This is how a love story ends (a lie)

They went to bed at 11pm, my dad in the fold-out couch that had been his bed for the last three weeks and my mom in the angled hospital bed that had been hers. He did not sleep – he listened to her toss and turn and say incoherent things. She barely rested, waking up often to ask for more breakthrough medication. Counting the minutes till she could ask for more. At 4:30am, my mom announced that she had to use the restroom. She swung her legs down the side of the bed, and my dad tried to help her into the wheelchair. She still had the use of one leg, but this time she couldn’t seem to use either of them. My dad tried to lift her, but he could not. He finally rang for the nurse. She did not come right away. As he was holding her, something happened. She got heavy. Something was wrong. When the nurse finally arrived shortly after 5am, she checked my mom’s vitals. They laid her back down and checked again.

My mom was gone.

We’d had plans. It was their 43rd wedding anniversary. She had applied for a 12-hour pass to spend it at home. Teapot’s dad was going to take time off work to carry her up the front steps of their house and into it. We would be there at 10:30. All her grandkids were coming over that day. She was going to see her wedding cake again, preserved and displayed atop her bureau for the last 43 years. They were to going to take a picture with it. We had gone shopping for her because she had been self-conscious about her thinning neck. Against all odds, I had found a teal turtleneck at the mall in the middle of summer. My older sister had found a purple dress that would fit over our mom’s huge, tumor-filled abdomen and a purple shrug. When she visited the hospital that night, she had shown off our finds. They ate mango cake together to celebrate my sister’s half- birthday. “Tomorrow is my happy day,” mom announced, just before she said goodnight.

My phone rang at 6:45am. I didn’t recognize the phone number itself but a moment later, the first three digits registered in my foggy brain. The hospital was calling me. At 6:45am.

It was my dad. He had been crying. He was still crying. He said my name. Then: “Your mom passed away this morning.” He had tried to reach my older sister but had only gotten her voicemail. A sense of utter calm fell over me. I didn’t ask questions. The time would come. I told him I would get us all there to be with him.

After I hung up, I nudged Teapot’s dad awake and told him we had to go.

So that’s how a love story spanning 55 years ends. In a hospital room early morning, suddenly.

Except I told you it was a lie. So. Here’s the truth.

Today, more than ever, I believe in love. And that the kind of love my parents had for each other lasts forever. Cancer didn’t stand a chance.

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