69: The Post-it Note

69: The Post-it Note

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

The Post-it Note

God not only sends special angels into our lives, but sometimes He even sends them back again if we forget to take notes the first time!

~Eileen Elias Freeman, The Angels’ Little Instruction Book

My bond with Papa grew stronger after he and Mom moved in with us after her fall. Two families living together wasn’t easy, but soon I appreciated the blessings associated with day-in, day-out togetherness. Maybe that’s why his death hit me so hard.

It seemed like no time since the strong, quiet man with the big smile was diagnosed with asbestosis, had lung surgery, and then moved into the nursing home for twenty-four-hour rehab care. One day, he said to me, “I’m never going home, am I?”

“I hope so, Papa,” I answered, but we both knew it was unlikely.

He never asked again, and our lives revolved around Mom spending her days with him. I’d pop in for the night shift. Many times, I brought work with me. He’d snooze, and I’d meet marketing deadlines — all within his curtained section of the room.

One night, Papa said, “You shouldn’t work so much.” He pointed a bony finger at my pile of notebooks, Post-it notes, proposals, and works-in-progress. Everything I needed to complete my projects except my laptop, which remained in the car. I didn’t want to be so obvious about working. But Papa knew each time my BlackBerry dinged a message.

“You’ve got Post-it notes stuck on everything,” he said, grinning.

“My memory isn’t what it used to be,” I said to him with a smile. “They remind me what’s important to do.”

“Just remember there’s a difference between important to do and what’s important.” He patted my hand and lingered a beat.

To lighten the mood, he spent the rest of our visit teasing me about my Type A personality traits, something he swore I got from my mama. At the end of the night, he said, “Take it one day at a time, and you’ll be fine. I do, and it works for me… with help from our Lord.” His bright blue eyes twinkled. “Maybe you should make a note about that.”

“Maybe I should,” I said and laughed. “I’ll remember… Don’t be so serious. Be happy. Be happy. Be happy.” I giggled, drew a smiley face, and printed his name, Delmar Ayers, above it. I slapped it against the pocket of his pajamas. He chuckled, and then he reminisced about dates with Mom. I updated him about my daughter Meredith’s college life. He shared WWII stories. He said he’d like to go fishing again.

When I got to the car, I wrote on a sticky note: fishing trip for Papa — doable?

But the Coastal Georgia January weather turned cold and windy. The fishing trip had to wait.

On a cloudless, blue-sky Friday, Papa’s lung specialist called Mom and me into his office. We studied a large mass on the screen. “There’s nothing we can do,” he said. “I’ve operated on folks older than eighty-six, but Mr. Ayers isn’t a good candidate.” We agreed not to tell him. “It will only depress him,” the doctor said.

Instead, we spent the afternoon planning the fishing trip. We ate a burger. We talked about everything except lung cancer.

Over the weekend, EMS brought Papa to the hospital with sirens blaring, and he didn’t regain consciousness. He struggled to breathe. “We’ll try to keep him comfortable” resounded through the room. Mom and I huddled together, shell-shocked, after learning the cancer had spread into his stomach. The doctor contacted hospice. We stayed with Papa day and night.

The hospice nurse said, “His pulse reacts to your voice. He can hear you, so talk to him and share what’s in your heart.”

We poured out our love and memories while Papa’s chest thrust up, then plummeted with raspy, ragged breathing. I turned to the nurse and said, “He was the best dad.” And Papa breathed his last breath.

He died on Wednesday, and I had no idea how hard the finality of it would hit me. Why hadn’t I made his fishing trip happen? Spent more time with him? Why hadn’t I…? The list went on and on.

Family and friends rallied around us. “He’s in a better place,” someone said. “He’s not suffering now.” Another friend shared a story about how a bird started showing up after her father’s death. “Daddy was a florist,” she said. “We decorated for Christmas together, and I missed him more than ever during the holidays. Still do,” she admitted. “But I started noticing a bird hanging around. Once, I took the truck to get a large potted tree, and the bird landed on the back of the truck. It wouldn’t get off. I knew Dad was with me.”

I prayed for my own message from heaven.

A week later, we’d planned to spend Meredith’s twenty-first birthday at her North Carolina college, a six-hour drive for us. I said to Mom, “I don’t have enough energy to drive, but we have to go... I want to.”

So I stood by the car and studied my list. I’d picked up Papa’s belongings from the nursing home at daybreak, sobbing so much I had to pull off the road. I marked it off, but my heart sank. How could Mom and I get it together enough to celebrate this major milestone? I sighed and focused on the list: birthday cake, candles, Meredith’s presents, camera, and other items waiting to be placed in the just-vacuumed car trunk.

I heaved our suitcases and pushed them to the back of the trunk, leaving ample room in the front part for our toiletry cases and birthday paraphernalia.

“Check the mailbox,” Mom called from the door. “I forgot yesterday.”

I walked down the driveway, shivering against February’s biting wind. A bird flew in front of me, landed on our mailbox, and didn’t move when I approached. I walked around the gray-brown bird, staring, but he ignored my movements. All of a sudden, he sang. Was it Papa? I grabbed my camera from the car and took picture after picture from every angle before I went to get the rest of our stuff.

When I returned to the car, the bird landed in a nearby tree. I lifted the trunk lid, and gasped, staring at the empty space I had left in the trunk. The yellow sticky note with Delmar Ayers and a smiley face beamed like a ray of sun from heaven. My heart thudded. Memories of a younger, smiling Papa flowed through me, bringing a sense of peace. I looked around and the bird flew away as I slammed the car trunk shut.

“One day at a time,” I promised. “Mom and I will be fine. I’ll make a note of it.”

~Debra Ayers Brown

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