Authors: Debbie White
“We’re so sorry, Mom. I know you wanted to get to know her,” Peter said.
“I did know her – somewhat. After everyone had come clean, I recalled several times a lady would come visit me. She’d bring me toys, and play games with me. Irma was not nice to her, though. I remember that as well. After we moved to California, I never saw her again.”
“Why do you think it was so imperative that everyone keep that secret from you, Mom?” Peter asked.
“Yeah, Mom,” Charlie echoed.
“I guess to cover up embarrassment and shame. Who really knows? If Irma told the truth, then everyone would have known Lyle was a cheater. It would have made him look bad. Maybe she did have some love for him after all. She did protect him, I guess.”
“Are you okay with what you know?” Peter asked.
“I’m more than okay. I have a wonderful husband, three great children, who all married incredible people. I also have the best grandchildren a woman could ask for,” I said smiling at each of them. “My cup runneth over,” I said with a tear in my eye.
I looked around the table and saw all the twinkling eyes and bright smiles. At that very moment, something so profound hit me. I had the best family right here. I didn’t need to travel clear across the United States to discover that. Those days in Iowa were in the past. It’s true, the past made me who I was today, but it wouldn’t determine my whole legacy or my path to happiness.
It was troubling for me as a young mother to understand how a mother could be so mean to their child. I guess that is essentially what drove me to investigate my adoption.
I should have listened to Charles. He said it didn’t matter. It was only important how I lived my life today. And sometimes even the truth can’t set you free. As usual, he was right.
Looking back on it now, I was hurting so badly. First as a child, later as an adult. I wanted to channel all the pain into something good, so I became an advocate for children. I knew firsthand they didn’t really have a voice, and it was up to adults to protect them.
My advocacy efforts weren’t limited to children. It also included animals. Carole and I would always say, children and animals needed protection. She’d go on to follow in my footsteps. She would be their voice.
A brown envelope was delivered addressed to me. In the upper right-hand corner an attorney in Iowa. I was shaking as I opened the envelope wondering what it could be but also realizing it most likely was about Inez.
Inside, a notification informing me I was heir to her estate. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Money sure couldn’t buy happiness, and it definitely couldn’t undo the years of being without her.
When I showed Charles the notice, he just nodded his head. “Well, the caregiver said she was wealthy. I know you didn’t want anything from her but looks like you’re going to get something. If you don’t want it for yourself I understand,” he said looking me straight in the eyes. “Let the grandchildren have it. It can pay for college,” he added.
I agreed by nodding my head. He was right. The money wouldn’t change a whole lot with us, but it really could help the rest of the family.
The years rolled by and with each passing year, Charles and I also got older. Unfortunately, with age comes not just wisdom, but aches and pains and if you’re really unlucky; doctor appointments. We both had our share; Charles more than me.
I was seen for the regular things like cholesterol and blood pressure, but Charles was experiencing heart palpitations and some pain in his chest. The doctors monitored him and he was on some medication, but there’s not a lot you can do for a worn out body.
“Live your life to the fullest,” they’d say.
And, that’s what we tried to do. Charles was always puttering around in his garden, trying to play a little golf, and believe it or not, dabbling in investigations still. He had to have a hand in the old business still, even though he was a partner in name only.
One Sunday, we were sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, nibbling on fresh bakery donuts and reading the paper.
“Let’s do something special for our fiftieth wedding anniversary!” Charles said peering from above the paper.
“What did you have in mind?” I asked.
“I see here there’s a special on cruises,” he mumbled.
“I don’t know,” I said trailing off to the kitchen to rinse our coffee cups.
“Well, think about it. We have several months to plan something.”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on a cruise. We were getting up in years, and traveling long distance was hard. I worried about Charles. He’d had some heart problems, and I was concerned we shouldn’t go too far. I didn’t want to convey my concern, as I knew he only was trying to make me happy. Charles spent our entire marriage trying to make me happy. I was happy, but sometimes the depression was so strong. I still was scarred, and no matter how much I told him I was ok, I wasn’t.
We settled on having a large party with family and neighbors. Our daughter, Carole, planned the whole thing long distance. It was so lovely. Carole decorated the house, and the boys helped move furniture to make room for tables and chairs. They played our favorite music, and for a momentous ending, a slide show complete with music highlighting our life. It was much better than any cruise.
