My father’s cancer was getting worse.  He and I spent Saturday together to give Elise a break from the grind of caring for him.  I arrived at 9:00 a.m., and she left for the gym. She returned just after 11:00, changed clothes, and left to enjoy a well-deserved afternoon of shopping at the upscale La Encantada Mall. 

We passed the first few hours watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but my dad’s pain was getting worse, and with it came severe nausea and a relentless bout of diarrhea.  I escorted him to the bathroom several times.  I felt helpless as he struggled to maintain his dignity after soiling himself in bed, but he carried himself with measured grace and decorum.   

Elise returned from shopping just after 6:00.   My father embraced her, then asked if she’d leave the room so he could speak with me.  After she had left, my dad whispered with an air of embarrassment, “Rob, could you do me a big favor?  I haven’t even been able to get Elise an anniversary card.  Would you mind going to the store and buying a card and maybe some flowers?  It’s our seventh anniversary.”

I felt his sense of deep despair.

“Sure, I’ll go right now.” 

I had no money, so when I stepped outside, I called Pat to ask if she would meet me to pay for the card and flowers.   She said she would leave immediately for the Walgreen’s on Country Club and Speedway.  I arrived first and began looking at cards.  I found one that really touched me, and right there in the Hallmark section of the Walgreen’s, I started crying like a baby.  I fought to muffle my sobs, but I could not keep the tears from flowing. 

When Pat arrived, I handed her the card and she paid the cashier.  My eyes were red; my cheeks tear-streaked and moist.  I felt embarrassed, but there was no reason to be. After all, who wouldn’t cry on such a sad mission?  Buying an anniversary card for my sick and dying father, who was too feeble to get out of bed.

The Walgreen’s didn’t sell flowers, so we drove a block to the Whole Foods store.  I asked a clerk if we could get a dozen roses.    She apologized and said that they were out of roses. We picked out a dozen, beautiful red, Gerbera daisies.  The cashier was a Latina in her late twenties and she was very sweet.  I told her we were buying the flowers for my dying dad to give to his wife on their anniversary.  She seemed genuinely touched and told us how sorry she was.

As we left the store, Pat said that I really hadn’t needed to share that information.  I told her that I wanted the cashier to know why I was crying.   She said I looked like I probably had allergies, but I knew, I knew better.   We left my car at the Walgreen’s, and Pat drove me to Elise and my father’s house.  I asked her to park where our car wouldn’t be seen. 

Pat parked out of the way.  I left the car and walked to their door.  I placed the card and flowers out of sight, behind a large planter, and rang the bell. 

When Elise answered, I asked her if I could talk to my dad in private.  She looked a bit confused, but said of course, and went to their study.

I grabbed the card and flowers, and walked to the living room where the hospital bed faced the TV.  My dad saw the flowers and he seemed pleased.            

“How much were they?” he asked.

“Free,” I said.  “They were giving free flowers with every card.”

“Please, Rob, I need to pay for them.”  But he remembered he did not have his wallet.  It was in the study.

“Can I pay you tomorrow?” he asked.

“Sure, tomorrow’s fine.”

I gave him the flowers first.

“They’re beautiful,” he said.  “Thank you so much, Rob.  Thank you for everything.”

I had a huge lump in my throat.  I fought to hold back the tears.

“I have the card.  Do you have a pen to sign it?”

He had one handy on a stand next to his bed.  I gave him the card and he wrote a note to Elise. 

“Well, I’d better be going.”  I struggled to keep my composure.  “I love you Dad.   I wish I could have been a better son.  Not let you down, not been so selfish.”

I bent to kiss his forehead, put his hand into mine, and kissed it.

“So long, Dad.  Happy Anniversary.”

“Thank you, Rob,” he said.

I was crying pretty hard as I left the room.  I went outside and walked to the car.  Pat was concerned.

“I’ll drive you back to your car,” she told me.  “If you’re not up to driving we can get it in the morning.”

“No, thanks, that’s okay. I can drive.”

“I’m going to follow close behind you, make sure you’re okay.”

We drove to the Walgreen’s, and I walked to my car.  I pulled out of the parking lot into the heavy traffic of Speedway.   Finally, we arrived home.  I was exhausted and sad, but I happy to have done the right thing.