When it comes to love stories, people seldom think of a man and woman in their ‘80s. Perhaps if they knew the story of my parents, they would see that love is so much more than a feeling.
When my beloved father died Jan. 29, all of us were broken hearted, my mother more than anyone. After all, they had been married nearly 58 years. As a priest reminded me, “That Scripture about the two becoming one flesh — it’s really true.”
The loss of my dad took a huge toll on Mom’s health. And though she developed serious heart and lung trouble, she never stopped joking around with the doctors and nurses. We sometimes wondered if they checked up on her more than other patients because they enjoyed her great sense of humor.
Like many elderly people who live alone, Mom didn’t want to leave her longtime home, the place she had shared with my dad for so many years. She wanted nothing to do with assisted living, but we knew she couldn’t live alone anymore.
When my nurse-practitioner sister in Colorado offered to take her for the summer, it seemed like the perfect solution. Mom would benefit from round-the-clock medical attention, but most of all, the loving care of her family.
When we said goodbye on June 27, we both knew it might be for the last time. Her life-threatening conditions meant she didn’t have long to live, a fact she frequently spoke of as if it were the funniest thing in the world.
“Don’t get too attached to me,” she’d tell people, “I won’t be around for long.” And though she kidded about it, we knew she was serious. She just couldn’t go on without Dad and she wanted to be with him more than anything. Her profound Catholic faith told her that she would soon enter into eternal life, where every tear would be wiped away.
She knew what love was because she lived it, thoroughly, completely and faithfully. She often dreamed Dad was still there, only to awaken and realize he was indeed gone.
Mom spent July 15 celebrating her 81st birthday at my sister’s house, enjoying cake and festivities. Judging by the photos taken at the birthday bash, it was a fabulous evening.
Just two days later, I was in my car, backing out of the driveway at 4:30 a.m., having planned a road trip to Colorado. That’s when the phone rang — it was my sister.
“Joyce, I think Mom’s dying. I’ll hold the phone up to her ear so you can talk,” she said.
I told my mom how much I loved her and that I would be there soon. And though she couldn’t speak, I know she heard me. If my love could have carried me to Colorado in that moment, I would’ve been there in a heartbeat.
My sister held her hand and prayed with her, asking her if Dad was in the room.
Struggling to breathe, Mom nodded her head vigorously. “Take his hand, Mom,” she told her. Moments later, she was gone.
When I think about the love of my parents, it’s clear to me that the two really had become one flesh. Until she was reunited with him, Mom’s heart simply could not go on. We believe Dad was there in the room with her, welcoming her home.
In just five months, we’ve lost both parents, but gained immeasurable insight. We marvel at their love for each other and their faith in God. We grieve the loss of two extraordinary human beings who taught us what it means to be faithful, loving adults.
And we know with all our hearts that our parents are praying for us even now, anticipating the day we will all be together again in that place reserved for those who love truly, deeply and tenderly.
Now that’s a real love story.