On the morning of April 20th 2017, my Nana and Bapa took their last breath together, hand in hand, lying side by side in their bed, surrounded by those who loved them. Even in their death, they continued to memorialize their never-ending love story.
66 years and 15 days earlier, they walked out of a chapel hand in hand for the first time, as husband and wife. They had been college sweethearts and lived an adventurous married life. They spent 8 years as missionaries in India, successfully raised three beautiful and proud daughters, nurtured 6 grandkids and 7 great-grand kids, and never missed a beat with hugs, kisses, laughter and wisdom. Bapa Charlie was an ENT doctor, an avid tennis player, a stern father with his own girls, who softened over the years into a teddy bear grandpa. He was tender, affectionate, with eyes that would well up each time he spoke of the abundance of love and gratitude he felt for his life and his family. He was a traditional gentleman through and through. There was never a time he wouldn’t open the door for Nana. I never heard a bitter word spoken between them, and it’s not because they intentionally kept it behind closed doors. I believe they really did have the type of respectful, kind, safe, and loving relationship that made it easier for them to navigate conflict. They were best friends, and phenomenal role models for my cousins and me.
Nana Francie was the one we’d go to for advice. She had strong opinions and was not afraid to share them. But always held room for unconditional acceptance of our own decisions. She respected our journey, sometimes all the while knowing exactly down which sink hole it would take us. But she’d be there patiently waiting with open arms when we resurfaced. I would ask her what the secret to a long, loving relationship was. She would answer: “Be each other’s best friend first and foremost. Treat each other with respect, always. And keep a sense of humor, even when there may seem to be nothing to laugh about.” The last piece of advice has taken me the longest to learn and apply, but it’s pure gold. She knew what she was talking about. As most Nana’s do.
Nana and Bapa had been members of the Death With Dignity movement since its first formation. Having seen what aging non-gracefully can do to the body and mind, they wanted to take control of their death. Bapa had Parkinson’s, Nana had heart disease and cancer and in 2017 they were each diagnosed with fewer than 6 months to live. They didn’t want to wait for these diseases to take every last independent thought or movement away from them. They wanted to die with dignity, and say goodbye by their own free will, when they felt the time was right. It was a decision they had made long ago, and never wavered from it.
Days before Nana and Bapa bid farewell to all they knew, and bravely stepped into all they didn’t, the entire extended family gathered for a life celebration party at Nana and Bapa’s assisted living community. It was beautiful. It was heart wrenching. I can’t even today, years later, think about it without sobbing tears of joy and sorrow. But it was a day full of boundless love. Our hearts both simultaneously heavy and light. Hard to explain, but powerful to feel. It allowed us to forge a different relationship with their loss, helping to bring peaceful closure to it, before it even happened. It gave us the opportunity to say everything we had ever wanted to say to them, conversations full of unbridled I love you forevers, and goodbyes. There was endless laughter, and an equal amount of tears shed, as we shared memories, played games together as we did during all the family reunions, and sang and danced to their favorite love songs.
A few days later, under the supervision and guidance of medical professionals, Nana and Bapa forwent the dozen familiar pills they had been taking each day to sustain the bodies that, over the years, had increasingly begun to wage war against them. Instead, they swallowed a new pill that would bring eternal peace to the innocent victims on that battlefield. In the weeks leading up to it, I would ask them “Aren’t you afraid not knowing what will happen?”
. Nana would smile and say “Not at all, sweetheart. I’ve lived a full life and I’m ready, curious, and excited for the next adventure. And when Charlie and I are together, there isn’t anything we fear.” And with that, together, they went in peace. Gracefully, with dignity, with love.
And my heart continues to be filled with them every day. I know they are not far. Their love, their wisdom, their memories, and their legacy lives within me, and within their family and friends, and every part of the world that they graced with their presence. And it will continue to be passed on through the generations to come, as our families grow. Theirs is a never-ending love story, that has only just begun.
The story of their life and death was honored in a beautiful documentary created by their youngest daughter. If you would like to meet Nana and Bapa and be a part of continuing their love story, you can watch it for free: https://sharewisdom.com/living-dying-love-story-documentary-3/
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All Love Letters’ are pristine, posted as they were received. Please forgive any spelling and grammar issues, since the writing was done in the throes of love, and sometimes love doesn’t care about commas or misplaced letters.