This I Believe

Deborah - Limerick, Maine
Entered on January 5, 2009
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: death, family

A talented actress friend and I were walking past an unusual building in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, one day, a wooden, octagonal place that is used by the Salvation Army’s camp program. “I’d like to put on shows there,” she said.

Years later, with her repertory troupe well established, she commissioned me to write a musical number for one of her shows, which I went to see — at the octagonal Salvation Army building.

I’m not so amazed at those kinds of things any more. I believe we all get what we wish for, although we may not remember wishing for it, we may not recognize it when we see it, and we may not even LIVE to see it.

My mom and dad divorced in 1975 after 36 years of marriage. Mom joined the Peace Corps. My dad settled down with another woman.

Eventually Mom came home to southern Maine to live near most of her five kids. Although stricken with emphysema and lymphoma. she kept busy, watching her grandkids, giving Peace Corps talks at local schools, involving herself in anti-war causes and staying active with her church. She tried to get me to come to her church, too; she wanted me to sing for the congregation. No thanks, Mom, I’d say; not my thing.

Meanwhile, my father’s lady friend left him, and at age 84, he was all alone in his home on Bear Hill in Dover-Foxcroft. I visited him as often as possible, but pretty much always timed my visits to coincide with trips home by my best friend from high school. This really bugged my dad. “I wish you’d come up here to spend a week just with ME,” he’d grouse.

In December 1997 I got a call from one of my sisters. She’d heard from Dad’s ex-girlfriend, who said he was in bad shape and should not be alone.

I went right up, and it was true: Daddy was not looking good. Flesh was hanging off his upper arms. He was skin and bones. His doctor seemed unconcerned. “He’s old,” he kept telling me and my siblings.

I finally got Daddy referred to a real doctor, who gave him one look and told us both, gently, that he was dying of cancer.

Dad was in the hospital for four days. The doctor ordered biopsies, but made it clear that the tests were being done to help us, the kids, because Daddy was way beyond help. As Daddy was being wheeled into the OR for the tests, I heard his attendant ask, “Do you know what you’re coming in here for?” And Daddy made us all laugh when he said, “Yes — autopsy.” What a guy.

Daddy died the night I brought him home to Bear Hill. Dec. 22. It was snowing hard. I realized I’d been with him for a week, the last week of his life. And my high-school friend was nowhere around. I was there just for Daddy.

Fifty-four days later, on Valentine’s Day, my mother died. And at her funeral the next week, I sang for her congregation.