I’m sitting at our neighbor’s house, surrounded by the unfamiliar noises of a house that I do not know. Around me are many treasures that have been accumulated in the sixty-eight years of marriage that this couple have known. These items mean nothing to me beyond the fact that some are beautiful, some are unique, and some are mysterious. But each one is very important to Don and Nora, just as Don and Nora are of supreme importance to each other.
Don is 87 years old. He and Nora have been extremely close for all their marriage, I would dare say. They are never apart, and if you saw them in the aisle of our nearby grocery store they would more than likely be holding hands at some point. Nora speaks loudly so that Don, who has refused to get hearing aids, can hear her.
|Don and Nora|
Don has weakened considerably over the past two months. He was finally hospitalized last week, and to everyone’s great shock he was diagnosed with cancer of the lung, liver, and colon. He came home this week, on Monday night. Home to die, as he and Nora wished, instead of remaining in a hospital. How very sad.
Nora could only bring Don home if she had a plan of care in place. We, and the neighbors on the other side, said that we would do what we could to help. There have been a series of events over the past few days and nights. Don has gotten out of bed during the nights and we have gone over to get him back in bed, and to calm Nora. She continues to insist that she can handle all of this and she refuses to hire an aid, or to put Don on the Hospice floor of the hospital. We shake our heads, but we do understand her desires and we sympathize with her pain. Hospice is also being wonderful, but for all of us there is only so much that Nora will allow us to do.
The second night that Don was home was particularly hard. Gary and I went over to help, as did the other neighbor. Nora was at a breaking point. At times that are this stressful, it’s easy for tempers to flare. Nerves are raw, and the body and spirit are depleted. I gently attempted to direct Nora’s thinking toward getting some needed assistance. She snapped. She did not want to hear anything that even remotely suggested taking Don out of the home, or hinted at her not being able to care for him – on her own. The situation was tense, and hurtful. We stayed until we were able to do what we could, and we left hearing the slamming of the door……….an evidence of the slamming door of Nora’s heart. It was the sound of her deep grief and her strong spirit.
We walked back home under the beautiful moon and stars, Gary and I. The air and the snow were cold, just as I felt my heart was becoming. Anger and hurt will do that to a person, no matter the circumstances. Gary was so kind, both to Nora and to me. At Nora’s house he gently touched my back in order to remind me to be quiet. He ministered to Nora and to Don that night, but to me as well. He brought my focus back to the point of understanding our position in all of this, and of trying to honor Nora’s wishes, no matter how unreasonable they may seem to us.
There was someone else who reached into my angry heart that night as well. My dad. I was with my parents during the month before my dad died. I saw the love they had for each other, much like Don and Nora. I saw the fear and the grief and the decisions that were all a part of this process of death. And I saw some tense moments between my parents that arise out of the exhaustion and pain of such a looming loss. There weren’t many of those times and they weren’t extreme, but they did occur.
|Mom and Dad|
After one such time, I helped get Dad on the couch from his wheelchair. He and I sat there for a minute, just the two of us. I put my head on his shoulder as he sat there with his head bowed down from weakness. We held hands and I spoke words of comfort to him, or at least I hoped they were. And I told him that I was sorry that sometimes things were stressful.
My dad slowly lifted his tired head, and he slowly turned to look at me with those wise, kind eyes. Then he smiled……..his very familiar and very sweet smile. And he said, ever so softly and slowly, “Smooth…..it…..over.”
His wisdom, in those three little words, was profound. I have been reminded of that wisdom many times since my dad went on to heaven. I am so thankful for that moment with him and for the deep lesson I learned once again from my dad, even as he was nearing death. Those words came to me as Gary and I walked home in the cold snow, still stinging from other words that were not so kind.
Smooth….it….over. Be the one to make things right. Be the one to show kindness. Be the one to reach beyond harsh words and simply smooth it over. Is it easy to do? No. Is it right to do? Yes!
The next day, when Nora called me for help, my attitude was changed. I had peace and I had empathy for this faithful woman who so loves her dying husband. Nora hugged me and as I later left her at the end of the day, she said three words as well. “I love you,” she said as she hugged me close. And I was able to freely hug her in return and tell her I loved her as well.
There is freedom in forgiveness. There is escape from bitterness when I heed the words of my sweet and wise dad. Smooth….it….over.
Thanks, Dad. I miss you but I’m still listening to you.
|My sweet Dad|