The Big Day

Today is a big day for him. 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.

He walks into the kitchen, all dressed up and whistling. Martin follows because he 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.

He 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 up.” “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 says 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.

38 comments

  1. Dawn A Bratcher - February 3, 2020 7:23 am

    Weeping….life is beautiful, but we will leave this earthly domain one day. My husband and I are at the age when friends from school are having severe health problems, and some have even died. One day we know we will be separated, but when you wrote about this gentleman’s day, I felt the hole in his heart & loneliness that was left. I did not really understand the depth of agony I will feel, if I am the one left here.

    Reply
  2. Allyson Marxsen - February 3, 2020 7:49 am

    Thank you for this beautiful reminder.

    Reply
  3. Dolores - February 3, 2020 9:16 am

    You never know when the last hug will happen.

    Reply
  4. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - February 3, 2020 10:27 am

    I only had 10 years with my husband but the feelings that you described are the same as I experienced. Thank you for this today!

    Reply
  5. grantburris - February 3, 2020 10:29 am

    I don’t know who this lady was. Sean, but I wish I had know her also. Now, I feel like I kinda do. Great memory.

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  6. Pam - February 3, 2020 11:03 am

    Oh, my. I’m leaking pretty badly myself. Loved it!

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  7. Jeff Lisa Wood - February 3, 2020 11:52 am

    Well thank you Sean Dietrich for starting my day off with leaky eyes. I knew I should’ve read my Bible first. Also thank you for reminding me how special my husband is and how amazing our life is & has been together. In August we’ll celebrate 25 years married, consecutively to each other, and never to anyone else. Maybe that’s why I can sit next to him in the bed drinking coffee (that he brings me every morning and always has) reading your daily email, wiping away tears, without him ever looking up. He just knows me and I’m thankful for that.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    Reply
  8. Amy - February 3, 2020 12:07 pm

    Thank you Sean for leaky eyes this morning!

    Reply
  9. Richda McNutt - February 3, 2020 12:22 pm

    Well – – you’ve done it again. Why do you want to make me leak?

    Reply
  10. Naomi - February 3, 2020 1:00 pm

    My husband and I have been married for 40 years; he’s 14 years older than me but I am the one who is having health problems. I don’t know what’s going to happen to him if I die first. He grew up the depression; his father and grandfather were sharecroppers until his father bought a house and farm in 1938. We still live on the farm although we built a house here in 1981. My husband couldn’t go to college or find a job when he graduated high school when he was 17 years old so he joined the AF National Guard. He ended up getting deployed to Japan during the Korean War and managed to go to college under the GI Bill because he didn’t want to be a farmer.He stayed in the AF, ANG and Reserve for 42 years, retiring as a Lt Col from the AF Audit Agency. He also retired from the federal government after 30 years and is also a retired Southern Baptist preacher. He has a genius IQ but he can’t deal with all of the technology that we have today. He doesn’t know how to use a computer, a cell phone, our dishwasher (which is digital), our digital thermostat or even our coffee maker, which is also digital. Many years ago, I had all of our bills set up for auto pay so we don’t have to write checks, so he doesn’t have to worry about paying bills. He insists that he will die first, but you never know. He has 3 sons but non of them live near us and he doesn’t want to live with them or go to a nursing home. All we can do is take one day at a time and deal with whatever we have to deal with when the time comes.

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  11. Marilyn - February 3, 2020 1:26 pm

    Sweet! Happy anniversary Maddie! Your husband is a gem!

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  12. Sandra - February 3, 2020 2:09 pm

    Dear Sean. You hit home this morning. My husband and I were childhood sweethearts. We were married 52 years 10 months and 9 days when he passed away. He was the love of my life. And a king size bed is way too big for one person. I have been thinking about getting a twin. 😊

    Reply
  13. Ala Red Clay Girl - February 3, 2020 2:11 pm

    What a beautiful reminder to not take life or others for granted.

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  14. Gwen Douglas - February 3, 2020 2:18 pm

    Well. I’m leaking pretty badly over here in Georgia. We made it to 47 years and next year will be number 50 for us. I hate cancer.

    Reply
  15. Shelton A. - February 3, 2020 2:32 pm

    Amen to that. That made see sad and inspired all that the same time. Wow…

    Reply
  16. Margaret Angell - February 3, 2020 3:09 pm

    Sean, that made me cry. We all should be so blessed as to share the kind of love he shared with his wife. Thanks for sharing his story.

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  17. Chasity Davis Ritter - February 3, 2020 3:20 pm

    Yeah I’m leaking too right now. Big ole wet ones rolling down my cheeks. Always hug those you love. Forgive those you’re mad at and be kind.

    Reply
  18. Anne - February 3, 2020 3:21 pm

    This is one of the most beautiful pieces you’ve ever written or that I have ever read. My heart is full! Thank you for sharing this poignant tribute to a loving couple.

    Reply
  19. Janice, Silverhill, AL - February 3, 2020 3:32 pm

    Such a beautiful story of love Sean, and your words have just told it perfectly. My husband stole my heart when I had just turned 17. Yesterday we celebrated 51 years of loving and growing up together. Now we grow old together and love just gets better and better. Thank you Dear Sean.

    Reply
  20. Linda Moon - February 3, 2020 4:31 pm

    I will keep my reply brief today so I can have plenty of time to do some hugging later. Your gifts of words mean more than you might realize for us readers, Sean, including today’s about The Big Day. I’m sending a virtual hug to you right now. I’ll give you a real hug if I go to another Live Event and probably get one of yours in return!

