The surgeries went well, and not long afterward, my sister and I were allowed to go in to visit. Dad was in a great deal of pain but, again, all he could talk about was Mom. Was she okay? How was she feeling? Then the nurses let us do something unorthodox. As they were wheeling Mom out of the recovery room, they rolled her into a separate alcove to visit Dad. It was surreal to see both our parents hooked up to IVs and machines and trying to talk to each other through tears. The nurses allowed us to present the diamond pendant to Mom so that Dad could watch her open it. Everybody was crying, even the nurses.
As I stood with digital camera in hand, I tried to keep the presence of mind to document the moment. My dad was having a hard time fighting back emotion, and suddenly my parents spontaneously reached out to hold each other’s hands.
In my nearly 35 years of existence, I’d never seen my parents do that, and I was spellbound. I snapped a picture and later rushed home to make sure I’d captured that enormous, life-defining moment. That photo of my parents’ hands said everything. After so many years of discord, it was apparent to me that they finally understood how much each loved the other.
My father stopped drinking early in his disease, and he’s started back to the health club again to improve his muscle tone. He’s fascinated by how quickly he’s recovered physically. But I have seen so many more profound changes. It’s as if the transplant healed our whole family.
There’s definitely been a softening to Dad. He’s mellowed, and he has more patience now. He’s not condescending to my mother anymore. Mom, too, has loosened up, since she’s not dealing with all that anger. There’s a closeness that they didn’t have before, and the experience has deepened their faith. Mom says she can see God’s hand in this all along the way.
I live in Nashville, and when I talk with my parents on the phone now, I joke and say, “Who are you people? You’re freaking me out!” Because at times they act like kids. They laugh more and complain less.
For Christmas, Leslie and I gave them two framed photos linked together by hooks. The top photo is of their clasped hands on their wedding day, August 7, 1965. Handwritten on the matting it says, “For better or worse, for richer or poorer.” The second photo is of that day in the recovery room. Their hands are intertwined with hospital bands and IVs, and on the matting it says, “In sickness and in health, ’til death do us part.”