An Old Man

He stands before his mirror, adjusting his collar, fixing his white hair until it’s just so. He’s thinking of her.

She always took care of him. He was used to having her do all the little things. Not just the laundry and cooking. Any trained dog can learn to do his own laundry. It was things like stocking his favorite snacks in the pantry, always refilling his prescriptions, or remembering to replace the toilet paper.

Above all, he says he misses having her beside him in bed. King beds don’t feel the same without the weight of another person beside you. A bed can feel like a tomb when you sleep alone.

Her dog, Martin, misses her too. The first day she didn’t come home, he took Martin on a walk and the loneliness was overwhelming. This Labrador was her friend.

Martin sleeps beside him at night now, in her old spot. But it’s just not the same.

He’s switched to using instant coffee because he can never remember to set the coffeemaker. Besides, he doesn’t see the point of making a full pot for just one person. It’s funny how dependent a man can become on another. He says he hasn’t made his own coffee in half a century. Or eggs. He can’t figure out how to flip them without breaking the yolks.

He says, “Nobody tells you that you’re going to be afraid a lot when you lose your wife. You know, even though you’re the man of the family, and always have been, she was kinda your strength.”

He’s adapting though. In the last few years he’s come to truly enjoy his daily walks with Martin. They follow the same route she used to take through the neighborhood. When he gets home, he and Martin eat lunch. Then they piddle.

He says the memories of her don’t hurt anymore, they just make him warm.

“We watched each other grow up,” he says. “A wife isn’t just a wife, she’s your whole life.”

He saw her through every adult rite of passage, and she helped him turn into a father. He watched her give birth to his two children and transform herself from a girl into a beautiful mother.

They enjoyed old age together. Sometimes she’d catch him falling asleep on the sofa during his legal thriller TV shows and she’d nudge him awake by saying, “C’mon, let’s get you to bed, Daddy.”

“Daddy,” he recalls. “She always called me Daddy.”

This name started when their kids were little. She never quit calling him that.

On the day of her service, he stood with a stiff face while everyone else cried. This is just how men from his generation were taught to act. He wished he could have wailed and bellowed like his daughter, or howled like his grandson. But he stayed flat-faced and pumped every hand in the receiving line.

Right before they closed the lid he took one final look at her. He leaned into her box to memorize her. He wiped his face with his sleeve before anyone saw him weeping.

“Okay,” he told the man. “Take her away.”

They closed the lid. He sat on the front pew and he says the rest of the day was a blur.

Today he walks into the kitchen, all dressed up and whistling. Martin follows, trotting behind because all dogs knows good things come from the kitchen.

The old man makes himself another instant coffee in the microwave. Martin is sitting pretty beside him because Martin is obsessed with food and thinks he’s going to get a treat.

The old man is thinking about the last week of her life, and all they said to each other before she went on. It sort of makes him laugh.

“Don’t forget to walk Martin,” she told him. “He needs his walks.” “There’s frozen beef in the refrigerator, don’t let it go bad, make sure you eat it all.” “You’re gonna need to call and refill your Lipitor, I forgot to call last Friday.” “Please don’t cry for me, I’m not scared.”

He tells me with a chuckle, “It was like she was going on a trip to her sister’s or something. Here she was dying, and she was worried about me eating the frozen beef.”

The microwave beeps. He mixes instant coffee into the hot water. His daughter’s family arrives on the doorstep. Everyone is dressed up. His grandson has a little bouquet. His daughter has a bigger one.

They all get into a car. Even Martin jumps in. Nobody is sad. Everyone is smiling. He’s telling his daughters things about their mother that they never knew before.

Like how she once cut the tip of her finger off while chopping onions. And how she once helped a young lady in church to get sober. He’s telling them about when he first met her. How dainty she was. How good she smelled. How after a few minutes of dancing with her, he never wanted to be more than three feet away from her.

They arrive.

“You ready, Daddy?” his daughter says.

He steps out. He finds her marker amidst the sea of gray headstones. He could find this stone with his eyes closed. He stands before her, hands in his lap. He’s grinning, but he’s also leaking pretty badly.

