From Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul

Angel on the Beach

If you want to know how much I love and care for you, count the waves.

Kenneth Koh

“Thank you.”

“I appreciate all you have done.”

“It was kind of you to come.”

The same words over and over again. None of them would bring Tom back, nor would any of the flowers, charitable gestures, cards or notes. He was dead—dead! My best friend, lover, husband would no longer come through the door, cook his specialties, leave his socks on the floor or hold me with a warmth I had never known before.

Tom suffered a terrible end. No dignity, just pain—endless pain. The cancer had ravaged his body so he was no longer the person I knew physically. However, his aura, his being never changed and his bravery amazed me every day. We had the life together people hear about but never really believe exists outside of the movies or books. “Twenty-six years and holding—and not letting go!” Tom would say and then hug me. “Not sure I’m going to keep her, I may want a younger version soon.”

My reply was an automatic, “And what would you do with a younger version, my dear?” Our routine amused our friends and family but it also confirmed our commitment to each other. A commitment based on love, trust and true friendship.

Tom and I were confirmed “singles” prior to our meeting. He was forty and I was thirty-two when we met— neither one interested in a relationship. “Too old for that nonsense,” we said. Friends decided we would be the perfect match for companionship since our interests were similar and included fine dining, classical music and the theater. We both had successful careers and no interest in a relationship. Absolutely no interest in a relationship.

Our first meeting was not at all what we expected or wanted. It was not love-at-first-sight but it was certainly something-at-first-sight. We were very attracted to each other, but since we were sophisticated New Yorkers, we tried to be “cool” about the attraction. It did not work. We talked only to each other and totally ignored everyone at the party. We left at the first possible moment and were married three months to the day we met.

Friends and family were sure we had both lost our minds and that the marriage would not last as long as the courtship. We knew better. Tom and I had found our missing parts. We complemented each other in every possible way. We enjoyed the same things, but each one brought something new to the relationship. We reveled in our sameness but respected our differences. We loved to be together but loved being alone. We were friends.

Our careers were demanding but fulfilling for both of us. However, our careers never took control of our lives and we always had time for each other. We traveled, kept an active social life, and surrounded ourselves with family and friends. We had not been blessed with children, but we accepted that fact easily, for our lives were full and happy.

The change came when we were preparing for one of our trips. “Tom, please pack your suitcases today or at least lay out your clothes and I’ll pack for you,” I shouted up the stairs. “Tom, Tom, do you hear me?” He quietly replied, “Hon, I don’t feel well, please come up here.” That was the beginning.

A feeling of great fatigue came over Tom, very unusual for a man who was never tired. We went to the doctor (doctors, really), had countless tests, and then the diagnosis. “They are wrong. Doctors make mistakes. We’ll go to other medical centers, other doctors, anywhere, this is not correct!” But it was.

We were soon totally consumed by the disease. Every waking moment was turned over to doctor visits, hospitals, chemo, radiation and medication. It was all we talked about and all we read about. New and innovative treatments. Holistic approaches. Traditional medicine. Surgery. Everything was tried and nothing helped. Tom was leaving me. Every day he got weaker, unable to hold on, and then he was hospitalized for the last time.

As we entered the hospital room, a volunteer followed with magazines, books, toiletries and a gift. “The gift of hope,” she said, “for no matter what happens, you must have hope.” She placed a tiny angel pin on Tom’s hospital gown and it stayed with him the entire five days he was in the hospital. On the fifth day, the doctors asked if he would like to go home “to rest more comfortably,” but we both knew the end was near. We decided to go to our beach house since it was a place we both loved dearly.

We entered the beach house together and spent the next two weeks holding on to whatever we could. Friends and family visited for short periods to not tire him. I did not leave his side and, with the help of an aide, was able to care for his needs. I read to him, I talked to him, I loved him for as much time as we had left together. And then he was gone—one year from the diagnosis.

I took early retirement from my job and stayed at the beach house. It was where we loved to be and where he had spent his last days. I needed to keep his memory alive. I wanted nothing to do with anyone because they took my thoughts away from Tom, and I could not have that!

I kept his clothes near me because they smelled like him. I wore his favorite sweater because it felt like him. I read our favorite books and listened to our favorite music over and over. It was the only way to hold him close. Our favorite time to walk the beach was at dusk—just before the sunset. That became my ritual.

Time went on and the first anniversary of his death arrived. I truly believed I had no life without Tom. Absolutely no reason to go on without him. Friends intervened, family called, visited, nothing helped. I needed Tom to tell me what to do. I needed him to answer me when I spoke to him. I needed a sign.

With the help of friends, I agreed to clear out Tom’s closet, bureau, desk and bookcases. However, after hours of sorting, I could not find the angel pin that Tom had close to him at the end. Where was it? Was it still in the house, or had it been thrown out in the confusion of his last hours? I wanted the angel pin because it had been a part of Tom’s last hours, and it represented hope to me. Hope for the future, if I really had one.

With the cleaning out of Tom’s belongings, I decided to return to our apartment in town and close the beach house until the summer. It was close to dusk and I decided to take a walk on the beach. My walk was brisk and invigorating, and I felt refreshed. As the sun set, it sent a glow over the ocean and a bright reflection on the sand. I bent over, picked up a shiny object and, in disbelief, cradled it in my hand. It was the angel pin that had been lost since Tom had died.

An omen? A message from beyond? The sign I had been asking for? I did not know. All I did know was that I felt a calm I had not felt for years and, suddenly, I knew everything would be all right.

Helen Xenakis

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