After all the guests had gone home, Charles and I gathered the children, their spouses, and all the grandchildren close.
“You guys outdid yourselves. This was so nice,” Charles told them.
“It was the perfect anniversary party,” I said choking back tears and feeling the effects of the champagne.
“It was our pleasure,” Peter announced.
The group went in for a hug. I knew there was nothing like having a close family. I loved them dearly. That’s what pained me so when I’d get in my down moods, or lash out at them. I didn’t mean to. It was something so dark and deep inside me. I had to let it go.
Each day, I became more concerned about Charles. His health was declining before my eyes. It happened suddenly. One day we were young and carefree, and the next we were shrouded with doctor appointments, surgery dates and hospital stays.
I didn’t want to focus on the negative, but deep down inside I knew it was coming. The doctors said things like bad heart, and liver, kidney’s failing, and it would just be a matter of time before I’d lose my beloved Charles.
Charles didn’t stop living, though. He occasionally helped with the P.I. Firm and he did what he could around the house. We’d occasionally go out to eat, and the kids were always visiting. It was hard to realize his health was so poor. He never whined or complained about the pain he had to be experiencing. He just lived. I saw his strength every day. It amazed me.
In fact, Charles was doing so well I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen. It was about 4 a.m. and Charles called out to me. He told me to call our oldest son. I knew it meant trouble. He was out of town, so I called our youngest son. When Peter arrived, Charles was unconscious. In between tears, Peter lifted his father up and put him in the back seat of our car. We drove in silence, at a fast speed to the nearby hospital.
The news wasn’t good. Charles was dying. They had him hooked up to all the machines – something he probably wouldn’t have wanted, but nevertheless we made the decision to do. We weren’t ready to let him go. However, after we heard the dismal news that he’d not recover, we made the decision to remove the life support and let him pass away. It was what he would want. I knew it, and the kids knew it too.
The next few days were a blur to me. I went through the motions of living, but I was dying inside. I didn’t know how I’d cope without Charles.
“Mom, you need to eat something,” Peter pleaded.
“Mom, you need to get out of the house,” Carole begged.
Mom, Mom, Mom was all I heard.
The kids put together a beautiful memorial for Charles. We all met at the cemetery where we’d spread his ashes and said some lovely words. We then went over to our youngest sons’ house for food and more memories. I know I was there, but I don’t really remember much about that day.
I tried to go about my days as best as I could. I felt lost. The children did everything they could, but they had their own lives to lead. I didn’t want to impose on them.
Carole lived out of state with her military husband, and soon would be going back to her life. I wouldn’t get to see her often, and would miss her so much. I’d see the guys on all the major holidays, and they tried to see me as often as they could.
I accepted the fact that they were busy with work and their families. Their father and I raised them to be like that – good, responsible fathers and husbands.
I was becoming more content with my life as I settled into my new life without Charles. I’d tell Carole on the phone that I wasn’t happy, I was content. I don’t think it gave her much comfort as she was always worrying about me.
I tried to make the best of the situation I was now thrown into. I’d never expected to be a widow at such a young age. I was only seventy-two.
Years went by and I plugged along doing my own thing. I gardened, kept the house up, and occasionally took a trip with the senior group. I did what I could to stay busy, and out of my children’s hair.
Not a day went by that I didn’t miss Charles. He was my rock. He was my soul. I knew he was pain-free and probably putting his investigative skills to work in Heaven. I laughed at that thought. Charles spying on folks from Heaven.
My mood was quickly picked up when Carole announced that she and her husband were moving back. I was worried she was making the wrong decision. She had children and grandchildren she would be leaving behind.
“No Mom, this is the right decision. You need me, and it’s a great time in my life to be able to help,” she added.
Deep down inside I was elated. I’d missed her so much over the years. I knew she was happy and healthy, though, and as I had said it many times, seeing your children happy is the best thing a parent can witness.
The kids settled in relatively quickly. Carole and I picked up as if she’d never left. The two of us would go shopping and out to lunch, and since Carole was now retired, she and I would take off for weekend trips to Reno. We always had a blast. On the weekends, her husband would always include me in their little trips to local wineries, or drives to the beach. We all got along so well. I loved all my children, but Carole and I were close. I loved having her here and enjoyed her company.
