The hospital room, hushed and dim, had come to seem somehow unreal to me as the day slowly passed, as though I were witnessing a tableau within a darkened theater. Yet the scene was sadly real — my brother, sister and myself, each lost in our own thoughts, silently looking on as our mother, sitting at our father’s bedside and holding his hand, talked softly to him even though he was not conscious.
Our father, after years of patiently withstanding the pain and indignities of a terminal illness, was near the end of his struggle and had slipped quietly into a coma early that morning. We knew the hour of his death was at hand. Mother stopped talking to Dad, and I noticed that she was looking at her wedding rings and smiling gently.
I smiled, too, knowing that she was thinking of the ritual that had lasted for the forty years of their marriage. Mother, energetic and never still, was forever ending up with her engagement and wedding rings twisted and disarranged. Dad, always calm and orderly, would take her hand and gently and carefully straighten the rings until they were back in place.
Although very sensitive and loving, the words “I love you” didn’t come easily to him, so he expressed his feelings in many small ways, such as this, through the years. After a long pause, Mother turned to us and said in a small, sad voice, “I knew your father would be leaving us soon, but he slipped away so suddenly that I didn’t have the chance to tell him good-bye, and that I love him one last time.” Bowing my head, I longed to pray for a miracle that would allow them to share their love one final time, but my heart was so full that the words wouldn’t come. Now, we knew we just had to wait. As the night wore on, one by one, each of us had nodded off, and the room was silent. Suddenly, we were startled from sleep. Mother had begun to cry.
Fearing the worst, we rose to our feet to comfort her in her sorrow. But to our surprise, we realized that her tears were tears of joy. For as we followed her gaze, we saw that she was still holding our father’s hand, but that somehow, his other hand had moved slightly and was gently resting on Mother’s. Smiling through her tears, she explained: “For just a moment, he looked right at me.” She paused, looking back at her hand. “Then,” she whispered in a voice choked with emotion, “he straightened my rings.” Father died an hour later. But God, in his infinite wisdom, had known what was in our heart before any of us could ask him for it. Our prayer was answered in a way that we all will cherish for the rest of our lives. Mother had received her good-bye.
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