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PLEASE DRESS ME IN RED By Cindy Dee Holms

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In my dual profession as an educator and health care provider, I have worked with numerous children infected with the virus that causes AIDS. The relationships that I have had with these special kids have been gifts in my life. They have taught me so many things, but I have especially learned that great courage can be found in the smallest of packages. Let me tell you about Tyler.

Tyler was born infected with HIV; his mother was also infected. From the very beginning of his life, he was dependent on medications to enable him to survive. When he was five, he had a tube surgically inserted in a vein in his chest. This tube was connected to a pump, which he carried in a small backpack on his back. Medications were hooked up to this pump and were continuously supplied through this tube to his blood stream. At this time, he also needed supplemental oxygen to support his breathing.

Tyler wasn’t willing to give up one single moment of his childhood to this deadly disease. It was not unusual to find him playing and racing around his backyard, wearing his medicine-laden backpack and dragging his tank of oxygen behind him in his little wagon. All of us who knew Tyler marveled at his pure joy in being alive and the energy it gave him. Tyler’s mom often teased him by telling him that he moved so fast she needed to dress him in red. That way, when she peered out the window to check on him playing in the yard, she could quickly spot him.

This dreaded disease eventually wore down even the likes of a little dynamo like Tyler. He grew quite ill and, unfortunately, so did his HIV-infected mother. When it became apparent that he wasn’t going to survive, Tyler’s mom talked to him about death. She comforted him by telling Tyler that she was dying too, and that she would be with him soon in heaven.

A few days before his death, Tyler beckoned me over to his hospital bed and whispered, “I might die soon. I’m not scared. When I die, please dress me in red. Mom promised she’s coming to heaven, too. I’ll be playing when she gets there and I want to make sure she can find me.”

From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Reprinted by permission of Health Communications, Inc., Copyright © 1996 Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen

ONE LAST GOODBYE By Karen Corkern Babb

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The hospital room, hushed and dim, had come to seem somehow unreal to me as the day slowly passed, as though I were witnessing a tableau within a darkened theater. Yet the scene was sadly real — my brother, sister and myself, each lost in our own thoughts, silently looking on as our mother, sitting at our father’s bedside and holding his hand, talked softly to him even though he was not conscious. Our father, after years of patiently withstanding the pain and indignities of a terminal illness, was near the end of his struggle, and had slipped quietly into a coma early that morning. We knew the hour of his death was at hand.

Mother stopped talking to Dad, and I noticed that she was looking at her wedding rings and smiling gently. I smiled, too, knowing that she was thinking of the ritual that had lasted for the forty years of their marriage.

Mother, energetic and never still, was forever ending up with her engagement and wedding rings twisted and disarranged. Dad, always calm and orderly, would take her hand and gently and carefully straighten the rings until they were back in place. Although very sensitive and loving, the words “I love you” didn’t come easily to him, so he expressed his feelings in many small ways, such as this, through the years.

After a long pause, Mother turned to us and said in a small sad voice, “I knew your father would be leaving us soon, but he slipped away so suddenly that I didn’t have the chance to tell him good-bye, and that I love him one last time.”

Bowing my head, I longed to pray for a miracle that would allow them to share their love one final time, but my heart was so full that the words wouldn’t come.

Now, we knew we just had to wait. As the night wore on, one by one, each of us had nodded off, and the room was silent. Suddenly, we were startled from sleep. Mother had begun to cry. Fearing the worst, we rose to our feet to comfort her in her sorrow. But to our surprise, we realized that her tears were tears of joy. For as we followed her gaze, we saw that she was still holding our father’s hand, but that somehow, his other hand had moved slightly and was gently resting on Mother’s.

Smiling through her tears, she explained: “For just a moment, he looked right at me.” She paused, looking back at her hand. “Then,” she whispered in a voice choked with emotion, “he straightened my rings.”

Father died an hour later. But God, in his infinite wisdom, had known what was in our heart before any of us could ask him for it. Our prayer was answered in a way that we all will cherish for the rest of our lives.

Mother had received her good-bye.

From Chicken Soup for the Couple’s Soul. Reprinted with permission of HCI. Copyright © 1999 by John T. Canfield and Hansen and Hansen LLC.

BEAN SOUP By Jacqueline Rivkin

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On the last real night of my marriage I made a pot of bean soup. At about 11 o’clock, the soup was ready, scents of garlic and bay leaf wafting through the apartment. I went into the den, where he was watching the Yankees play the Toronto Blue Jays, and invited him to have some.

We sat at the kitchen table, not talking much, or at least, not talking about anything that I remember. “That was great,” he said, when he was finished. I probably said, “Thank you.” He stood to go back to the game and I said, “Well, I have to get up early tomorrow. Goodnight.” And I went to sleep. I didn’t say, “I love you.” I didn’t say, “I bless the day I met you,” or “I am so glad that we married each other.” I just went to sleep.

The next time I saw him, he was face down on the bed, not breathing, and although he was in a coma for two weeks, and I believed he would recover for most of that time, in essence, I now know, he was dead.

When something like that happens there are so many regrets, and among the greatest is each and every time that you could have verbally or by action said “I love you.” I regretted not learning to care about everything he cared about. I grieved for every time I got upset over something inconsequential—and trust me, most of it seems inconsequential when the love of your life is in a coma.

For the first week he was unconscious, I promised him the moon. I told him that if he would just open those big brown eyes, I would never get mad about anything ever again. He could leave his socks two inches from the hamper, and I would thank God that they were there. I would dress up more and take time out for lunch whenever he asked. We would watch football games together and talk about politics. I promised him prime rib in wild mushrooms and red wine, and tuna au poivre perfectly rare, on the Royal Doulton with candles every night.

The second week, I came back to earth. I stopped promising him the perfect wife. Instead I promised him Me. I promised that I would at times be impatient or scared, and that he would still have to take out the garbage. I promised that I would not always like his jokes, and that I would still nag him to exercise. I promised him that we would have interests in common but not all of them, and that we would still have things to be tolerant of in each other. I promised him bean soup.

But as part of bean soup, I promised him that I would love him as much as before or maybe even more and that I would try never to forget what we had almost lost. I wish I had been given the chance.

Marriage is not always made of rose petals and moonlight and perfect understanding. Sometimes it is made of kids with the stomach flu, and flights that have been delayed, or even just made of work and dinner and running out of light bulbs. At times like that, sometimes the marriage goes on autopilot and love is subtext, an article of faith. Then, the dust clears and we remember. And as you have no way of knowing when you are young, but as you come to know when you’ve been married a while, that is more than fine.

Reasonable minds may differ, but for me, it is the dailyness that I love the most about being married. I liked the anniversary dinners and the romantic moments, but even more I loved the mundane workings of our daily lives, coming home to trust and commitment and inside jokes, and even the predictable irritations like those socks.

When marriage is lost in the way that mine was, it is the everyday memories that mean the most. The time we both had bad colds and spent the day in sweatshirts, bringing each other tea. The way he took in the dry cleaning every Friday. Or the nights, like the last one, where we didn’t really talk but shared the deep ordinariness of a quiet Sunday night with our daughter asleep and the Yankees playing for him and some music for me, and a great big pot of soup.

From the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Amy Newmark. Copyright 2011 by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Published by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Chicken Soup for the Soul is a registered trademark of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.