“Oh, Maddie,” he says with a smile. “Happy fiftieth wedding anniversary, darling.”

Hug the ones you love. Often.

42 comments

  1. Sharon Brock - January 13, 2021 7:01 am

    Hard to hug from a social-distance but I call my siblings and grandchildren often. It has been 40 years since I lost my paternal grandparents, 17 since I lost my Mother. Memories and knowing I will see them again keeps me going.

    Reply
  2. Christina - January 13, 2021 7:34 am

    I always felt like this is the most romantic thing… old people holding hands, sharing long lasting love with one another, in life and in death. Beautifully written, Sean.

    Reply
  3. Norma Den - January 13, 2021 8:00 am

    Thanks for today’s message though it made me cry. My husband has Alzheimer’s & even though I’m blessed with family support, it’s hard to get through the loneliness I often feel. Your message today, especially the last line, was so profound. God bless you..

    Reply
  4. Margaret E Odell - January 13, 2021 10:38 am

    Sean, that’s one of the worst things about this pandemic — no hugs… but thanks for the reminder!

    Reply
  5. Karen Erwin-Brown - January 13, 2021 11:22 am

    very sweet and I’m glad I have on long sleeves.

    Reply
  6. Te Burt - January 13, 2021 11:50 am

    I guess the greatest disappointment of my life has been the relationship this man had. I’m not a man, but a life-long relationship wasn’t in the cards for me, not this kind. Maybe next life. But I always admire any couple that can make it through a lifetime. I guess what I was looking for just wasn’t that into me.

    Reply
  7. Tammy S. - January 13, 2021 12:08 pm

    Hugs are essential. I believe that with all my heart. Pandemic or no pandemic. And this, this is a beautiful love story. Thanks for sharing, Sean.
    Big hugs to you & Jamie!!

    Reply
  8. Karen - January 13, 2021 12:15 pm

    Thank you for writing and sharing your gift with us.

    Reply
  9. Vicky - January 13, 2021 12:36 pm

    My 40th wedding anniversary is in February & my husband will be gone 13 years on Sunday, so I am crying after reading this. Thank you Sean, for writing so beautifully every day. You are so appreciated!

    Reply
  10. Wanda Morgan - January 13, 2021 12:45 pm

    Awe…my eyes are leaking. I needed a good cry. Such a sweet story.

    Reply
  11. Phil (Brown Marlin) - January 13, 2021 1:21 pm

    Magnificent, Sean. The man in your message was married to a saint, and so are you and I. When I met my bride-to-be, she was a cute little 9th grader, and I was going into the 11th. Cupid shot ugly, shy me plumb full of arrows, and I knew right then that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. We were married 7 long years later, after college, and that was 52.5 years ago. I think she is still the most beautiful creature on earth, but her looks are nothing compared to what is in her heart. Her best beauty is in her deep-seated love for me, family, and friends. She has a huge dose of “it.” I can’t define “it” exactly, only God knows what “it” is, and He loaded her up with “it.”
    Pardon me now, I must go and hug the one I love most.

    Reply
  12. Robert Chiles - January 13, 2021 1:22 pm

    Ace!!!

    Reply
  13. Susan Forte - January 13, 2021 1:26 pm

    Your words warm my heart everyday♥️♥️! Thank you, Sean!

    Reply
  14. Suzie - January 13, 2021 1:28 pm

    What a beautiful story! My heart was so touched ….

    Reply
  15. Cele LeBlanc - January 13, 2021 1:35 pm

    When I sit in bed drinking my morning coffee and tears leak down my cheeks, my husband looks as me and says one word, “Sean?”

    Reply
  16. Sheri Russell - January 13, 2021 2:22 pm

    I’m glad my smart phone is water proof. My eyes are leaking.

    Reply
  17. Heidi - January 13, 2021 2:23 pm

    My husband and I are both crying. We are so grateful to have each other.

