“Is everything OK?” I asked Heather as she talked on the phone.
She shook her head hard. Reaching for a pad of stickies, she scribbled a quick note.
It said simply AL DIED.
I felt like I had been punched in the gut.
Regular readers may remember Al, the man who married our Grandma Marilyn early this year. He was in his 80s, she her 70s; living proof that love can happen at any age.
Now he was gone.
I tried driving on an errand. On the way home, I made at least four wrong turns.
They never even got an anniversary, I kept thinking. They never even got a Christmas together.
It seemed monstrously unfair.
Two people couldn’t have been better suited for each other than Al and Marilyn. She had the energy, he the quiet strength. She could draw him out; he could calm her down. It had been one of the great pairings, a perfect fit.
I’d gotten to know him some, while they were dating and after they married. Kind smile, easy laugh, a South Dakota gentleman of the old school. We’d lifted furniture together as they moved from her house to his and gave us some of the excess. I’d listened to some of his family stories; he’d listened to an original song of mine on the piano.
I had played at their wedding and thrilled to the joy on both their faces. A love ready to last a lifetime, however long the lifetime might last.
“I’ve been happier this last year than I was for the entire lifetime before it,” Marilyn told me as we talked.
Thinking back on that, in the midst of a painful, confusing day, I realized I’d been wrong.
They had had their Christmas. Every day, they gave themselves to each other, then woke up to find the gift anew.
They had had their anniversary. Every day had been a celebration, a fresh commitment, a resolve to take that first day and make it even stronger.
The calendar on the wall wouldn’t agree. But the calendar in the heart knew it all along.
Less than a year? Yes.
A small piece of eternity? Yes.
Time enough? Never. It never could be on this earth, not if it were half a century.
Timeless enough? From the first hour of the first day.
It’s easy to get drowned in the “nevers.” We never did this. He’ll never hear that. I’ll never get a chance to say this. On and on, in a downward spiral of depression, each turn causing a little more pain than the last.
Or you can reach to that calendar. Remember the warmth. Recall the love. Not “getting over it,” as the crude phrase would have it, but moving with it, refusing to let the pain of now take away the joy of then.
There’s an Al-shaped hole in all our hearts. There probably always will be. But the hole doesn’t have to stay empty. Not if we don’t let it.
Thank you, Al. For everything. And especially for the light you brought to Marilyn’s life.
A November-December marriage may face its winter all too soon.
But it also means that from its start, the holidays have already begun.