Thursday / March 23 / 2017
Jack: dying for the one you love
His smile would charm even the most cantankerous. “How did you possibly put up with him for nearly 60 years?,” I lovingly nudged, inquiring of his bride. She lay there, dying in the hospital bed placed in her home to cradle her. The next door neighbor I had only just met. Unwittingly. Just days before she took her last breath.
I saw the cars there. The coming and going. The unusualness of it all. Upon a break in activity, my bare feet felt the stiff grass beneath them as they made their way over to Jack & Gaye’s home.
Even before knocking, he answered the door. That smile.
The one he always wore for her.
“Come in, please,” he beckoned. I obliged. What choice did I have, standing there on his doorstep.
Gaye lay there, breathing in rhythm. Peaceful. I grasped her hand as if we’d known each other years deep. “Hi….“, I whispered. She squeezed my hand back and I leaned in to kiss her forehead. “I’m Donna from next door. I’m the one who has the white, fluffy dog that barks a lot!”
Not opening her eyes, she smiled knowingly.
Grasping her other hand with complete synchronicity, the kind only a loon can sing of in the deepest of dawns, he smiled that smile. The one he wore only for her. “This is the first time in 55 years she hasn’t slept by my side,” his voice echoed. Understood by all who heard it.
Nothing to say. Nothing to do. Just to smile, and share the love they’d partaken in for so many decades. What an honor. I imagined the scope of what they’d seen together. The adventures they shared. I watched the dance between their souls. The way they dreamed dreams only young lovers can dream.
He smiled in adoration. That smile he always smiled for her. And for the brief moment he took his gaze off her, he thanked me. Profoundly. For being there.
I found myself wanting to be there more. To do SOMEthing. ANYthing to help alleviate the pain.
Mom and I prepared homemade goodness in the form of pork chops, mashed potatoes, and good ole southern pie and ice cream. It made me feel good to add to Jack’s life so he could share the last of Gaye’s.
She passed quietly in the night, knowing her prince was by her side.
He’d never be the same.
We chatted from day to day.
He traveled. He kept the house in perfect condition. The lawn, manicured the way she loved it and in the fashion that kept him feeling useful.
He gave me a pin bearing the resemblance of my white, fluffy dog, Zeke. “I don’t know where she ever got this,” he declared. “But I’m certain you’ll appreciate it more than I will!”
It’s pinned to my lampshade.
Months later, I found my Jeep dead in the driveway. Dear Jack spent nearly 90 minutes with me, puttering, pestering, trying all he could to make her mumble more than a small grunt. He even lent me his tools so I could reach the battery should I need to tie her back in. The tools he kept so organized in his garage. “Just be sure to return them,” he joked. I assured him I’d return the “wrench thingy” in good condition. We laughed in unison in spite of me.
My fingers, now cherishing that wrench thingy, I imagine him dancing with his bride.
You see, just this morning, my neighbor to the other side reached out. “Do you know what’s going on next door?,” she inquired. I was out of state and did not know.
“There is an ambulance and a firetruck outside Jack’s house!”
I didn’t need to hear more. I knew. He passed almost six months to the day. Jack, the vibrant, healthy man I’d embraced just weeks earlier had died of a broken heart.
“I’ll be brave!,” he declared with fierce determination. He fiddled with my Jeep but we both knew, we were there together to share the memory of his marriage. His love. His true one and only.
Such enviable love.
“It’s okay…..,” I assured him. “You know she put up with your shenanigans for a reason!” Indeed she did. I didn’t question her reasons and I didn’t need to. I saw it in her smile as she lay without speech, looking at the man she’d adored for decades. They were tied together for eternity.
I wouldn’t have guessed so soon and yet, here we are.
Dear Jack, I wish I could have hugged you one more time, but I know you’re in the embrace of your one true love. I’m so happy for you.
Dance. Laugh. Conspire.
Do so forever as you’ve always dreamed.
I am grateful to have known you both, even though only briefly. You gave me a glimpse into your hearts, your world, your lives. Into Forever True Love. Thank you.
Know that I’m keeping the wrench thingy (yes, I’ll double check with your son Steve). But I’m keeping it. Because YOU mattered. You touched my life and I’ll never forget that smile.
The one you’re now smiling just for her.
Cheers, dear neighbors!
To enviable love!! xo