Paula Wychopen, a seeker of beauty in the everyday, is a writer, mother, widow, and former caregiver for her chronically ill husband, Forrest. The eighteen years she cared for her husband at home were the most difficult and blessed years of her life. Their four children are her most treasured gifts, and she writes to leave a legacy for her children and grandchildren.
The empty wheelchair stood along the wall, a few seats open on either side. She chose the seat on the left of the wheelchair because of the electrical outlet nearby. She needed to charge her phone before her final flight home. With her phone charging, she reached into her too-heavy bag and pulled out the novel she’d brought along.
She’d only been reading for a moment when she noticed him pushing his way along the airport terminal, a walker in front of him, the tennis balls scooting awkwardly atop the low pile carpet.
She couldn’t help but notice his halting gait, and the way the blood seemed to be pooling into his swollen legs and feet, and turning them a strange purple color.
She quietly and secretly watched as he made his way over to the wall lined with chairs and wondered which one he would choose. She was a little worried that he wouldn’t make it to his seat without falling but he surprised her, making his way along carefully, and sitting down in the wheelchair next to her.
He settled in with a sigh, and they exchanged a quick hello. She could still see him through the corner of her eye, because the wheelchair stuck out a bit further than her chair. She noticed that he pretty quickly began to close his eyes and rest after his long trek across the airport. The novel in her hand couldn’t hold her attention as her mind drifted to thoughts of this gentleman, and she wondered whether he was traveling alone. She wondered if he would need help. Her heart was always drawn to those with medical issues.
She glanced back at her book pretending to read, as she continued her watch. She noticed a young woman who appeared to be walking towards him. The young woman was smiling at the gentleman whose eyes were still closed. He did not see her approaching. She walked over, bent down, and said rather loudly and close to the gentleman’s ear, “Excuse me, sir!” The gentleman jumped, and they both began laughing when he saw her face. An older woman followed shortly after with another younger woman in tow, their arms and hands full. They all surrounded him, handing him a drink and a snack, placing their bags nearby, and began happily chatting away.
She ignored her book, but kept it open, listening as the family continued talking, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. It warmed her heart to see him so lovingly cared for, to see the three women surrounding him, meeting his needs, and interacting with him in such a tender way. This family seemed to be making the best of this time of waiting.
It reminded her of her own family, and the way she and her children had cared for her husband for all those years. While the family continued cutting up with one another, she knew the truth behind the smiles and laughter. The road they were on wasn’t easy. Having a family member with medical needs is such a mixed bag of heartache and blessing.
She knew the waiting was the hardest part. Waiting for the diagnosis. Waiting for the correct interventions, to see if this new medication would work, and whether the different therapies would have some benefits. Waiting for medical tests, waiting for appointments, and when all else had failed, waiting for the inevitable ending. The time when all their hopes and dreams would be dashed and they would have to face that last, tearful waiting for death to take their loved one from them.
She wanted to say something to them about their love for one another, for their joyful endurance in the face of such adversity, but the words wouldn’t form. They were stuck somewhere in the back of her throat. And before she realized what was happening, tears began forming into puddles in her lower eyelids. She grabbed her bag, her jacket, and her book and ran off to compose herself in the nearby bathroom.
Reminders of him were everywhere.