    Reply
  18. Jan - January 13, 2021 2:35 pm

    Just like everyone else who reads this, my eyes are leaking. Love is so beautiful and you capture it perfectly! Thank you!

    Reply
  19. Sandra - January 13, 2021 2:52 pm

    Sean I know how the man feels. May 14th. this year my husband of 52 years 10 months and 9 days will be gone five years . I still miss him so much. And a king size bed is way too big for one person. I love reading your column every day. My best to you and Jamie, May you have a long happy Blessed life together. ♥️🙏🏻

    Reply
  20. Mark Fendley - January 13, 2021 3:09 pm

    “A wife isn’t just a wife, she is your whole life.” How true. Thank you for that captured sentiment, and that truth for me.

    Reply
  21. Bobby - January 13, 2021 3:13 pm

    ❤️

    Reply
  22. Betty - January 13, 2021 3:18 pm

    Thank you. Today is my dad’s birthday. He would have been 95. During my mom’s last weeks, she was in a hospital bed in their room. I would hear her call out in the night (I was living there then) for Daddy to hold her hand. He couldn’t hear her without his hearing aids. I’d run into their room and sit beside her bed to hold her hand for him. They often went to sleep holding hands and after her death, Daddy said he missed reaching across the bed for her hand. I didn’t tell him that she had called out for him. He only lived 7 months after her death and every day he told me how desperately lonely he was for her. He worked every day and just before he came home for lunch, she would send me for her lipstick so she would look pretty for him. It’s all in the little things. Lipstick and holding hands.

    Reply
  23. Sarah Dyess - January 13, 2021 3:22 pm

    Thank you for helping me cry this morning. I’m not a crier ~ I keep too much inside ~ but we are grieving for so many here in Monroeville, AL and elsewhere right now. May love and compassion for others grow from the seeds we water with our tears.

    Reply
  24. Mary jo taylor - January 13, 2021 3:33 pm

    Hug while you can- say I love you while you can-

    Reply
  25. Jane - January 13, 2021 3:55 pm

    I feel fortunate to have celebrated 53 years. And still going. Many of my friends are widows and widowers. I have no idea how they have made it. I believe that when that time comes for me..or my husband..we will find what we need to go on…a different life, but one that will honor the one we have lost.

    Reply
  26. Tom Wallin - January 13, 2021 4:12 pm

    Amen.

    Reply
  27. Martha Gwen sibert - January 13, 2021 4:17 pm

    Sean, you are so good a writing the perfect column for whatever is going on in your reader’s lives.

    Today is the first anniversary of my husband’s funeral. We were married for 10 days short of 58 years…I had just turned 19 and he was 22, and we were both college students living on next to nothing. He was so smart and strong, and could “fix” almost anything unless it was something like the compressor in the heat pump in January. He was like the Energizer Bunny, always working and doing things around the house, and teaching a Sunday School class, being an Elder, chairman of the Missions Committee and going on mission trips at our church. He had developed some health problems in his 50s and 60s, osteoarthritis, peripheral neuropathy and rheumatoid arthritis and then in in 70s, Parkinson’s Disease (due to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam) was diagnosed. Parkinson’s is a cruel disease, and it slowly robbed him of his senses of smell and taste, brought about swallowing problems, a voice so low that it was hard to hear him, and loss of appetite. He lost 70 pounds and had to start using a walker. Saddest of all was that he developed Parkinson’s dementia. I ended up having to check his email for him and doing the online bill pay at the bank, sorting out his many pills for the week, and doing all of the driving. The worst time for me is the evenings, and yes, a bed someone has shared with their spouse for all those years is so lonely. After saying we, us and ours for all those years, it has been hard to get used to saying I, me, and mine.

    Reply
  28. joseph armon, jr - January 13, 2021 4:36 pm

    I was not as strong as the old man. I do not celebrate her birthday or our anniversary. I avoid Christmas and Thanksgiving with her family (second marriage for both of us) because they were such joyous events and without her the void was too much for me. After my Barbara (ALS) went to heaven after 30 years with me on 1/11/15 I started celebrating Thanksgiving with my 5 Great grandkids up north and Christmas my 3 Great grandkids in the deep southwest. I do keep in touch with all of her children and grandkids and did get to celebrate the birth of what would have been her first Great grandkid (that was her only dying regret).
    Thank you Phil(Blue Marlin) for your post that did make me cry and saying so much of what I wanted to say.
    Sean, you are a blessing.
    Joseph Armon, Jr.

