I was at the gym tonight and I heard an eighty two year old man in the locker room talking about his wife to someone. His story was so beautiful I couldn’t help but listen. He had lost her after twenty years of marriage. It sounded like it hadn’t happened too recently, but not too long ago, either. He had been twenty years her senior. He was sixty one when they met and she was forty. After they had dated a while, she asked, “Do you love me?” He said, “No.” She said, “You will. I’m going to make you fall in love with me.” And she did.
He caught me staring and smiling at him. He smiled back. I told him that I lost my wife a year and a half ago. We began comparing notes. His wife died of cancer. So did mine. He said that I was too young to lose someone I loved. I told him it couldn’t have been much easier for him. He nodded. He began describing his wife, and it could have been Susan he was describing. He said she always could make him laugh. Now he missed her so bad it felt like a weight was pressing down on his chest. I said I know that feeling. He said it’s a terrible thing to lose someone you love so much. Most folks have no idea how much it hurts. I said it helped me to remember things that Susan said or did that had made me laugh. Or times that I had made her laugh. It made me feel better. He said, “I don’t want to just have memories. I like things to be right here and now. Remembering things just makes you miss them more.” I couldn’t argue with that. He told me more about how beautiful and kind and mischievous his wife had been. She had been diagnosed with fallopian cancer, and he said she fought it for eight years. “Eight years!” he said. “My God that woman was so strong. Stronger than anyone I’ve ever met.” I believe it, I said. Eight years was a hell of a long time to be fighting. He said, “People say they feel bad for her. I say don’t. Feel proud of her. I am. I’m proud to have been there with her and I’m proud of how she stood up to that evil disease.” His friend spoke up and said, “They say they’re making progress every day at coming up with new treatments. We might beat it some day.” The old man said that was what people say who have never seen it up close. “Nothing is going to stop that disease,” he said. “People just don’t know. It’s like a great white shark when it gets you. It just keeps eating and eating. What is going to stop that?” I knew what he meant.
He went on and told me about her chemo treatments and how the end came out of the blue like it always does. “How could I not see it coming?” he said. “But I didn’t. I didn’t know. I thought we were going to beat it until we didn’t.” It was the same way with me. I told him that maybe we were in denial. But who wouldn’t be? He agreed. He said that also doctors never tell you how close you are to the end until you’re there. “I just wish they had tried to prepare me more,” he said.
His friend, a much younger man, had long since crept away. I think he was a little afraid of us. The old man and I were in full veteran mode, talking about our time on the front line. Civilians be damned.
We finished talking and he shook my hand. He said, “Ben, I’m going to pray for you and you pray for me.” I told him that I would. He was a thin, eighty two year old man with powder white hair. He had a soft grip and eyes like steel.
So tonight I’m saying a prayer for Moe. I pray that he finds real peace. I pray that he is able to experience true joy again some day. I would really like to believe that Susan and his wife are somewhere watching us and talking us up.
Thanks for touching my life, Moe.