You had compassion and mercy for all living things. There wasn’t a ruthless bone in your body.
I remember you walking up the steps of my front porch where a sad fern that had seen too many cold nights rested on a stand. Not many people would have taken notice but you did. You gently touched the leaves and said to no one in particular, It’ll live.
You taught me about root systems and growth patterns when I was choosing trees for my own landscape. You planted trees for your mother as gifts, making sure your parents could enjoy them from the windows inside the house. You and Theresa would then take care of them until the roots were well-established so that all your parents had to do was look outside and enjoy the beauty.
As much as you loved all things botanical, I’ll always remember your dogs. You always had dogs. You loved them and they loved you. William was no exception. He started his life with your brother and then went to live with your father. When your parents passed away, he became yours.
I remember the day you came driving by with the windows rolled down on a cold December afternoon. William had just gotten an extreme makeover. His fur had gone from looking like dreads to a coat so smooth and shiny, as if someone had taken a straightening iron to it. He sat so tall and proud in the passenger seat of your Jeep and I swear he was smiling. You had been driving him around for hours because he was feeling so handsome.
The worst Monday of my entire life was the last Monday I spent with you. Your lungs were filling with fluid and you struggled for every breath. Even so, you wanted to go sit outside on the front porch. You wanted to look at the trees and sit in the sunshine. It was hard getting you into the wheelchair that had once been your father’s. Your muscles no longer worked. Every part of you was tender to the touch. Pain wasn’t about to deter you.
There’s no one else I’d rather spend a horrible Monday with than you.
When the back door opened that day, William came running inside. I don’t know how many days had passed since your handsome dog had seen you but he was having no more of that. He sat near you for as long as he could until someone ushered him outside again.
As the minutes ticked, your discomfort increased. When it was darn near impossible to live in your own skin, it was time for morphine. You’d held off on that for as long as you could. When you finally gave in, it took the edge off.
That was late afternoon.
Heath came over after school. Phyllis came back after her work shift in the middle of the night. You asked her to sit with you on one side of the couch. You asked me to be your arm rest. For the first time that day, you were relaxed and comfortable. Quietly, you asked Phyllis to sing you a song and so she began…
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…
You make me happy when skies are gray.
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you,
Please don’t take my sunshine away.
“Terry’s mother used to sing that song to all her kids and grandkids,” I said to Phyllis and it was almost as if your sweet mother was with us in that moment with you.
We sat together, the three of us, mostly in silence broken on occasion with something on your mind.
“Where’s Heath?” you wanted to know.
“He’s still here,” Phyllis answered.
“Is he ok?” you asked.
“He’s sound asleep on your antique sofa,” Phyllis told her.
You finally dozed off around 5 a.m.
Heath headed out for school right about the time your childhood friend, Diane arrived.
That’s about the time Phyllis decided to head to her house for some sleep. She was almost to the front door when something changed in your breathing pattern—a slight inconsistency that made us all stop in our tracks and walk slowly toward the couch where you slept.
A Holy silence filled the room. And then you breathed your last breath.
It was one of the most sacred things I’ve ever seen in my life.
April 27, 2004.
Nurse Doris came and very gently prepared you for your final departure from the house your parents built 40 years ago. While Doris poured out all your medication, Phyllis stayed inside to witness.
I followed the men who carried you out the front door, down the porch steps, past the trees, into the car.
William came running to the fence standing tall and brave, loyal…knowing. He watched until you were long gone.