Father's death drove home fiance's love

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Last week, I shared how Lauren became my fiance almost immediately after she coerced me into uncomfortably approaching a celebrated former member of Monty Python in order to introduce ourselves during a romantic lunch date.

In the hours following that amusingly timed proposal in the gazebo at Pioneer Park, Lauren and I made the customary phone calls, sharing the exciting news of both our comedic encounter and the proposal with our loved ones including my father, Robert, a big fan of Monty Python.

I had grown up the child of a preacher, and we had discussed having my dad as the officiating minister at the wedding, but I felt seeing his face in the audience as a parent rather than a pastor would be even more special.

My dad was delighted we were engaged, and my mother had told me he was actually rather relieved we didn't ask him to perform official duties at the wedding. Like any other happy father, he simply wanted to sit in the congregation with my mother and other family members and look on proudly.

I was on the telephone a lot during the first couple of months of our engagement, often late into the night, not just with my parents, usually just humoring my fiance by staying awake until her bedtime, which was three hours earlier than mine given that I live in Georgia.

So when I was awakened by the ringing of my cellphone at nearly 2 a.m. one Tuesday in early December, I was surprised, but not concerned.

The voice on the other end of the call did not belong to Lauren, however, but my frightened, panicked mother, who declared that my father suffered a stroke and they were on the way to the hospital.

The stroke was not major, we were told at first, but his brain hemorrhaged much faster than anyone anticipated.

His last words to me were slurred over the telephone through a bevy of drugs and drastically reduced brain function, but they were still clear: "See you on Friday," he said.

I was unable to make it back to California in time for my father to see me that weekend, but I was able to see him and, along with my mother and brother Jack, spend a few hours by his side before he slipped away peacefully just before sunset.

It was all so sudden; the whole situation was a complete shock.

My dad had accepted a new job back in England only a week before his stroke. Instead of calling my grandparents in England with Lauren to speak with them for the first time about our engagement only weeks before, I was calling them from a hospital pay phone to tell them their son had just died, as my mother was in too much shock to continue the conversation.

I don't think we would have made it through Christmas were it not for the selfless decision of two wonderful women - my grandmother and my fiance, both of whom bought tickets and came to spend a very difficult and sorrowful Christmas with our family. It was during those first few days immediately after my father's death when I realized my fiance, who was so helpful and compassionate, was nothing short of incredible.

Lauren would clean the kitchen when my mother was crying and converse with my grandmother when the tired lady was homesick.

She watched movies with my brother when he was sad, and she would help me focus on so many important things that needed to get done. Whether it was writing my father's obituary and life sketch for the funeral, cooking a meal for the family or organizing photos for a memorial tribute, Lauren was always there, ready to help me through it.

Most of all, I will never forget how, during the memorial service and in front of hundreds of people, when it was time for me to approach the pulpit and read my father's life sketch, Lauren went with me, held my hand and pointed to the right words when I lost my place on the page, fighting back the tears.

During my family's most difficult month, she spent weeks away from home during what was supposed to be her last Christmas with her family before she got married.

Lauren showed me what it meant to live one's life selflessly for the sake of another loved one in need of care and affection. If that is not the meaning of life, I don't know what else it could be.

Martin Surridge, who studied at Walla Walla University, now lives in Georgia.

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