“There are moments when you witness what true love is.
When you watch your bride-to-be walk down the aisle.
When you see your baby breathe for the first time.
When you lock eyes with your soulmate.
Yes, those are true love moments.
I thought I knew what true love was. I had the experiences. I knew what butterflies did to your tummy. I knew what it felt like to have something take your breath away. I knew what it felt like to lay with somebody and count their heartbeats praying and hoping it would never go away.
But, the first time I experienced real, pure, uninhibited true love was on April 5, 2015. It was Easter Sunday. My daughter was 12. She wore Easter Bunny ears to the airport. She was so excited, but she said very little. She didn’t need to. I could see it on her face. I could see how big her eyes were while she waited. I could see her heart pumping in her neck. I watched as she kicked her leg trying to sit patiently in the chair. And then I watched her entire body change when she saw him walk through the doors into the waiting room where she sat. Her body stayed in the seat, but I could feel her soul jump. I don’t think she knew what to do. I don’t think she knew what to say. I am sure she didn’t know what to think.
He looked different. He had lost 40 pounds. He was pale. He was limping from the pain of his abdominal incision. His face was gaunt. His entire demeanor was quieter. She noticed this. The little gymnast who spent a lifetime bouncing off the walls shuffled slowly towards him even though I knew she wanted to run and jump in his arms. It had been two months since she had seen him. She asked for him every day that he was gone. She wanted him home. She wanted him to bake cupcakes with her. She wanted him to barbeque steak at midnight while the rest of the world was asleep. She wanted him to share his mint and chip ice cream and she wanted him to lip synch to the newest Hannah Montana song.
But above all, she wanted him to be well.
She wanted him to be alive.
She wanted him to be healed.
She wanted him to not be sick anymore.
I think they were both terrified. I think they were both confused by what was happening. I don’t think either of them understood. And, as she got close enough to touch him, she cautiously hugged his leg, and he wrapped his arm around her. She mustered enough of a voice to push out two words, just two words as she looked up at him and smiled, ‘Hi, Daddy.’
I can’t remember if he said anything or if he just looked down and pulled her in tighter. I am sure he was afraid his voice would break, or the tears would flow, and neither of those options worked for him. We were still all mapping this out. Trying to figure out how to navigate it, and sometimes you are just lost for words. Sometimes, you just don’t know what to say.
And in those moments of silence, you just hold on. And that’s exactly what they did. They just held on. She held his hand tight, and he held hers, while his other hand held onto his wound from where the doctors had cut him open – sternum to pelvis, trying to remove the beast inside of him that was trying to kill him. A tumor deep in his pancreas that was trying to steal him from her.
By the time we got home, he just needed to rest. He picked at the Easter dinner we had made him, hopeful that he would be able to eat. He tried. He really did. He pushed around the potato salad, he had an egg or two, but in the end, his appetite just wasn’t the same. So, he eased onto the recliner, in the only comfortable position he could find, and she wasted no time following.
She silently snuggled in next to him and didn’t say a word. Conversation was unnecessary. Yet, as I watched her move closer and closer to him, and him move closer to her, their voices were loud. Their language was spoken. They said things to each other that only their hearts could say.
And that’s when I figured out what true love was.
That’s when I saw what true love felt like.
That’s when I understood that true love is not grandiose.
That’s when I learned that true love is often moments that two people share that nobody else can fully understand.
The next time I saw that was on the day he died. She had been with him all day. She brought him ice-tea. She wiped his brow. Late in the evening, I sent her home. We thought he was ok. He was showing signs of improvement. We were optimistic. So, she left, like I asked her to. I told her to get a good night’s sleep and be back early to see him. I kissed her goodbye. I thanked my friend for picking her up, and then hugged her again. By the time I made it back to his hospital room, he could not breathe. I was confused. I called for the doctor.
‘He will not make it through the night,’ they told me.
I shook my head. ‘Impossible,’ I thought. He was fine just 20 minutes before when she was there.
I quietly gasped when I realized what had happened. I instinctively covered my mouth. I let the tears fall. Half of me wanted to curse him. Half of me wanted to thank him.
He waited for her to leave.
It was his last act of true love.
I called her back and I let her choose. She chose to be with him while he passed. I’m sure he was mad at me, but I had to. Because my love for him, and my love for her was just as true as their love for each other, and I had to give her a chance to be there. She stayed with him. She held his hand while he took his last breath, much like he held hers when she took her first.
And that’s what true love is. All of it. All of the sweet moments, the fun ones, the silly ones and the hard ones, too. Because when you love somebody with a pure heart, you take it all. You do it all. You laugh together. You cry together. You love together. You fight together. You sacrifice together. You figure out life together. And sometimes, you sit in silence together. Sometimes, you just snuggle up and hold on. Yes, sometimes, you just hold on and sometimes, you say goodbye.
But you never forget. No, you never forget, and you don’t have to. I don’t have to. She doesn’t have to. None of us have to. I always want to remember what true love feels like. I want to remember what it looks like. I want to remember what it sounds like, and sometimes what it doesn’t. I want to remember everything about it. Because someday, I want to experience it again, and I want her to, as well. I don’t want either of us to ever settle for anything less, and I hope you don’t, either. We all deserve the good stuff. We all deserve the best. We all deserve a beautiful life. And, we all deserve to know what real, true love is, again and again and again.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho. Her book “Grief Life” is available in print and kindle. You can find more of her books here, and her podcast here. Connect with Diana on her author Facebook page, and Instagram.
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