LIFE

By Rhonda Hayes

I craved a man’s companionship. Don’t even go there. Your daughter needs you. So I sat on the toilet, giving my full attention to Sherry, and watched her put the razor to her face. “Oh my God, look at all that hair,” I said, as the dark peach fuzz fell into the sink. “Woo—hoo.” Sherry continued to guide the razor up her cheek, exposing her creamy-white skin. After a few more strokes and a final pass across her forehead, she looked more like herself. Now with her flawless skin back again, it was easier to focus on her full lips, perfect teeth, and sparkling eyes. Thirty-five years old, two years of endless chemotherapy drugs and she still didn’t look a day over twenty. Between my husband, Greg, and Sherry, I thought I’d seen every chemo side-effect-moonface, weight loss, weight gain, rashes, and hair loss. But Sherry’s facial hair growth was a shocker. We high-fived. She wiped the scattered shavings out of the sink and headed out of the bathroom. I followed her down the hall, hoping we could get some fresh air. “Are you up for a walk now?” Sherry hadn’t been outside since she had been home from the hospital. When the doctor told us that Hospice home-care was her best option, I didn’t bother to ask any questions. What difference would it make? I knew the routine all too well, having just gone down that road with Greg. It had only been nine months since he passed away. “Sorry Mom--not today, but go ahead,” Sherry said, settling into her favorite place on the couch. So I walked by myself, trying to shake the loneliness. The Southern California sunshine bathed my tense shoulders, and I finally began to relax. What if I were looking for a man? What qualities would I need him to have? As I crossed the street, I made a mental checklist: kind, ethical, loving, spiritual; healthy widower preferred. Someone who’d understand what it’s like to lose a loving spouse. Returning from my walk, I entered into the living room to find Sherry watching TV. I sat at the far end of the couch, placed her bare feet in my lap and massaged her toes. She pressed mute on the remote and looked at me with sad puppy-dog eyes. “Mom, I feel so bad,” she said, reaching for my hands. Was the reality of her fate sinking in? From the first diagnosis, she had the innocence of a fearless toddler, accepting any treatment the doctors recommended. Through all the challenges of her illness, she didn’t have a moment of self-pity. During chemo infusions, she was a lighthouse for the patients who were having difficulty in navigating through their darkness. Was Sherry changing now? How could I have been so selfish to be thinking about my loneliness?

Then she said, “You need to get a life.” “What are you talking about--this is my life.” Had she been reading my mind? “I’m not trying to get rid of you,” she giggled. Relieved to see her lightening the mood, I smiled back at her. Relentless, she continued, “I’m serious, Mom. This isn’t a life. You know Dad wanted you to move on, and I do, too. Why don’t you go on a dating site?” It was so typical of Sherry to be thinking about me. Six months earlier, on Christmas morning, she had given me a letter. In her unique style she wrote about the strong and unwavering love she had for me. Then true to her character, her final sentence was, “I only wish there was some way I could repay you for all you have done for me.” After kissing her good-night, I went upstairs to bed, where I tossed and turned for hours. Get a life—dating site. How? Maybe I should ask Google. Sometimes, for fun, Sherry and I would think up strange questions and search Google for an answer. What if I did go on a dating site? Still unable to sleep, I eyed my laptop at the foot of the bed. It tugged at me. No--how could I? Wouldn’t that be cheating on Greg? I threw back the sheet, pulled it up again, burying my head. Then I peeked out, and stared at the blue light on the computer. Could I? After all, it was Sherry’s idea, not mine. I missed Greg. Was there a man out there who’d even want me? I typed “widow dating” at the pulsating prompt on the search line. The article assured me that it was a common feeling for a widow to feel like she was cheating. That helped relieve some of my guilt. Another search…dating sites…eHarmony was first on the list. I started filling out a profile, then exhaustion hit. I slept peacefully. The next morning, I brought my laptop downstairs. “Well, I did it,” I said, trying to be nonchalant, pouring myself a cup of coffee. “You did?” Sherry grinned as she walked over to the table. “There are some questions,” I said, embarrassed, “I just don’t know how--” “Let me see,” she interrupted. “Like this one,” I said pointing to the monitor. What is the first thing you’d probably notice about me?

