Larger Than Life . . . And Death

I recently wrote about my mom-in-law’s best friend, “She Left Us Her Best”. And now it’s time to tell you about my dad-in-law’s counterpart.

David was my dad-in-law’s best friend for 40 years. He was the first call my husband made when his dad died during an outpatient heart procedure. We learned that day that the bigger they are, the harder they really do fall. David is a hulk of a man, with a big personality to match. He will give you non-stop humorous ribbing and tells stories so funny you always end up crying. Out of all of us, David has found it the most difficult to recover from dad’s death. I should be ashamed of myself for saying such a thing, as if there is a barometer for grief. This whole website is an homage to the fact that there isn’t. So let’s just say David’s pain is still raw and evident five years in.

David and his wife, Mary, remained close with my mom-in-law after dad died, the two ladies often went on short trips together. Although dad was no longer here, they were, in many ways, still a foursome, dad never far from the conversation and, in most cases, the center of it.

And then my husband had to make the call again.

My mom-in-law suffered a massive stroke and we quickly knew she would not survive. My husband let David and Mary know, continuing to call them with updates during the eight days that followed. On Day 5, they came to see her. I was alone with mom when they arrived and I gave them the latest report on her condition, as we tracked every minuscule detail, trying to humanly gauge a process that is anything but. As Mary went to her bedside I explained that if she held mom’s hand and told her she was there, mom would squeeze her hand. She did and she did.

David sat as far away from the bed as he could get in the small room without going into the hall, his large frame dwarfing the folding chair. Others from the many different walks of mom’s life came and went. David told us all tales spanning four decades and when it was just the four of us, he admitted to me that he sat in the lobby of the facility for a long time before he could bring himself to come to mom’s room. They stayed a long time and when they got up to leave, I encouraged David, not for the first time, to hold mom’s hand and tell her he was there. I didn’t want to push too hard, I knew how completely broken he was, but I also felt he would regret if he didn’t. If there was any blessing in all of this it was that there was time for goodbyes.

Mary had risen from her chair by the bed and retrieved her purse, blowing her nose and wiping her eyes. There was no mistaking any departures from this room for what they were, the last time they would see mom alive.

I tried one more time. “Go hold her hand. Tell her you’re here.” He stood looking down at me, at least a foot taller than I am, and time seemed to stand still. No one moved. Finally, “Should I?”, he said and turned to look at his wife. She didn’t offer a response unless it was a facial expression or nod of her head that I couldn’t see. He turned back to me. “I think you should”, I replied.

I took his huge hand and walked him the few steps to the bed, not daring to breathe for fear of scaring him off. I gestured to the seat set alongside mom, looking like doll furniture in this substantial man’s presence. I stepped out of the way, he stood looking at mom, ignoring the chair, then slowly took her hand. The room was filled with silence and a lifetime of love and laughter. After a bit, I whispered, “Tell her it’s you.” Although the day is etched in my memory forever, i don’t recall what his words were. But he said something. He turned to me, “She’s squeezing my hand”, he said, his voice filled with emotion and surprise.

The next few days would hold more of the same, people coming in disbelief to spend some final time with mom until finally only our small family and mom’s best friend remained vigilant. And on Day 8, as is always the case, with one last breath she was gone.

David and Mary were two of the few close friends we invited to the private burial between the church service and the luncheon at a local restaurant mom loved, located a few blocks from where she grew up. It was the perfect afternoon of good food and wine, laughter, stories, people meeting others they had heard about from mom but had never met, and there was love. When David and Mary found me at a table with my dearest friends to say goodbye, this larger than life man in every way wrapped me in his arms and said, “What you made me do in that room . . . I love you.”

Three months later, my husband and I had breakfast with David and Mary. They took us to see the new home they will be moving into in the next couple of weeks, just as Mary had taken mom only weeks before she died to show her the lot where the house now stands. The two women had planned to decorate the place together. They were excited for us to be there but as we stood talking in the kitchen of the finished but empty building after the tour, what wasn’t there was palpable. Not furniture. Not photos.

The first recipe made in this room was missing some significant ingredients, creating a moment both bitter and sweet. And the largest serving went to the Goliath we have learned is David.


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