It was perfect timing, Carole moving out to California. I was getting a little tired of keeping up the big home, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for apartment living either. At eighty, I was still mowing my own lawn. However, with each passing month, I began to realize that selling and moving into a senior apartment was the only real choice.
My own health started showing signs of age. I was feeling a bit out of breath, and my energy level deteriorated making it increasingly harder to mow my own lawn.
The kids tried to talk me into hiring a lawn crew, but I scoffed at the thought. If I couldn’t take care of my own property, then perhaps it was time to sell.
I made the difficult decision to sell the place. It was time.
Carole took me to look at the senior apartments. They were smaller than I expected. I was going from 1600 square feet to 580, but it had everything I needed. It was within walking distance to the grocery and drug store, as well as the post office, and a discount store.
“Mom, you won’t need all your furniture,” Carole reminded me.
“Yes, I know. How do you feel about a yard sale?”
And just like that, I planted the seed and Carole ran with it. We had a huge sale and I was able to sell most of the things I wouldn’t be taking with me.
It seemed to sneak up on me suddenly. One day I was in my home, doing my own thing, and the next, I’m moving into a senior apartment complex with all the amenities that would help me maintain my independence. This would ease my children’s mind. It was a win-win situation for all of us.
The children took one of their weekends and moved me into the apartment. Carole helped me arrange the furniture, Peter hung up all my pictures, and Charlie made sure my television and all the other electronic devices were operational. I soon settled into my new abode, and after about a month I really liked it.
Peter would bring his children by and we’d go have pizza. After Charles Jr.’s hiking trips, he’d bring by photos and share the beauty of the area he’d seen. Peter would come by and re-hang a picture for me, or hang an outside plant. He was the handyman of the bunch. Carole would come by and take me out for a quick casino run, lunch, or shopping. Each child did something for me and it was wonderful having them so close by.
On the days when I didn’t have any visitors, or anything else to do, I would sit on my couch and gaze out to the large parking lot that was adjacent to my apartment. I’d think back to when I was a small girl in Iowa, and then a teen in Southern California.
I’d reminisce about the time my dad made my homemade sled or the time he took me to the corner store for ice cream. Sometimes I would think about the time we traveled the 3,000 miles to California from Iowa with suitcases, and some pieces of furniture strapped to the roof of the car. But no matter what memory I started with, I ended them with meeting Charles, our exciting life as P.I.’s, our marriage, and darling children. Oh, how I wish he were still here. Charles would be so proud of our family. I think he’d be surprised that I’d given up the big house, and downsized to a small apartment. But then I’d think, heck, he already knows. He’s watching me from Heaven. He knew every move I made.
I still wasn’t feeling myself. I became exhausted by little things like walking from my apartment down to the mailroom. I became winded after doing my laundry. I knew it wasn’t good. I confided in Carole I should see the doctor.
Carole made an appointment with my primary doctor, and after preliminary tests, she made a referral appointment with a cardiologist. I was scared. Heart problems had taken my beloved Charles away.
My doctor told the kids I needed a pacemaker. It was a simple operation, and it would give me more years. The kids were great. They made sure I got to the hospital, and afterward, made sure I was mending well. If I needed anything, I was instructed to call one of them. That’s why their father and I never bothered them while they led their lives. We both knew, in a crisis we could count on them.
Life resumed for me. My pacemaker helped my heart, but I noticed I was slowing down. Seemed it was one thing after another. Getting old sucked!
Right outside the building, the senior bus picked up and took us to various events. Carole would come over and park her car at my place, and we’d ride the bus together.
I was so excited. Carole and I were going to San Francisco to see a musical and have lunch. She was my traveling companion. She was so good about it too. We would travel on the senior center bus, and almost always, she’d be the youngest one. It didn’t seem to faze her. She’d help the old folks off the bus, help them with their walkers, and she even played Bingo with us on the way down and on the way back. No sooner would we get home, and I’d be looking for the next getaway the two of us could do. Her husband was so great about letting her go with me. He’d also get in on the trips too.