Just about now, my parents are saying goodnight to each other, just like they have done every night for the last 48 years. Today is their anniversary, and a very special one, as far as I’m concerned. This has been a tough year for them…not that they haven’t survived tough times before, but this one…well, it stopped them in their tracks.
My father suffered a life-threatening illness this year. Diagnosed with liver cancer 8 years after fighting his way through stage 4 esophogeal cancer, Dad made the decision to fight again and go ahead with the surgery to burn off as much of the mass as possible. The surgery happened the day before New Year’s Eve, and all seemed to go well. It looked like we would ring in the New Year with great news, and Dad was on his way to recovery. But 48 hours later, he was back in the ICU, unable to breathe on his own. He had developed aspiration pneumonia.
For what seemed like an eternity, we sat vigil by his bedside. My brother, my sisters, my mother. We waited. We watched. And while we watched, they taught. In the midst of all of this illness and ugliness, my parents taught me a lesson…a beautiful lesson about love.
It happened every morning, when Mom would wake up in a strange bed in an unfamiliar town and go sit beside him. She never complained, she never dreamed of going home without him, she never let him see her cry–she wanted him to draw strength from her strength. It happened one day, after a very long morning, when she cried out that she wished she could trade places with him. It happened one night, after a very long day when Dad was just awake enough to be agitated, and scared. He was on a respirator, so he could not speak, but he did. He spoke to her, to my Mom, with his eyes and with his touch. They held hands and he looked into her eyes, searching for answers and comfort. And she looked directly back and said “I know what you are asking me, and I know we talked about this, but you are getting better and we aren’t giving up.” And it was enough for him. His eyes said, “I love you and I believe you,” and you could just see him relax and drift off to sleep. It was at that moment that I was reminded that these two people were not just my parents. These were two people that found each other and fell in love with each other long before I came into the picture. These were two people that stood beside each other through good and bad, in sickness and in health–raising four children, losing their own parents, surviving everyday challenges of finances and jobs, praising God, celebrating grandchildren. These were two people that had shared a lifetime…and I saw it in one look.
My father has recovered. And after 6 weeks away from home, they both returned…together. Mom promised that she wouldn’t go home until he went home. She kept her word. She stayed in a hotel, in the Hope House, at my sister’s place…but she would not travel the two hours to go home until he was ready to go with her. And he would have done the same.
And today, my parents said “Happy Anniversary” for the 48th time. Maybe they said it with a look, maybe with a touch, but they said it together. One more moment together. 48 years, 576 months, 2496 weeks, 17,520 days…25,228,800 moments. A lifetime. A beautiful, wonderful lifetime.