hanging around and taking care of each other in small ways that are extremely important for living together and maybe surviving on this earth.

I know I have not said too much about Ginny, but sure need to remind myself how really important she is and brag about her, too.

I am sure glad that I was adult enough in 1946 (age 20!) to choose this gal for my life and happiness through years and years of companionship. Small things we probably don't think about: fixing meals, reminding and sorting out medicines for my health, etc.

Hey, there are so many things in my life--raising kids and family was no small item, either. I just pray she will be around always and to help keep my life sorted out.

Along with medical problems, she is a wiz at taking care of our financial responsibilities and wow, what would I do without that? She is tops in all and has been always through our lives.

Can you say I am lucky or not. WOW. Thank you, Lord, for her in my life.”

This is not to say that they have not had their share of difficulties in life. Who doesn't?

But the thing is, they chose—over and over again—to stay put with one another. And now, in their twilight years, they have one another still. It's really an incredible thing to witness.

You see, Dad can't hear much at all anymore. Probably has to do with all the years he spent providing for his family by working in the boiler room of an oil refinery. So, he wears hearing aids and we still have to yell at him.

And Mom can't see much at all anymore. Even with diabetes and macular degeneration, she's actually done pretty well. She just told me the other day, “I still think your dad has a cute butt.” Say what?!

They don't go out much anymore at all. But on the sporadic occasion we can get them to eat out, he reads the menu to her and she places the order with the waitress.

They perfectly exemplify the classic words of one of my favorite movie heroes, Rocky Balboa, when asked why he is attracted to Adrien:

“She's got gaps, I got gaps. Together, we fill gaps.”

Yup, together, they fill gaps. The thing is, they would have missed out on so much if, at any point along the way, they would have thrown in the towel on each other.

I think there's a lesson to be learned there for those of us who are younger. We don't know where life is going to take us. When we're in our 20s or 30s or 40s or even 50s, we don't know what changes we'll endure or how our love will change. The one guarantee we have is that, if we stay together long enough, it will indeed change.

Rather than thinking of that as a scary or depressing proposition, it brings me comfort. It means that, if you stay the course,  your love will distill down to its very essence: learning how to unconditionally love another human being. I think that's the greatest achievement any of us can hope to accomplish while on this earth.

Thank you,  Mom and Dad, for setting the bar high and showing how it's done.

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Reader Comments (3)

Well spoken heartfelt words. Sounds like he's happy with the choices he's made.

Don't forget to start writing your story ;-)

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJay Lepore

A year with this pair changed my life.

September 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAllan Brem

That is so lovely!!


September 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBecky

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