Those of you whom I have had the pleasure of meeting are probably aware that I lost both of my parents recently, just six months apart. While my mother’s health had declined over the years, with at least annual hospitalizations for pneumonia and related issues, her death was sudden and unexpected.
After my mother’s burial, my four sisters and I developed a schedule to take care of my father. He was 83 and still living independently in his home, but we knew he would not eat a decent meal unless it was put in front of him. So, we alternated days to bring him dinner and spend some quality time. Similar to the best-selling book by Mitch Albom, I had the pleasure of Tuesdays with Danny.
My parents were married 59 years, and their type of devotion was the type that you just do not see these days. My time with Dad was spent mostly listening because he was simply broken-hearted after the loss of my mother. He was always known for his gift of gab, and he insisted that we make eye contact the entire time he was speaking. Dad was the subject of many family jokes about his incessant chatter, but the stories he told were truly a gift.
During our time together after my Mom’s death, Dad told us again and again of his childhood, his days in the Navy, and his wonderful life with my mother. His dad died when he was very young, before the days of Social Security. There was not enough food for his mother to make him a lunch when he was going to school. He had such great respect for his mother and told us repeatedly that despite her hardships, she was always smiling and never said a bad word about any body or any thing.
He was 16 when he graduated from high school and immediately enlisted in the Navy. He ate four bananas as he walked to the weigh in, and he just barely made the minimum weight. While his four years at sea consisted of long days and hard work, he appreciated the three square meals a day and the opportunity to see the world.
There were so many stories he shared of his Navy days, but my favorite – and the one that most symbolizes my father’s character - was of his first day on land after being at sea for many months. The first thing my father did was go to a Western Union office and wire home most of his pay to his mother. In fact, we found that telegram when we were cleaning out his house – “Dear Mom. Stop. I’m doing swell. Stop. I hope you are too. Stop. Tell the family I miss them. Stop. All My Love, Danny. Stop” That telegram is now my most treasured possession.
After returning home from the Navy, my father met my mother at a picnic. She fibbed about her age so he would date her, and the rest is history. Long before the days of women’s liberation, my father so appreciated all that my mother did to raise their five children and maintain the home – the cooking, the cleaning, the ironing, etc. They were true equal partners in all that they did.
As my Elder Law column is usually a place where I urge you to get your estate planning documents in place and consider long-term care planning strategies to protect your assets for your future security, you may be wondering why I am sharing these personal details with you. All I can say is that I am compelled to tell each and every one of you to appreciate the opportunity you have to spend time with your loved ones today, and don’t take for granted that there will be a tomorrow. We are all too busy these days with many different responsibilities competing for our attention, and we need to set the priorities that matter.
We were blessed to have so much time with my parents. It was through their stories that we learned of the people and circumstances that shaped two people with values, character, and integrity second to none. But, I would give any thing for one more day … one more story. If this column inspires even one of you to appreciate your loved ones more today, then it has served its purpose.
(Note: This is a reprint of my favorite column)
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