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I discovered this essay in an e-mail file from August 2010, just days before my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, a year and a half before I would lose the husband I wrote about. I can say now that I had no regrets. David died knowing he was truly loved. I am blessed to have been loved like that.
I had no idea last year when I contacted LitNuts founder Mike O’Mara to speak at the Faith Writers conference this February, I was contacting the same man who’d been collecting essays for this anthology some ten years before.
Interesting, too, that just weeks before he died, David had expressed an interest in sharing our marriage story with others, knowing our experience of a revitalized marriage could give others hope in their own relationships. While I do just that in my book Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage, this unpublished essay serves as a condensed version.
Author’s name : Mary Potter Kenyon
E-mail address :firstname.lastname@example.org
Mailing address :816 East Butler St., Manchester, IA 52057
Telephone number :563-927-3999
Anthology : Saying Goodbye
Title of Story : Without Regrets
Word Count: 1081
“I wish I’d treated him better.” Those words would come back to me years later.
I was at my grandfather’s bedside when he died, while my grandmother sat in the hallway lamenting aspects of their marriage.
I’ll never know why my father thought it was a good idea for me to accompany him on the trip. At 18, I’d never even known anyone who’d died, much less viewed someone’s death. But my mother had already said her good-byes to her father and I don’t think she could bear to do it again. When the hospital called and said the end was near, she wanted someone there to represent her family. Whatever the reason, it was me, my Dad, and two of my great-aunts at my grandfather’s side when he looked up toward the ceiling, took his last breath, and died.
It wasn’t a particularly peaceful death; it actually seemed as though he was gasping for breath those last few seconds. It wasn’t a violent death either. I like to think it was angels he saw at the last, for it certainly was not us. He no longer seemed aware of anyone in the room as he looked upward.
I squirmed uncomfortably with the realization it shouldn’t be me; a grand-daughter he barely knew in the room with him. Instead, it should have been his wife grasping his hand in comfort until he passed.
We shuffled out to the hallway, none of us eager to be the one to tell my grandmother. She sat in miserable silence, wringing her hands. Her red-rimmed eyes met ours expectantly, and I had to look away. Was she still hoping for a miraculous recovery?
It was my stoic father who announced the death and held her as she cried. That surprised me as my grandmother had never hid the fact that she’d always found him to be beneath her daughter. Grandma suddenly seemed smaller, shrinking in her grief. While sympathizing with her, I felt a flash of anger at her next words “I wish I’d treated him better.” To my arrogant teenaged self, that seemed too little, too late.
I’d never understood my grandparent’s marriage; Grandma the stern disciplinarian in stark contrast to my grandfather’s gentle demeanor. My most vivid memory of her was when she slapped my hand as I reached for honey at the dinner table. I’d already spread butter on a thick slice of bread fresh from the oven.
“Butter or honey. Not both,” she’d admonished.
Grandpa snuck me boxes of Chiclets gum from his pockets, holding his finger to his lips and whispering it was our little secret, a secret I never dared share with my grandmother for fear of her sharp-tongued retribution. My grandmother once spotted him caressing my long hair, heard his soft comment about how beautiful it was. For the next five years, whenever I saw her, she harped on how I should get my messy hair cut.
In the hospital after my grandfather’s death, I turned away from my grandmother’s obvious distress, vowing never to hold the same regrets with my own spouse.
Thirty years later I sat next to my husband in a doctor’s office and heard the word cancer. The echo of my grandmother’s words reverberated in my head: I wish I’d treated him better. I glanced at my husband and thought I hope it’s not too late.
We were quiet on the way home from that doctor’s appointment, absorbing the shock of the news. I had plenty of time to consider our 27 years of marriage. I was 19 when we got married, 20 when I had our first child. For the first few years of marriage we played house as struggling college students. Between our classes and work, we spent many hours at a local restaurant, drinking coffee and holding hands across the table, much like our early dating days.