    Reply
  21. Anne - February 3, 2020 4:38 pm

    Naomi,
    This is absolutely none of my business but I am writing you because our family lost my father’s wife in August. She was 70 and he is 88. She, like you, handled everything. Now she is gone and it is a disaster. Daddy knows no passwords, doesn’t know how to do anything with technology, etc. Not only is he mourning his sweet wife, who was going to take care of him always, but he feels terrible about not knowing anything about the bills, etc. None of us know when we are going. Please don’t let this happen to your husband.

    Reply
  22. Edna Barron - February 3, 2020 4:44 pm

    This is a beautiful love story. Hug and kiss your loved ones every day. Each day is a gift. You have a wonderful day Sean, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  23. Marge Hutsell - February 3, 2020 6:16 pm

    I am weeping as I type. My Tom was with me for 57 years. He is gone now – for 3 years and counting. Every day is a gift from God, but I wonder why I am still here to walk alone. My home is so quiet and feels so empty. My daughter has been living with me and now, off she goes, to be married soon. It’s crazy how you can feel so lonely even when surrounded by family and friends. We could finish each other’s sentences without hesitating. We held hands before sleeping each night. Oh, how I miss that! My dog sleeps beside me (I changed from a king bed to a queen to help make it better – it doesn’t). Chances are this is going to happen to everyone who is lucky enough to have a true soul mate and love-of-their-life beside them. It isn’t easy and I resent those who tell me it will get that way. Those of us who are living this will know what I mean. Thank you for my morning tears, Sean. Life’s mountains to climb are chances from Jesus for growth and lessons. At least that is what I am telling myself.

    Reply
  24. Fred Borders - February 3, 2020 7:19 pm

    Good job Sean one of your very best!

    Reply
  25. Jacy Cook - February 3, 2020 7:21 pm

    This was the toughest one to read through. Losing a mate is absolutely losing half of one’s self, and maybe more at times. -Such a wonderfully written story and many thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  26. Barbara - February 3, 2020 8:02 pm

    Thanks Sean for this beautiful tear jerking story, it’s as if you were writing my story. Two years ago my husband of 55 years went home to be with our Lord and Savior. I’m also thinking of getting a twin bed, that queen bed of ours is much to empty without him. Thanks to everyone who shared your story with us today.

    Reply
  27. Martha Gwen Sibert - February 3, 2020 8:58 pm

    It was very difficult for me to read this through my tears, and I had to wait awhile before I could write my comment. My husband’s funeral was three weeks ago today, Jan 13. He was 79 and died from Parkinson’s Disease, with dementia, acknowledged by the Army as brought about by exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam and he was 100% disabled. Our 58th wedding anniversary was ten days after he died, Jan 19. My children took me out to dinner after church that day. It was bittersweet, but good to know that they care for me. I already miss him so much. Yes, Hug your loved ones long and hug them often…this is so very true. Thank you for another wonderful column.

    Reply
  28. Martha Young - February 3, 2020 10:27 pm

    Too close to home.

    Reply
  29. Cheryl - February 3, 2020 11:08 pm

    Your best story ever.

    Reply
  30. Ann Marie Bouchet - February 3, 2020 11:39 pm

    How beautiful, Sean…..and you made me cry……again. We will celebrate our 49th in May. In many ways, it seems like yesterday, but then I look in the mirror, and the passage of time is shocking and unmistakable. You are truly a remarkable man. Thank you for your beautiful, meaningful writings. Love you and Jamie.

    Reply
  31. Connie Havard Ryland - February 4, 2020 3:10 am

    Beautiful. I’ve always dreamed of being loved like that. I know it exists. I’ve seen it and it’s a wonderful thing.

    Reply
  32. Mark Stewart - February 4, 2020 4:29 am

    I was fortunate to have Carolyn for 50 years, 3 months and 3 days before she went home. I so identify with “Daddy.” I too sleep in a king bed and have found it very lonely. I have adjusted to sleeping alone, but over 9 years I still reach across the console to hold hands.

    Reply
  33. Joyce Anne Bacon - February 4, 2020 1:29 pm

    I wanted to say something meaningful but my eyes are so blurred from the tears I can hardly type.

    Reply
  34. Judy Register - February 4, 2020 7:03 pm

    Your insight truly amazes me. It’s those little acts of love that mean more after the loss of a spouse. My husband always made the coffee and brought me a cup to bed because he was the early riser. I realized after he died what a wonderful way this was to start a day.

    Reply
  35. lfry1220 - February 6, 2020 3:11 pm

    Amen, brother.

    Reply
  36. GarlAnd Mahan SR - February 6, 2020 3:12 pm

    Thanks, Janice and I will soon celebrate our 69th
    Anniversary. Everything you wrote about is and has been identical in our lives. I still have Janice. She is the love of my life, my rock, and my security blanket. One of us will carry on with the memories to comfort the one left behind. Even with the loss of a daughter, brothers, sisters, and parents God has walked every step with us and has “carried us thru” difficult times. A touch, a hug, a kiss, and loving words mean so much now, and will provide beautiful memories for the one left behind.
    God Bless,
    Garland W Mahan SR

    Reply
  37. hellpecker - February 9, 2020 1:06 am

    Second only to “The Long Goodbye” July 8, 2017

    Reply
  38. Robert Chiles - February 16, 2020 2:41 pm

    Absolutely stunning writing!

    Reply

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