    Reply
  29. Linda Moon - January 13, 2021 5:53 pm

    My cats will miss me if I go before they do. I will miss them if it’s vice versa. It’s hard to think about missing My Guy or of him missing me. I prefer to water-ski and then float in that River until the time of missing comes. Eventually, I’ll have to leave the river for solid ground. But between now and that time, there’ll be lots of hugs between My Guy, the cats, and me as we all continue to enjoy old age together. And here’s hugging to you, Sean and Jamie, with love from Oopie and Pops!

    Reply
  30. JACKIE LEON DARNELL - January 13, 2021 6:18 pm

    Reading all the comments from THESE OLD people ABOVE who understand this post, helps. But so far we have been blessed with over 64 years together and we both know that this old man’s life will be ours one day, one of us will go first, but until then we want to cherish every minute we have left.

    Reply
  31. JACKIE LEON DARNELL - January 13, 2021 6:22 pm

    Reading the OLD PEOPLE’S comments above help. We have been blessed so far with 64 years. I do not know how the OLD MAN feels, but we both know that one day we will know. Until then we want to enjoy every minute together.
    I enjoyed the read, I just hope if I am the one left I can hold up well.

    Reply
  32. Colleen Shabluk - January 13, 2021 8:33 pm

    Dear Sean, Thank you for your beautiful story with a message as old as time. Never, ever, forget the hugs. Didn’t think my teenage grandsons would continue that when they reached puberty but actually, they initiate hugs with their arms reaching out to me. Married 52 years to my high school sweetheart, together we have had the conversation of possible scenarios to expect when we are separated. We’ve already seen friends and family experience those difficult days. But until then we will continue to hold hands, hug tightly, and reach out for each other in the night. Thank you for all of your sweet words, so well written.

    Reply
  33. Bob Brenner - January 13, 2021 9:16 pm

    With age the love of your life means more and more❤️❤️

    Reply
  34. MAM - January 13, 2021 9:28 pm

    Bob Brenner, you are so correct. Love continues to grow with your years together. We almost can’t hug hard enough! We are on our way to 53 years together and it’s almost unbearable to think of one of us leaving the other! I hope the one left can remain strong!

    Reply
  35. Ann - January 14, 2021 12:10 am

    Sean,
    Once again, you break my heart, but in a good way.

    Reply
  36. Susie Murphy - January 14, 2021 1:06 am

    Tears.

    Reply
  37. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - January 14, 2021 4:25 am

    😓

    Reply
  38. Kathleen Jun Magyar - January 14, 2021 6:11 am

    So well written. And so loving. My mom died before dad too (he’s 97 now), and every year on the anniversary of her death I send him a floral arrangement featuring daisies. Daisies are a symbol of long-time love and that is what theirs always seemed to be.

    Reply
  39. Tom - January 15, 2021 2:28 am

    You made my eyes leak again. Our 50th anniversary is coming up in bout 6 weeks, don’t know what I would do without her.

    Reply
  40. Cheryl Peterson - January 16, 2021 5:21 am

    Breathtakingly, heartbreakingly beautiful. You nailed this one. Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  41. David - January 17, 2021 2:29 am

    She’s the love of my life. No…she IS my life. Our dog is ‘Jack’ loves her almost as much as I do. We’ve been married 48 1/2 years. I cannot bear the thought.

    Reply
  42. Dean - January 19, 2021 7:14 pm

    The nights are the worse. We had been married 58 years and dated 2 he passed away July 6 2020 and didn’t get to see him for 5 weeks before he died.
    So blessed i have two children and their spouses and grandchildren so i am not alone.
    Great column

    Reply

Leave a Comment