First one baby, then two, joined us. We talked while we fed them bits of crunchy butter toast and boiled eggs from our 99-cent breakfast special, entertaining them with ice cubes they slid back and forth on the shiny metal tray of the highchairs while we talked some more.
Gradually, real life and increasing responsibilities intruded on our domestic bliss. By the time our 25th anniversary arrived in 2004, I was no longer sure our marriage was cause for celebration. We were the parents of eight children by then. Juggling bills and babies had taken a toll on our relationship. I felt a constant irritation, aimed at both the state of our union and my life in general.
Everything changed while David was in the hospital recovering from an invasive surgery that left him unable to speak for eight days. I learned to search his brown eyes, and my heart, for meaning during daily visits. While I used to urge him to get to the point in our hurried conversations, I waited patiently while he struggled to write with a shaky hand on a dry erase board.
I began searching thrift shops for clothing he would find pleasing. I prepared for each visit carefully, applying make-up and fixing my hair, spritzing perfume on my wrists and behind my ears, realizing with some amusement that I was courting my own husband. ln the hospital room, away from the cacophony of a house full of children, I fell in love with my husband all over again.
The dance of courtship continued as I cared for him through weeks of chemotherapy and radiation. I changed bloody dressings, cleaned wounds, doled out medications and became his hand-holding companion during chemotherapy treatments. By the time his treatment had ended and he returned to work, I was head over heels in love with him. That was four years ago, and we still feel like newlyweds. Poignantly, he recently turned to me, took my hand, and told me that if he had to go through cancer for us to be like this, then it was all worth it.
I was able to say good-bye to the dear and gentle man who was my grandfather. I never had the chance with my grandmother. She died alone in a nursing home many years later. By then I was ashamed of my rash judgement of her years before, never knowing what circumstances had led to her lament.
I’m grateful I didn’t have to say good-bye to my husband four years ago. If I face that someday, I won’t have cause for the same regret my grandmother had.
But without cancer? I might have.
Thirteen years ago I was regularly submitting to magazines and anthologies, receiving just as many rejections as acceptances. Though I kept paper copies of most of what I sent, this unpublished essay somehow escaped my printer. Until this morning’s search for another file in my old e-mail, I’d forgotten the details of the unexpected gift of a computer and the fact that my young children held such strong faith while mine and my husband’s wavered. I share with my readers the original essay submitted in February 2008 so that you might garner the same lesson I did in re-reading it today. Of course, I did doubt God’s providence in the ensuing years, more times than I care to admit. But this morning’s lesson? Why? Why would I ever doubt a God who cared enough about me to provide a computer just when I needed one?
Mary Potter Kenyon
3195 182nd St.
Dyersville, Iowa 52040
Word Count: 1217 words
A Writer’s Gift of Faith
By 1993 I was feeling pretty confident about my writing, enough so to consider working on a book. I’d sold a few essays and was working part-time for a local newspaper covering school board and city council meetings. They’d even given me my own bi-monthly column. In between newspaper assignments and home schooling my children, I formed a rough outline of a book about saving money, targeting homeschoolers. Time was at a premium, however, and I didn’t get very far before I gave birth by emergency C-section in October to our fifth child. David took off work to care for our other children while I remained in the hospital a few extra days, regaining strength after a harrowing labor and delivery. When he returned to his job, he was unexpectedly fired.
Suddenly, I found I had a great deal of free writing time as David took over the bulk of the child care in between his job searches and interviews. In the first month of our new son’s life I wrote the initial chapter and a book proposal for what would become the first book on the market geared toward penny-pinching homeschoolers. My proposal was immediately accepted by the first publisher I contacted, a small Christian press.
The book contract arrived in late November. As I skimmed through it, my enthusiasm and elation quickly evaporated. According to the contract, I would be required to provide the entire manuscript on a computer disk. I was devastated. How on earth was I going to do that without a computer? We were struggling just to provide for our basic needs with nothing left for extras. That night at the supper table I relayed the crucial point of the contract to my family. My husband just shook his head in defeat, already feeling despondent about his unsuccessful job search and his inability to provide for his family. My two oldest children, however, were enthusiastic in their responses.
