top of page
Search

Bittersweet



December 4 is a pivotal day in my life for two reasons, which will come both happily and sadly evident as you read this. I originally wrote this on December 4, 2013, and I'm sharing it again.


December 4, 1991: It was a Wednesday, cold and snowy. It played out like most Wednesdays. I went to work, got home around 5:00 p.m., and headed out for a run. That night, like most, I would get together with Joan, my girlfriend of four-plus years, most of that time spent at “long distance” as she lived on the other side of the state, a three-and-a-half-hour drive.


But recently, she had taken a job in Milwaukee and moved into an apartment just a mile from

mine, where I lived at the time with my best friend/cousin Mike. On a usual weeknight, we’d eat something, watch TV and hang out, simple pleasures we enjoyed now that we lived in the same town. But that night would be different because what happened would change my life—and our lives—forever.


December 4, 2000: It was a Monday, just another Monday … at first. I went into work early (as usual). I owned a small marketing firm, one I started five years prior with my brother-in-law, whose name is also Mike. That day, I needed to tie up some loose ends as I would be leaving early the next morning for New Mexico to spend a couple of days with a client.


I arrived home around dinner time, tired and happy to see Joan and the kids, Kate, (then four) and Will (just shy of eight months.) Around 6:30, I was in the basement, getting things

set for my trip when Joan called down to me. “Phone’s for you. It’s Mike (my brother-in-law).” I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. It would change my life—and my family’s life—forever.


December 4, 1991: After showering, I grabbed my jacket and stuffed the box in my pocket. I had actually planned to do this two nights prior, but for some reason, it didn’t feel right. I wasn’t scared or having second thoughts. It just hadn’t seemed like the “perfect” time. So, I brought the box home and decided to wait a day or two. But before leaving for Joan’s that evening, I said to myself, “Tonight’s the night.” I was sure of it. It was a long time coming. It was time to take the next step. At 7:00 p.m., I left for Joan’s.


December 4, 2000: “David, it’s Mike.” His voice sounded uncharacteristically tense and serious. Before I could say anything, he continued. “It’s your dad. He’s in the hospital. It doesn’t look good.” The words hadn’t sunken in, but it was Mike’s next reaction that caught me. He started to choke up and cry, something he NEVER did. “I’m on my way,” was all I said as I hung up the phone, grabbed my coat and keys, told Joan I had to go see my dad and sprinted out the door. She knew. “Go! Just keep me posted. I love you.” She hugged me tightly, and I wanted to hold her for hours and cry into her shoulder. But I didn’t have time for that. I had to go.


December 4, 1991: “How will I know when it’s the right time?” I had been asking myself this question for months, long before that Wednesday night. I had bought the ring a few weeks

prior, and had been taking it out of the box and looking at it daily, trying to imagine what that moment would be like. We had been together for more than four years, yet there was still a small part of me that was afraid she’d say no. It was 8:30, and we had just ordered a pizza. It was time.

December 4, 2000: I made the 50-minute trip to Watertown Memorial Hospital in less than 40 minutes, navigating the dark, winding roads like a Formula One driver, or maybe a guy who

wanted one last chance to see his father alive, to tell him “I love you.” I hit the Emergency Department entrance of the hospital at a full sprint and found his room. My mom and sisters were already there. And there was Dad, unconscious, hooked up to tubes and monitors. He was alive, but Mike was right when he called. It wasn’t good. I got the story from my mom (I’ll spare the details, but he had collapsed suddenly at home), and we sat and waited; waited for my brother, Mark, to arrive much in the same manner I did, just hoping—praying—he’d get there before Dad left us.


December 4, 1991: She was sitting on the couch, wearing grey sweatpants and a blue Kent State sweatshirt. She was relaxed and young and beautiful. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have her in my life. And now, I was about to ask her to spend the rest of her life with me. I went to my coat and took the box out of the pocket. I walked to the couch, and took a knee, not so

much to strike the traditional proposal pose, but simply to get us at eye level. “I’ve been thinking a lot about us lately,” I started, hoping the right words would come. For once in my life, I wasn’t sure they would. I felt tongue-tied, almost embarrassed, like what I was about to say was so obvious. “Yes?” she replied, and I wasn’t sure if she was puzzled or completely “onto” what was happening. I continued. “And I was wondering if you . . . would . . . marry me.” I held out the box. She opened it. “Oh my God!” It was the response I had hoped for. She said yes.


December 4, 2000: Over the next two hours, more family showed up. Joan had come too, and I was so grateful for that. Friends had agreed to take the kids overnight so she could be with me; with us. Dad had been transferred to a private room. We all knew this was “it.” Machines were keeping him alive, and the doctor assured us he was in no pain. The fact is, I had noticed something two weeks prior, when we visited Mom and Dad for Thanksgiving. When we arrived, I greeted him and shook his hand. I noticed his grip was softer than usual; not weak, just . . . different. And the look on his face was not the edgy, “eyebrow- cocked” smart-aleck look he usually gave me. He was smiling, like he was grateful we had come to visit. He was vulnerable.

He looked small, and he was quiet, too quiet. I got a sick feeling in my stomach. That night, December 4, 2000, that sick feeling was confirmed. At 11:00 p.m., we all said our goodbyes, and minutes later, he died.


December 4, 1991: There was a knock on the door. It was the pizza delivery guy. Joan answered the door, and said, “I’m getting married!” I can’t recall his reaction, but I’m thinking it didn’t

quite affect him like it did us. She paid him and brought the pizza into the small kitchen. Joan was too excited to eat. Me? Not so much. Excitement tends to bring out my appetite, and I polished off three-quarters of the pizza as we watched TV, laughed and looked at the ring on her finger, trying to decide how and when we’d share the news with family and friends. It was going to be a great life, spent together, taking on everything the world could dish out. Good times and bad, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, and all that jazz.


December 4, 2000: As we left the hospital, Mark and I decided to take Mom home, and because we were the “out-of-towners,” we’d sleep at her place that night and with our sisters, Kathy

and Diane, begin to work through funeral plans the next day. It was already midnight. Joan headed home to get some sleep. We’d tell the kids the next day. Will was too young to understand, but Kate cried. She used to call him “Pa” and he called her “Pal.” And that’s exactly what they were . . . pals. That relationship always warmed my heart.


December 4, 1991: I knew that night I had made the best decision of my life. And now, after all these years, it’s better than I ever could have dreamed. I share my days with my best friend,

my confidant and the love of my life. She has been with me through everything, always in my corner, always my biggest fan, always the smiling face when I need it the most. And on

December 4, 2000, nine years to the day after she agreed to marry me, now my wife, the mother of my two children, she was there for me—for all of us—holding me, grieving with me and my family as we watched Dad leave us. I hope you know how much he loved you, Joan. And I know that he’d say himself that if I didn’t accomplish anything else in my life, I did something right the day I asked you to marry me.


December 4, 2000: God, I miss him.


December 4, 1991: God, I love her.

85 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

It's Not Due To Presidents Day

Due to circumstance completely within my control, I'm taking the week off. That may be music to your ears. It might make you wonder if this little exercise—which has been going on for 10+ years in som

bottom of page