Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with the husband of a woman who had recently passed away. This was my first time ever speaking with him but I immediately felt a connection. He wasn’t sad about her passing. In fact, he was happy to share feelings about his wife’s life and death as well as his own. He said talking about it kept the sadness at bay. Listening to him pushed a multitude of emotions through my system. It made me happy, sad, nostalgic, curious and enthusiastic. It also made me appreciate and respect all that life is and can be.
He spoke about his past and, being an older African American man born and raised in southern Alabama in the late 1930’s, his past was full of good, bad, and ugly. He talked about cousins lost to lynchings, brothers tarred and feathered, sisters raped by white men, and friends beat beyond recognition because they looked at a white woman.
He talked about watching his mother struggle to make ends meet when his father had to leave home for long periods of time just to find work, and often coming back empty handed. Altogether, there were 11 of them-his father, mother, 6 brothers, 2 sisters and himself. The lucky seven. That’s what his mother called them. All 7 of her sons lived through a time when many became strange fruit or alligator bait. He remembered how they all would pitch in to help earn money to put food on the table-cleaning yards, chopping wood, delivering groceries and anything else they could find to do. He remembered a time when the only thing he could call shoes was the 2 pieces of cardboard that he had to tie to his feet-but he still went out and chopped that wood. He said his momma taught him how to cook, too, and that’s why his wife married him.
When he and his wife met they were both getting over previous relationships and had children of their own. He remembered how fond his mother was of his wife. She told him, ‘don’t you hold that gal in a drawn out situation if you dont want to hold her heart through life. She’s better than that last one you had and she deserves better than that last one she had’. He told me he was almost certain, to the best of his old mind, that those were his mother’s exact words. Then she asked him what he was going to do.
I now pronounce you husband and wife…
As a couple, they had been married for 54 years. They had their ups and downs, which is to be expected in any relationship, but they never gave up. I listened to him reminisce about the different things that they did together. He laughed at how often his southern charm put him in hot water. His wife was a firecracker and she didn’t take no mess. She had been sick for a long time, cancer, and as much as it brought him joy to see her smile, his heartache tripled to watch her suffer.
Towards the end, he had become sick himself and had to be admitted to the hospital. “I got that wheezing problem and have a hard time breathing”, he told me-asthma. His wife was supposed to come visit but his daughter called and said she hadn’t been feeling well and was taken to different hospital. He said when he was discharged, he would go visit his wife and, even laying in the last bed she would rest on, she would vibrantly cuss him out for that old southern Alabama charm and those nurses.
Till Death, Do Us Part…
On her last day, he had an appointment and wouldn’t be able to get to the hospital until later in the day. He said she called him. She sounded tired but he was used to hearing her like that. He said she asked him how much longer before he would get to the hospital because she was trying to wait for him but it was getting too hard. He knew what she meant. He said he told her not to worry because he would be there even if she wasn’t. They exchanged I love you’s and said their goodbye’s. That was the last time they spoke.
I allowed him to speak for well over an hour and in that hour he was able to recount what took more than 54 years to live. Yes, he was going to miss his wife. Their lives together was the equivalent of a single strand of dna. He would miss her but he will always find her in those memories as long as he was able.
Remember those emotions I mentioned earlier? Well, I was happy because I was blessed to be able to get a glimpse of the past through the eyes of a stranger. Nostalgic because he made me think of my childhood and how vastly different it was from his. My sadness was because, like most children, I didn’t recognize or appreciate my parents and the sacrifices they made as much as I could have. My curiosity and enthusiasm made me think about all the things that were to come. I don’t know the order of my steps but I’m looking forward to where they may lead. I appreciate this man for allowing me a glimpse at his life. I now have a more heightened respect for those older than myself. The next time you encounter an elderly person, I hope you are as lucky as I was to have been taken through the looking glass. I know I will never speak with this man again but I thought it would be appropriate to give him recognition.
Thank you, Mr. Gordon!
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.