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.