That Girl

By Diane Stark

“What kind of potato chips do we have?” He asked, jolting awake from a nap.

I sat down on the bed next to him and smiled. He looked at me and then around the room. His eyes came back to me, and I could see the resignation in his eyes.

He’s realized that he’s in the hospital, and given his current situation, his question didn’t make any sense.

He’s given us another scare, this one worse than the last. He’s had his fourth stroke, and his second in eight weeks. The others affected his motor skills, but this latest one has attacked him cognitively.

He’s been married to the love of his life for 51 years, and they have eight children together. The kids have come from near and far to sit at his bedside. And while I’m just his daughter-in-law, I’ve been privileged to join in the vigil.

Yesterday, he called me by my niece’s name. We’re both blondes, but she’s 19, so I took it as a compliment. Today, he remembered that I’m Eric’s wife, but couldn’t recall my name. Most often, he refers to me as That Girl.

Larry has been on a slow decline for years, but this last stroke has really taken a toll. An MRI showed large voids in his brain, damaged from all the strokes.

No wonder he doesn’t remember me.

This is a new development, and although I know it’s nothing personal, it hurts just a bit.

Just eight weeks ago, he always recognized me. Every time I came over, he was sitting in his recliner, eating Vanilla Wafers and watching The Waltons on television. As soon as I walked in the door, he’d mute the TV and grin at me.

 My mother-in-law, Judy, was away for the week. She had traveled to Florida to visit her brother and sister-in-law and escape the snow for a bit. Because Larry was still in relatively good shape at that point, we’d agreed that our oldest son, Austin, would stay with him while she was gone. I was to bring him dinner each evening and look in on him while Austin was at work.

The first night, when it was time to deliver his meal, my six-year-old son asked to go with me.

“Of course, Nathan,” I said. “Grandpa would love to see you.”

So while Larry ate the food I’d prepared, Nathan sat in Larry’s empty wheelchair and talked to him. “Wanna hear all the Bible stories I know?” He asked.

Larry’s eyes lit up. His grandkids always brought on such a reaction.

Nathan told his Grandpa all about Adam and Eve, and Noah and the ark, and Joseph and his coat of many colors. He was just starting in on Moses when Larry finished eating. I took his plate into the kitchen and put it in the dishwasher. I glanced at the clock and remembered everything that I needed to do back at my house.

“Are you ready to go home, Nathan?”

“Not yet, Mommy. I need to finish telling Grandpa about Moses and the Red Sea and the Ten Commandments.”

“OK, Bud, you go ahead and finish.”

But when he’d finished that story, he wanted to tell Grandpa about Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And then it was David and Goliath. And then Daniel and the lions’ den.

Multiple times, I’d asked Nathan if he was ready to go, but each time, he and Larry both insisted that they were still talking. While I was glad they were enjoying themselves and impressed with Nathan’s Biblical knowledge, I was ready to go. I had things to do.

“It’s time to go now, Nathan.”

He sighed and threw up his hands. “But I haven’t even gotten to Jesus yet!”

“We have to come back tomorrow, Nathan. You can tell Grandpa about the New Testament then.”

The next evening, and every night of Judy’s vacation, Larry was treated to a dinner theatre. Nathan sat in Larry’s wheelchair and just talked to him. When he ran out of Bible stories, he told Larry about his teacher and his friends at school. For two hours every night, Nathan hardly took a breath in between his stories.

Larry asked Nathan tons of questions, and it was obvious he loved every minute of it. I, however, struggled to be patient. Checking in on Larry was not supposed to take two hours every night. I had things to do at home.

But now, sitting by his hospital bed, knowing that his time left with us could be short, I regretted my impatience. A conversation that I took for granted just two months ago was now impossible. I squeezed his hand and smiled at him through my tears.

“Do you remember a few weeks ago when Judy went on vacation and Nathan and I brought you dinner?” I asked him.

He just stared at me.

I smiled so he’d know it was all right if he didn’t remember. “Nathan talked non-stop. He told you all the Bible stories he knew.” I chuckled. “And he knew a lot of them!”

 Larry thought for a minute. “Yeah, that girl came over.”

“That girl was me.”

“Really? I don’t think so.”

I nodded. “It was me. Nathan and I had fun visiting with you.”

“Yeah. I love Nathan.” He smiled at me and for just a moment, I saw recognition in his eyes. “I love that girl too.”

My tears spilled over as I hugged him. “I love you too, Larry.”

A few minutes later, he looked around the room. “Where did that girl go?”

“Who? I’m the only one here.”

He shrugged. “Then I guess I mean you.”

“I’m here, Larry, and I’m not going anywhere.”

He smiled and drifted back to sleep.

Larry might not always know my name, but our hearts still connect in precious moments. And I’ve learned – finally – not to take those moments for granted.

About this writer

  • Diane Stark Diane Stark is a wife and mom of five. She loves to write about her family and her faith. Her essays have been published in over 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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3 Responses to “That Girl”

  1. Erika Hoffman says:

    Very tender. Moved me to tears.

  2. Rose Ann says:

    Fleeting moments, preserved and expressed in a very touching way. Wonderful story.

  3. Ginger Robinson says:

    A beautiful story!

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