A mistake, a coincidence and a dignified death

Forty-five years ago, our society was woven of a much different fabric. Mores and values of the fifties were such that their cinematic depiction today can often cause our collective jaws to drop in astonishment. The social pressures upon youth of the time were simply puritanical in contrast to those of late.

Enter into that time two young and healthy teenagers, flush with the first feelings of true love, embarking on their college careers with every door ahead of them wide open. Raised in deeply religious families both, he was headed for the ministry and wanted her to be his bride. Also enter a third person, granted just a baby to be, but obviously set to arrive well before the end of any nine month period after a hastily arranged marriage would occur.

It was 1958. The prospect of telling their families and the way they’d be viewed by those whose respect mattered to them was crushing. Good kids didn’t let this happen back then and their despair grew.

In a decision that would haunt them for the rest of their lives, they married but gave up the very early baby several months after the ceremony. The doctor that handled her pregnancy, a dear family friend, handled the adoption as well. Their one stipulation to him was that he find a loving home for the little girl, his one stipulation to them being that they’d not know to whom she went, to be content in their trust of his choice. His choice was a good one as his nurse and her husband, a fine couple and wishing for a child dearly, suddenly were blessed with such.

The young man and woman were racked with guilt and carried heavy hearts with them from then on, indeed to this day. They were my parents. That girl was my older sister. I was born ten months later and then another girl came fourteen months after that. Growing up, there were days about a year apart when my Mom would disappear into her room and cry softly all day. She didn’t want us to know of her sadness but there were some emotions too strong to hide. Years later I learned those days were my older sister’s birthday.

They carried their pain quietly with just each other for support. No one, save the doctor and adopting nurse knew of their despair. Both grandparents had been told the baby’s life was lost at birth, stillborn. That they had such a remarkable marriage and devoted so much love and energy to my younger sister and I was a deep source of comfort to me. I didn’t dream of what they’d had to endure.

Then, twelve years ago Mom got a call. It was my sister and she in a soft voice told Mom she didn’t want anything and didn’t wish to cause any trouble but that she was born on July twenty first and did that mean anything to her? The rush of emotion and relief and longing she must have experienced is beyond anything I can comprehend. I’d loved to have been at their first meeting but it was, better yet, a private time for the two, Dad soon to follow.

She’d lived just miles from our house and, unbelievably, we’d shared some of the same friends. They’d asked both sisters if one knew the other since they looked so much alike. We took great joy in the surprise on the friend faces in sharing the truth with them once we’d had our time to “reacquaint”.

The bond we all now share has given each of us indescribable joy. I love her dearly, as I do her husband and three kids. I’m sad for the times we all lost but take comfort in the fact she gave a loving Mom & Dad first a child, then an adolescent and grown woman to love and take deep pride in. She turned out quite special. Gone now, they must have been pretty dear parents.

My Dad’s folks were gone before she came back into our lives but Mom’s, fortunately, were blessed with amazing health. They were her first grandparents, and at thirty-two she simply gobbled up the relationship, stopping in fairly frequently to hear them tell stories of the family’s history and silly things the younger sis and I had done in our youth. I’m so thankful she had the five years with Grandmom before we lost her a few years back, well into her nineties. She was proud of my sister and her family, of what good people they were.

Two days ago my sister and her husband were attending an out of town wedding in Arlington, ironically just ten minutes from Grandad’s house. I hadn’t seen him since July fifth when we’d held a birthday celebration for him. He’d really looked forward to this one for a year because, see, it was his hundredth. He thought that was kinda special. We’d talked on the phone several times since because he sent me several items and I wanted to thank him; a baseball I’d caught at the Ranger’s game on his hundredth and had given to him, his old watch, some coins from a visit to Mexico in the 20s, etc.

As they started to leave the wedding they called our folks who were babysitting their kids. Mom had just received a call form Grandad’s neighbor that he was in trouble. They got there within minutes and she held his hand as he lay on his bed dying. He was just strong enough to carry on a soft conversation with her and smiled and nodded as she relayed my last words to him, the phone in her other hand. She and I shared an emotional conversation I’ll not soon forget as she talked to him and was there for him at the end, relaying to me his deteriorating condition. I was okay with what obviously was his passing. He’d hardly had a sick day in his life, shared a seventy third wedding anniversary with a saintly woman and had chosen an hour earlier to refuse medical attention. He wanted to go quietly at home and did just that.

I called Mom to let her know as she and Dad were rushing up, still an hour away. She knew this day would come since she’s visited twice weekly over the last couple of decades and, strong woman that she is, took the news as best one could. I then called my sister back and we talked for the next hour or so as she still sat on Granddad’s bed, his hand in hers. We talked freely as we always have, about love, family, places, history, everything. We talked about her being there… right then when it was important for him and none of the rest of us could… and how beautiful that was. We said a lot of things to each other, I’m not sure if it was really necessary since we both already knew, but I’m glad we said them anyway.

She told me a story about once when she’d visited Grandmom. My Mom’s sister had given Grandmom a framed collection of snapshots of each of the women in the family, the separate pictures of great-grandmother to grandchild spread over seventy or so years arranged randomly in the frame. It was made well before Grandmom or my aunt knew of her existence. There’s a spot in the middle where, due to the different sizes of the photos, a large blank spot was left. My grandmom took the frame off the wall, pointed to that spot and told Sis that that spot had always bothered her and that now she knew why it was there.

As she and I talked, Granddad’s hand in hers, she turned and looked at that frame again and I heard a gentle gasp. “There, in the middle” she said in a tearful voice, “Grandmom has put my picture.”

Wow. I’m used to tearing up when reading your posts, but it’s usually from laughter. What a beautiful story, eloquently told. My sympathies on the passing of your grandfather. But how wonderful for your sister and all of your family to know she was there, he was at peace and the family portrait complete.



Well said.

How beautiful! And how sad. You must be very proud of your family.

What a beautiful and touching story. My condolences on the loss of your grandfather, lieu. It is, I’m sure, a testament to him that he leaves behind such a loving and devoted family. May he rest in peace, knowing his work on earth was done, and done well.

I just wanted you to know, lieu, I read your words and I was touched.

That was a wonderful story, lieu. Thank you for sharing it.

Beautiful, lieu. My condolences to you and yours, and congratulations to your Granddad on a life well led.

Sometimes all of the pieces fall into place just right and it takes the breath away.

I think that each of you must be part angel.

Wow. What a wonderful legacy to leave behind to your family.

So sorry to hear of your loss.

We leave this afternoon for tomorrow’s simple service. While he and Grandmom both came from families of nearly a dozen children each, only one sister is now left of that generation, the baby of the bunch. It’s obviously near the closing of a large and special chapter in that generation’s history and the time for a fair amount of reflection by those that follow.

As a child, Granddad and a relative used to go by buckboard to gather the Christmas tree for the city of Arlington. There was a time when he knew pretty much everybody in town. It was at that time a very different place. As a young salesman for Balfour, he used to put a candle on his early car’s dashboard on cold nights to burn a little hole through the frost that he could peer through as he traveled back roads to the next town. He and Grandmom sold the family farm when a new university in Dallas was looking for a place to build a campus, that being Southern Methodist. Did the same thing years later when Johnson & Johnson came to town. They built a nice quiet subdivision on their third and retired half a life ago at age fifty.

I’m not sure if my sister knows these facts or not. More importantly though, she got to know them. For that I’m eternally grateful.

By the way, that you all for your kind words.

Much appreciated.


I feel something in the cockles of my heart. Warmth, I think.