“Well, that’s easy,” Sherry said, “positive warm energy.” I typed her words verbatim and read the next question. Any additional information you should know? Sherry was silent. I sat motionless. Panic struck. What was I doing? I can’t date. I’m not available. This isn’t fair—to her, to me or to any man. Then a profound calm came over me, the kind of peace that I couldn’t will or force on myself. I could only trust and accept it. I recognized it. Tears of hope and gratitude filled my eyes.

What if it was possible to meet someone? What if he could meet Sherry before she died?

If he met her, he’d understand what I was losing.

My fingers swept effortlessly over the keyboard. “My daughter has terminal cancer and she is my life right now. Why would I be on a dating site? She is encouraging me to move on with my life, and what a treat it would be if you had the opportunity to meet her. She is an angel.”

I read my words to Sherry and she smiled at me and said, “Perfect, Mom, perfect.”

I hit Submit.

Each morning Sherry and I read the profiles of the different matches that came in the middle of the night. We laughed and compared notes like two teenage girls who’d gone boy-crazy. After a few weeks, I became bored with the matches, and Sherry was getting sicker. The oxygen and the hospital bed arrived.

Then, one match caught my interest: Larry, 52, San Marcos.

Larry was driving across Canada and the U.S., grieving for his wife of thirty-two years. The distance between our houses was only five miles, and here we were building a friendship while we were thousands of miles apart. After numerous emails, text messages and phone calls, an intense bond formed between us. Larry continued his road trip while I took care of Sherry. “Mom, you’ve got it bad,” Sherry teased me when she saw me texting Larry one afternoon. I blushed. Then she smiled adding, “And nothing could make me happier.”

During one of our late night calls, Larry said he’d like to fly home for a day or two to meet Sherry and me, in person. His original plan was to be on the road for another month.

The next morning, I took a deep breath and said, “Larry wants to fly home to meet us. What do you think?”

“Yes, have him come. You don’t want to waste another month talking if there’s no chemistry between you.” Sherry said, between breaths of oxygen swooshing through the cannula.

A few days later, Larry and I embraced in the driveway like we were two lovers who’d been separated for years. He handed me a white rose. His body was tall, strong, and solid, but his touch was gentle and fluid. I felt life. We pulled away for a moment, our eyes locked; double-checking to make sure we hadn’t lost our minds. I reached up and touched his bald spot, one welcomed familiar trait of Greg’s. Then we laughed. It was real---we both knew it.

Sherry’s husband Chris met us at the front door with their two Yorkies, Rose and Olivia. After the introductions, we walked over to the couch to where Sherry was sitting. Larry was calm and tender as he extended his hand to her. He sat by her side. The dogs jumped up into his lap. I took in the scent of the rose and marveled at Larry’s ease. He was unfazed by the oxygen tubes, medicine bottles, and the hospital bed.

Sherry winked at me with approval, and whispered, “He’s got your warm positive energy,” she said patting his hand. Then she giggled and added, “Plus the dogs love him.” Larry smiled and cuddled the dogs in his arms.

After two days of visiting, Larry flew back to his vehicle, and drove straight home to us. It felt like a human race against God’s will, but Larry made it back in time. For two weeks he brought food in and sat by Sherry’s bedside to listen to any story she wanted to tell. However, in her last hours, Sherry was only able to listen. She lay in her hospital bed with the dogs curled up by her side. I walked in with a pitcher of water to see Larry cradling her smaller hand in his. He told her, “Sherry, I promise to comfort and protect your mother. Thank you for everything you’ve given me.” I put the pitcher down on the table and knelt down on the floor, pressing against his knees, holding both their hands in mine. Tears filled my eyes when Sherry opened hers. She smiled in a tired half arch. I knew this meant she was deeply happy and at peace. A mother gives life to her child, but I never imagined that Sherry would give me a life.

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