My mother’s husband has died. Her husband of twenty-seven years peacefully died after suffering his 4th stroke on Christmas Eve. He was put on hospice care after consultations with Doctors and therapists determined that the quality of life he had before the stroke was not coming back. Mom and his three children agreed that they would take no drastic measures to keep him alive. He was ninety-three and for the past two years has been unable to take care of himself in any way. My Mom had been in charge of everything. Everything. Feeding, dressing, bathing. He could not be left alone for any matter of time, could not remember his medication, could not remember what day it was most of the time. It was like like having a baby all over again. Mom is seventy-seven. It was time.
When my mother first introduced me to this man many years ago, I was less than enthusiastic. After a very short courtship (6 weeks) they had decided to get married. It wasn’t love at first site…but in the spirit of today I will say they were two people who struggled with being alone...and so they found each other. It was going to be mom’s third marriage and his second time up the aisle. If she had been a little more discriminatory the first and second time she might not have found herself standing at the alter with a man who told every imaginable fib in the book to get her there. But I smiled and hoped for the best as they said “I do” November 8th, 1987.
I began to learn about this very likable man soon after they were married. We e all do a little embellishing when trying to impress the one we want. Did he not think she was going to find out he was ten years older than he said he was? Did he not think she was going to realize he was penniless when he told her he had plenty of money to take care of her? He lived across the hall from Mom in a studio apartment. He was not fifty-eight...and he was not financially solvent. But he was a survivor.
His mother left him and his four siblings right after his birth in Toledo, Ohio. His father tried to keep the family together but the children spent a lot of time with Aunts in the area. He only had a third grade education. He learned to read and write by reading newspapers and the TV Guide. How do you get through life with only a third grade education? You learn to survive. He has told us many of nights all they had to eat were crackers and coffee. Through his teenage years he went to work in the CCC Work Camps (Civilian Conservation Corps) because he knew there would be food to eat. The camps provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state and local governments. When the camps closed in 1942 he joined the military that very same reason; he knew he would have three meals a day. For as long as I have known him food has always been one of his greatest pleasures and I had never known him to leave any food in his plate.
Back in his day I had heard he was tough. A hard headed Italian married a harder headed Polish woman and they had three children together. They always stressed hard work and an education and their children are all successful and hard headed themselves. His son said, “The measure of a man or woman is what they leave behind.” So true. By the time I met him, he was a dapper and mild mannered sixty-eight year old living just a few steps away from his own rags to riches story...my mom. His social security check covered his rent and very little else. Mom said he had a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter in his sparsely furnished studio and he would go out to a few select bars each night, buy a glass of red wine and eat the free happy hour menu for dinner. A survivor.
They said it wouldn’t last but her third marriage was her longest one. What her faithful husband lacked in honesty he had more than made up for in loyalty and companionship and a lot of laughs for my mom. And while his gift of gab had diminished along with the rest of his mobility over the past couple of years my mother said he still thanked her every day for their life together. I remember the day I met him like it were yesterday. I walked into my mother's apartment and there he sat crossed legged with his tuxedo winged tip shoes, glass of wine in his hand and a big smile on his face. He looked like he didn't have a care in the world. Maybe by then he had he had earned the right not to have too many cares. And what cares he had he soon handed right over to mom.
He said mom was the love of his life. I believe this was true. I also know it is true that he was not the love of mom’s life, but she was as devoted as a person could be until the end. I know some huge burdens have been lifted from her shoulders, but she will no doubt miss this man. At his memorial she gave him a wonderful tribute.
“We danced through the first fifteen years, walked through the next seven, and paced ourselves slowly through the last five.”
Two Lovely Survivors.
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