We all experience loss. What better way to honor someone than by learning from them?
When I was 15, my parents got a divorce. It was my mom and me on our own for a bit, until one of the neighborhood guys she played tennis with took an interest. He left her notes, gifts, and flowers, and they courted until he moved in and they got married. My new stepdad’s name was Bill, and like any other teenager, I thought he was a big dork and just another adult in the household to tell me what time I had to be home.
When I started navigating through the murky waters of college, part-time jobs, and plans for the rest of my life, Bill took a big part in talking me through those tough decisions that felt so overwhelming and permanent at the time. He was a college political professor, so he was used to dealing with whiny, self-entitled, unfocused brats like me with patience and reassurance.
Eventually, I moved out on my own, graduated college, and went through a few full-time jobs and long-term boyfriends. I respected Bill more and more every day and enjoyed visits to my mom and Bill’s house because it still felt like home. He constantly told these ridiculously long-winded stories, but if you really paid attention, the point of them was relative to your situation in the most poignant way.
He showed interest and excitement in my future, and was always proud of me for taking leaps of faith or making hard decisions, whether he agreed with them or not. As my stepdad, Bill was building my self-confidence, and giving me all the love and support I needed to grow as an adult.
When I was 25, Bill was diagnosed with tongue cancer. I didn’t understand the gravity of the diagnosis at the time. It’s Bill. He’s my stepdad and he’s going to be around for a long, long time. He’s always going to change my tire when I get a flat and help me buy a house. He’s going to walk me down the aisle and play with my kids in the future. This is just a bump in the road.
But, the cancer spread to his throat. Bill underwent surgeries removing part of his tongue, leaving him unable to speak and eat — two of his favorite things in life. Watching Bill settle into his new life of silence and a feeding tube was the most heart-breaking thing I’ve ever witnessed.
This torturous new life with no margaritas or story-telling ended for Bill in February 2009. He took a little piece of my heart with him to heaven.
When Bill was gone, all I had was the memories. There were no new stories to be heard or conversations to be had, so I could only remember Bill in the past tense. And I remembered all the time.
I ended one of my most significant long-term relationships less than a year after Bill’s passing. I was around ‘marrying age’ where a woman starts to get antsy for that next chapter of her life, so the breakup was disappointing and disheartening. After the end of a relationship, many women figure out what they want in their next long-term partner by over-analyzing their needs, watching sappy romantic comedies, and reading relationship advice books.
But not me. I didn’t analyze my past relationship, get lost in the unrealistic male hero in a romantic flick, or seek love advice.
I thought about Bill. Not as a stepdad, not as a college professor, and not as a cancer patient — but as husband to my mom.
Bill always thought about my mom first. He was kind, patient, generous, and caring. My mom wasn’t just a part of his world — she was his entire world. He never raised his voice or disrespected her. Bill endured the frustrations of cancer and his ailing body, but tried to stay pleasant and enjoy his moments with my mom. The way Bill smiled at her, even when he was sick and run-down, was so warm and filled with love. They had so much fun together and could laugh at themselves and their lives, even in the most serious situations.
He was the type of husband I wanted. He was the type of father for my future kids I wanted. I knew the man I married had to have the same significant qualities that Bill had.
Who knew someone who’s not even on this earth anymore could show you what you need in your life? I went on to kiss a few frogs and waste my time on a few second dates that should never have been. And then — I met Anthony. In him, I could already see a few traits that reminded me of Bill.
He was sweet and thoughtful. He was kind and generous. He was smart and funny. Once we truly fell in love, I knew he would do anything for me and that I had become his world. When we had disagreements, I was the first to raise my voice, but Anthony (almost always) showed me patience and forgiveness.
In remembrance of what a great husband Bill was to my mom, I just knew Anthony would be that same husband to me too. We’ve been married for almost two years, and so far, I can say that I was right.
My memories of Bill will always be with me. I’m so grateful to have had such an influential and substantial male role model in my life — not even just as a father figure, but as an example of how I deserve to be treated as a woman and what a ‘good man’ truly is. I’m happy to say I’ve found my own Bill for myself in Anthony. I know Bill is looking down on me, beaming with pride for my wise decision to marry such a great man. And all I can say is ‘Thanks, Bill.’
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