1998 was truly a great year. 1999, unfortunately, was not.
Momma died not long after I had moved home to care for her. She was 96 years old. Daddy spent nearly 80 of those years right by her side. No matter the depth of the financial pressures they faced, their love always lay deeper.
It took 3 years just to get Daddy out of the house. Even then, Jim and I would drive him down to his favorite restaurant and before we ever got in the door, Daddy would lift his worn, defeated eyes to meet our own. “Take me home,” he’d say. We never did get inside that restaurant.
By 2004, Daddy had given up much more than his favorite restaurant. The strongest man I’ll ever know died that April. He was in that ring for over a century, but eventually life got the best of him, as it does for us all at some point or another.
That summer was hard. Jim and I still saw each other whenever possible. He was the main thing keeping me going during that time. One hot July evening I called Jim’s house to do my goodnight ritual. He didn’t answer. We had been dating for years at that point and for God’s sake I knew his schedule better than he did. It was strange for him not to answer that Saturday night. But I shrugged it off. Later that night, my phone rang twice and then disconnected. I called Jim again the next morning. No answer. By this time, I knew something was off and decided to drive over to Raleigh and see for myself.
I found Jim unclothed and unconscious in his bed that morning. I never did hear his voice again. He was 70 years old and just 3 months after life took my daddy, life took my Jim. Turns out, Jim had a stroke in his bedroom that night. He had tried to call me when it was happening, but didn’t last quite long enough for me to pick up the other line. That’s what those two rings were. They were Jim’s last attempt to speak, to reach out to me… but I didn’t answer in time.
He lived one more week in the hospital. I stayed by his side every hour of it. After a few days of whispering to the nurses and trying to spare Jim’s feelings, the nurse looked at me and said, “You know, you can say whatever you want. He can’t understand you anyway.” Well that was just it for me. I fainted right there in that hospital. Jim and I both lay there unconscious. The only difference was, I had the strength to open my eyes back up again. And I don’t know whether to envy or hate him for it.
But anyway, we made it didn’t we?