Whether family or strangers

My stepfather’s memorial service was today. Not many in attendance, as we expected. He kind of kept to himself and never made any friends around here. My mom was enough for him. Hell, even I didn’t really get to know him until he was dying. Once I did, I regretted not getting to know him in that intimate way earlier. I had so much time to do it,  but I just didn’t. I spent the past few weeks getting things together for the service. I collected photos to make a slide show, I gathered stories from his life to include in the obituary, and I went through his military records, hoping to find something to frame and put up in the church. Boy, did I find some things! Letter after letter of recognition from Colonels and Commanders, detailing his outstanding work ethic. Multiple medals and certificates…all kept neatly organized, tucked away in an unassuming black messenger bag in his desk, never to be spoken of. I can’t believe I’ve known this guy for over 20 years and never knew these things about him. I wish I had paid attention. I feel the same way about not recognizing the love he and my mom shared, when it was right in front of my face all these years.

I had a patient the other day….this old guy who’s starting to decline in his health status, basically just due to old age. Such a sweetheart. Last week, he told me the story of how he met his wife, talking about them going to different states to finish school and still stayed in love, got married and he went off to war. I saw him again a few days ago, and as I was leaving, he started to tell me the same story. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he’d already told me, but I did have 5 other patients to see, so I inched towards the door as he spoke. I realized something familiar about his story. It reminded me of my grandmother, and how she used to repeat the same story, over and over and over, as she neared the end of her life. It was of how she met my grandfather and the story of them getting married. This guy was telling me the same thing. He needed someone to hear it, I think, so the story would be remembered. That’s important information, you know. So, I inched back towards him and listened to the rest, smiling at the love in his face as he recalled his sweetheart. It came time go again, and I happened to notice a unique cane by his door. It had an American Bald Eagle carved into the handle, and his name down the shaft, along with the dates of World War Two and his Air Force picture embossed on it. Damn, this guy is a WWII vet and I didn’t even know it. These guys are almost gone. I’m so lucky to be able to come across them at work, because it won’t be long before there are none left to tell us stories. He talked about the different bombers he flew, and where he went. He could have talked all day,  and I could have listened, but I did have to go. I told him my stepfather was a Vietnam Vet in the Air Force and he nodded at me. Sometimes, you don’t need words.

I’ve been thinking about him every day since…especially today. The Air Force Honor Guard folded the flag and played Taps at the service. I sat next to my mom as they presented the flag to her. She cried and trembled the whole time. God, she loved that man so much. Just like my patient loved his wife, and my grandmother loved my grandfather. My mom has been telling us the story of how she fell in love with him a lot lately.  These love stories are everywhere, and I just never noticed them. I didn’t get it. I think it might be because I truly didn’t think love like that was real, because it’s just so foreign to me. I can appreciate them now. I hold them close, whether they are told by family or strangers. I can finally feel them…



This post was written in response to Linda G Hill’s stream of social consciousness Saturday.


23 thoughts on “Whether family or strangers”

  1. The stories, yes, the stories. It all comes back to the stories that each one of us has to tell about our lives. You gave the man something maybe no one else has done… the gift of listening.

  2. Very nice post. I worked on a Senior Behavioral Health unit for a while and we had many patients with Dementia. They had short term memory loss but retained memories from their earlier lives. They really wanted to tell us their stories of what their lives were when they were younger, what type of work they did or military service. I have noticed elders wanting to tell their stories over and over. I have thought the same as you, that they want someone to know what their lives were, what was important to them, who they were.

  3. Wait. Maybe it is going to let me post a comment!!!
    I love how you listen to their stories. I love that we both did the same thing and listened to the stories that no one else did. Because you and I will remember. Their legacy will go on in our hearts.

      1. It is powerful because you know they have “chosen” you to be the person they confide these loves, secrets, stories to, that they may have told a million times or never at all or just to one person. But they feel you will honor them so they tell you because you are special in that way

  4. This may be a duplicate comment, as my first attempt apparently didn’t take. If it is a duplicate, I apologize. That said….

    One of my greatest regrets in my life was that, growing up and even into adulthood, I was too self-absorbed to ask my parents to tell me about their childhoods, their lives. I was too busy figuring out who I was, wanted to be, and how to I wanted to live my own life to ask them about theirs. As a first generation American, I missed the tales of their separate journeys from “the old country” to America, how they met, and how they managed to make it in their new country. I’m sure they would have been riveting stories. But then they were gone and now it’s too late. I can’t imagine the powerful stories I missed out on because of my being so self-centered. What a shame.

    1. I feel the same way about so many people. I was telling my son about it, and he said “eventually, everyone is forgotten”. He’s so right. Once my generation is gone, my grandmother will be forgotten. I think about how she must have had some special people in her life…her grandparents…but I never asked. A shame.

  5. “These love stories are everywhere, and I just never noticed them. I didn’t get it.” That’s how it works. We are surrounded by so very many things, and yet we don’t see. But when the heart is able to open back up, we finally begin to see and notice things we could never see before. It’s what the song Amazing Grace is actually about.

    And the stories – that’s why we write. To remember our stories and to share our stories, to touch another’s heart, and to help each other understand life. Thanks for another beautiful post!

    1. Amazing Grace, yes! I actually quoted that on one of my other posts…the one where my mom and her husband were sitting outside drinking coffee before he died…”I once was blind, but now I see”. I chose those words because I never noticed what special thing they had all these years. My eyes are WIDE open now!

  6. Because I think these people are still around us when they pass, I don’t feel the same regret as most people. I think that I can speak to, get advice from, ask forgiveness of, and hang out with relatives and friends who have passed on. I get constant validation that they are there and listening and happy. ❤️

    1. Oh, you’re GOOD! I know they are around me, but I find myself always second guessing what the message is…though I think I’m getting a little better at it…

  7. What beautiful words and tribute to all those that have something to say and need someone to listen. I told you before how lucky they are to have you to care for them and I hope you know the difference you make in everyone’s life. Hugs my dear friend and thank you for being you.

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