David liked nice cars. He loved going to car shows and he had a healthy admiration for other people’s vehicles.
Yet for his 60 years on earth, David never owned anything particularly nice and definitely nothing “newer.” We always paid cash for our vehicles and never more than $1500. Yep, you read that right: One thousand, five hundred. In fact, the van I’ve been driving for over four years cost us a whopping $800, and at one time someone slammed into it when it was parked at a garage sale, and their insurance company considered it totaled, paying us $1200 to repair it.
Which we didn’t.
In our 32 years of marriage, we had driven an assortment of older vehicles, including a car that necessitated a good smack with a hammer when it wouldn’t start in a parking lot, and a van I had to duct tape the running board to in order to drive home. One particularly reliable car we affectionately dubbed “rust bucket” for its appearance. David got attached to each of these vehicles, always hesitant to get rid of even the most decrepit. It speaks volumes of the male who does not obtain his sense of manhood from the car he drives. David and I shared many an amused glance between us when others talked about their vehicles as though they were idols. We had learned early on in our marriage what was really important in life, and it wasn’t the things that we owned. David’s experience with cancer made that fact all the more apparent. It is the legacy of the people we leave behind that matter, not the material items we manage to accumulate. David has left behind a rich legacy in his eight children and a loving wife who mourns him, not to mention siblings and friends whose lives he had also enriched.
“Don’t make any major decisions or large purchases for at least a year,” I was advised by others after David’s death. I nodded my head at their sage advice even as I scoured Craigslist auto ads two weeks after he passed away.
It was very unlike David to purchase something as expensive as a snow blower for my birthday last November. It was uncharacteristic of him to give me flowers this past Valentine’s Day. But what really surprised me was David’s recent declaration of how he was going to purchase a newer vehicle for me. Never before had he mentioned a specific vehicle or such an intention. In fact, just as recently as the fall of 2011, he saw no reason to replace either of our vehicles. When I’d broached the subject, my suggestion that we use some of the money from the sale of my mother’s house for a newer vehicle was met with deaf ears. “The van is just fine,” he’d say. Sometime during this past winter (my daughter Katie insists it was shortly before Christmas that he pointed out a vehicle and said, “I’m going to buy one of those for your mother.”) he began saying, “I am going to buy you a Ford ______.” Now, wouldn’t it have been nice if I’d actually listened to my husband? But frankly, I thought he was just dreaming, though I did wonder why he kept saying I am going to buy you instead of we will buy. Always before vehicle decisions and purchases had been shared between us. I do know he said it often enough that I finally commented, “I don’t even know what that vehicle is,” and when he replied “It’s a smaller SUV,” I told him it didn’t sound very good on gas mileage. “It will be better than the van, and safer for your traveling.” David had been driving me everywhere; to all my workshops, speaking engagments and meetings. Why was he suddenly concerned about my travel safety?
I was fairly certain the Ford vehicle he’d been talking about started with the letter “E” and I knew what a Ford Explorer was, so I knew it wasn’t that. After David died, I asked other family members if they remembered what he’d wanted to purchase for me. While they, too, remembered him talking about wanting to buy me something, none of them recalled just what it was, either. A little research on the Ford website and a few pointed conversations later, I was 89% certain David had been talking about a Ford Escape. 12-year-old Katie regrets she didn’t pay more attention, though she is pretty sure that what he’d pointed out in December looked pretty much like this:
This being the 2004 Ford Escape David bought me last night.
Now, my husband had a life insurance policy through his former employer, one that ended when his job did in July 2010. For the next eighteen months he jumped through hoops and burning rings of fire in order to get that policy reinstated. David’s life insurance policy was reinstated just 27 days before his death. Had David died on the last day of February, he would have left me a widow with a whole lot of bills, just in burying him. Instead, he would be happy to know that not only was I able to pay off the funeral bill, but he’d left me enough that he could, indeed, buy me a Ford Escape.
As I test drove this vehicle, when I took it to a mechanic to look it over, and as I sat and dickered with a nice young man named Dan, whittling down the price, I felt David there, at my side. I thought about a lot of things during the five hours Katie, Abby and I spent at the car dealer and the mechanic’s. I contemplated how this vehicle purchase would be “no big deal” for the average American. That thought was immediately followed by the realization of just how big a deal it would have been for my David. 60 years old, and he’d never owned a vehicle so new, so nice, and so valuable. “It isn’t fair!” I thought as I drove it to the mechanic who David had trusted. “He should be here!” And yet, even as I thought it, I knew the only reason I could purchase it was through the loss of David. “It isn’t fair! David should have had nice things!” It had only been four years since we’d purchased our first home, after 28 years of marriage. The day before his death, David sat in his chair, repeatedly saying, “I am so glad we bought this house. I am so glad to be home. I love our house.”
I reflected on how David would say “You deserve it,” to me so many times, while never feeling the same for himself. I recalled how I’d picked him up from the hospital after eleven days of recovery from his cancer surgery and wheeled him around the Shopko store looking for elastic waist shorts that wouldn’t hurt the area around his feeding tube. He’d allowed me to purchase a pair of $12 gray Iowa Hawkeye shorts, but had balked at the $12 matching tee shirt. I bought it anyway, saddened that he would think he wasn’t worthy of a $24 outfit. I thought about how I’d kissed his arm and his hand, over and over, in the hospital after his heart attack in March. I couldn’t reach over the bed to kiss his face. “I love you,” I said that first night after the stent surgery, and his beautiful brown eyes locked with mine when he replied, “Thank you.” “Thank you,” as if my love was a great gift to him, when it was he who had been the gift to me.
“You certainly are composed while you talk about your husband, and what he wanted for you,” the salesman marveled as we waited my turn for the paperwork to be completed. I, too, was amazed at my composure and ability to haggle, even without a supportive spouse. Eight weeks, and I am already able to discuss my marriage and my husband with a nice stranger, I thought.
And then I got in the vehicle with Katie and Abby and drove home, stopping only once on the side of the road to brush away the tears that had started falling, stinging my eyes. This morning I cried all the way to Earlville where I picked up the young girl who will be babysitting my grandchildren today.
And now, I can’t stop crying.
Eight weeks without David, and a Ford Escape in my driveway.
It’s not about the things, is it? I’d trade that nice vehicle in an instant, drive a duct-taped, rusty “beater” for the remainder of my life, for just one more hug from David.
“Dear Lord, I thank you for your blessings; most notably the blessing of a husband who truly cared about me and wanted me to have nice things. I thank you for the timely gift of a life insurance policy that would pay for the burial of my beloved spouse, and allow for a purchase of a vehicle that will give me a sense of peace as I travel down this path you have set before me. I ask that you continue to bless our family as we navigate this journey through the land of grief, and continue to show us ways we can honor you and the memory of a husband and father like David.”