A Life Well Lived

June 20, 2016

Wrapped in the embrace of her recliner, Helga dreaded having to move, but her bladder would just not wait any longer. Her knees ached. Her back ached. Hell, everything ached. She had not expected to live this long, to outlive her husband, Jon. Helga’s eyes welled with tears every time she thought about him. They had been married more than half a century when the cancer took her Jonny from her half a dozen years ago. He had taken her out of Eastern Europe shortly after the last great war (and her father had said that nothing would become of her “escape” to America).

It hadn’t always been an easy five-and-a-half decades, that’s for sure. But it had been worth it, every minute – even the bad ones. The worst had been when he was gone for an entire year and she had to deal with the kids by herself. Jon had been in the US military, and that was the year he spent in Vietnam. So, in addition to having to raise three very active and rambunctious children alone, every time she heard a knock on the door, Helga feared she would open it to find a couple of uniforms standing there. If that happened, she didn’t know what she would do. She feared she would lose her will to live.

That year passed, and Jon returned home from the war. He was a changed man; Helga could see that. Oh, he said he still loved her, and didn’t want to live without her, but something had changed in the man she had married all those years ago. Something she never could identify.

The best years were the early years, but isn’t that always the way of life? They were young and in love and just wanted to spend forever falling in love with each other over and over again. Then came the kids – and the complications.

They almost divorced once. Jon had an affair with a younger woman, but broke it off when Helga found out about it. They decided they couldn’t get divorced, they had too much invested in each other and in their family. Besides, Jon knew if he divorced Helga, she might not live to see another year. So he stuck it out and held her together.

After the kids were grown and having kids of their own, Helga and Jon fell in love yet again. They were on their way to a glorious retirement traveling the country when he was diagnosed with the cancer. Before he died, he asked their eldest to keep her safe.

In time, Helga had to move closer to family, she could no longer live by herself in the town where her Jonny died. She needed her son around to help her with some of the day-to-day things a person needs doing. She hated getting older; not being able to do the things that once came so easily, losing her independence when she still felt so young and vibrant at heart.

So now, Helga struggled upright in the recliner with her failing body. She took a deep breath and prepared herself for the pain that she knew would assault her joints and bones and muscles as she tried to stand. The pain only reminded her that she was alive, and, in that moment, to remember that she was the only member of her birth family to live this long. Born the next-to-youngest, she was now the eldest.

Rocking forward to propel herself out of the chair, Helga drew herself up to her full four-foot, eight-inch height (she was once five-feet, three-inches tall), straightened her bent back, and walked proudly down the hall of her new home to the bathroom; giving her authoritarian father the proverbial finger, triumphant in the fact that she had outlived them all.