There’s no way I can let this splendid month of October pass without a tribute to my parents. John and Margie both left this life for the next in October, he in 1998 and she in 2000. Never before did I realize just how gorgeous this month is until I saw its beauty juxtaposed to the sorrow and shadow inside the hospital/house where they spend their last days.
Frankly, his death caught me by surprise. True, he had been sick with chronic respiratory disease for years and had recently been hospitalized. I wasn’t overly concerned about this, however, because I had two siblings who lived close by, and my sweet mama was still alive and well. Although she had battled cancer for three years, at that point in time, all was well.
Back to t he story. Around 5:00 a.m. on the morning of October 18, my brother called from the hospital to tell me that the end was near. My daughter Carrie and I quickly dressed, and after giving a few words of instruction to my son, she and I jumped in the car and headed out. About an hour into the trip, I called my sister and learned that he had just died. I’ll never forget those moments at Jimmy Carter’s on Hwy 501 between Conway and Florence, SC. We were pumping gas like nothing unusual was going on and yet a pillar of my life had just been knocked from beneath me. All around us, people were chatting, and cars were whizzing by as if nothing had changed. When Carrie and I finally got “home,” the sun was up, and that Sunday was a bright, light filled day. Friends came and went, my brother from Virginia arrived, and it hardly seemed real that our father was not there to partake in this togetherness. Perhaps he was there after all; I’d like to think so.
Fast forward two years, and again it’s October. This time, it’s my mother who’s ailing; failing would be the better word because each passing day found her weaker and weaker. In and out, my siblings, our children, her sisters, and her many friends began what I can only call a death watch during that last week. Hospice workers came each day to check vitals, give instructions, change bandages, offer encouragement, and so forth. More than once, we gathered at the table in the kitchen and dined on scrumptious food prepared by my mother’s loving friends. Although there was deep sadness, there was laughter too…and memories of a life well-lived. I know for a fact (she told me) that although she was unable to move or join us, she enjoyed listening to the sounds of life bouncing off the walls throughout the rooms of 511.
When I felt overwhelmed (which was almost always), I’d go for a walk, and I can still remember walking out on the front porch and being a little shocked at the beauty of the streetscape. Leaves were changing color and falling, the temperatures were brisk, and the sun seemed especially bright. How could there be so much beauty outside and so much sadness inside? On that Friday afternoon, Carrie suggested that we get out for a few moments, and I agreed. After all, my three siblings and my mother’s sisters were “holding down the fort.” It was a beautiful day, and I enjoyed spending time with Carrie who had come from Connecticut to spend some time with her granny. Around 4:15, I told Carrie that I felt uneasy and expressed the need to get back to 511 Chesnut. In tune with the spirit, she readily agreed. I remember taking a deep breath before leaving the light filled outside to step into the dark, cool hallway. 45 minutes later, with her family and little dog (she loved little Eva), around her, Mama left us. I hope she felt our love.
Years later, these two people are still in our hearts and minds. Their legacy lives on. If I ever doubt it, all I have to do is look at the faces of their progeny to glimpse a certain something of John and Margie.