“Just pray for a computer,” my 13-year-old son, Dan, said matter-of-factly. His 11 year old sister Beth concurred. I was slightly taken aback by their simple faith in the power of prayer. While I‘d taught them to believe that God would provide for our needs, I’d never have considered praying for something as materialistic or expensive as a computer. At that time even a used computer was well over $500.00. I briefly considered explaining to the children that there was no way God was going to be able to bring us a computer but hesitated. Wasn‘t there a verse in the Bible that promised with God all things were possible? Who was I to doubt God’s providence? I looked at my children’s expectant faces and my husband’s skeptical one. What could I say? I lowered my head, folded my hands and prayed out loud.
“Dear God, please help me get a computer, or provide me with a way to get my book on a computer disk.” The children chimed in with their “Amen.” I figured I’d covered all the bases with that additional tag line. If it came to that, I could always pay someone else to type the manuscript onto a computer disk. I didn’t really believe I would have a computer to do so myself.
My children’s faith, however, never wavered. Each night their bedtime prayers included the plea for a computer for their mother’s book, their certainty in an answer buoying my own faith. I found myself torn between the desire to believe with their child-like faith, and a pervading sense of dread at explaining why this particular prayer might bring a resounding “no” from above. As David continued his fruitless search for a job, I spent more and more of my days working on the book, while my children discussed ways that they would make use of the computer they were certain was on the way.
Considering our dire financial straits, Christmas that year could have been very sparse. Instead, thanks to some generous relatives, friends, and church members, the children had plenty of gifts to open. But the best gift of all arrived later in the day as we gathered at my mother’s house.
My older brother, Lyle, asked me how my book was progressing. I told him about impossible requirement that was in my contract. A strange look came over his face.
“So that’s why I wasn’t supposed to sell it,” he said under his breath.
“Sell what?” I asked as a shiver went down the back of my neck. My children and husband were now paying attention to the conversation.
Lyle explained that he’d had a computer for two years and was ready to upgrade. He’d bought a new computer and intended to sell the old one to make some extra money for Christmas.
“Twice I went to the newspaper office to run an ad and twice I left without submitting it because I had an overpowering feeling that I wasn’t supposed to sell it. Now I know why, “ he concluded. “I was supposed to give it to you.”
My husband’s mouth dropped open in disbelief and the shiver I’d felt turned into a warm glow. My children cheered out loud. I couldn’t believe it. My brother was going to give me his computer? He hastened to add that it would likely take a little work to get it working correctly again, but I barely heard him. If God could provide a computer, he could certainly provide some money to get it repaired.
On the way home that night, the children couldn’t stop talking about the amazing way God had provided a computer, and the fun games they could play on it. My husband remained silent and thoughtful. I knew he was taking in all that had transpired that day, just as I was. That night he confessed to me how he’d lost faith in God the last few weeks as he searched for work. Now, because of the gift of a computer, he wondered it God had planned for his job loss all along so that I could complete my book. I told him I’d been wondering the same thing.
When my book advance arrived less than a week later we used $60.00 of it to repair the computer. Within a few months I’d completed my book and was able to provide the completed manuscript on a computer disk. It would take my husband nearly a year to find work. While stressful, those months provided me with the gift of time to complete a book. Eventually we used that same computer to hook up the Internet and open up a whole new world for my writing and my children’s education.
That generous gift of a computer meant much more for our family’s faith though. For my children, it was an answer to heartfelt prayers. To my husband, it was a renewal of faith. For me, God’s provision of a computer meant the beginning of a new way of looking at my writing. I felt humbled, and realized how God had been blessing my endeavors, guiding my writing and providing me with ways to use the talent he gave me.
I would never doubt His promises again.