*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
My grandfather was friends with an older gentleman who lived in the same neighborhood where I grew up. The local men would stand on the corner, smoke cigars, and talk until their wives came to get them one by one. My grandmother was usually the first woman to walk to the corner and retrieve her husband for dinner.
The older gentleman was always the last to leave. He'd wait until all his neighborhood buddies, including my grandfather, had gone home, and then he'd walk home alone.
After years of friendship, this man invited my grandfather to his house for a cup of coffee, and my grandfather accompanied him home with my grandmother's permission. My grandfather's friend gave him a tour of the house, and when they got to the end of the hallway, they reached a closed door.
The man opened the door and stepped aside so my grandfather could see inside the tiny bedroom. Everything was as neat as a pin but covered in dust. The wallpaper was peeling, and the curtains were yellowed.
He told my grandfather that his wife had died unexpectedly from a heart attack fifty years earlier when they were newly married. They woke up one morning, and he went into the kitchen to make coffee while she got dressed and made the bed. He was waiting for her to join him in the kitchen when he heard a loud thump.
The man ran into the bedroom and found his young wife unconscious on the floor. He called an ambulance, and the responders brought her to the hospital. It was too late. She was already gone.
He shut the door on their neat and tidy bedroom one final time, moving into another room down the hall instead, and he never used their shared bedroom again. It was a shrine to her memory and her last day on Earth.
He had never told any of his neighborhood pals about that day and what happened to his wife. The man had bottled it up inside for all those years.
My grandfather was moved to tears by the man's experience. The two of them hugged, and my grandfather went home. He told my grandmother what the man had said, and she held him tight. They both agreed that it was better to live life fully and not take anyone for granted.
The man died a few months later, and my grandfather went to the funeral. The man's daughter told him that her father had always wanted to tell his story but never had the courage to do so. She was glad that he had finally been able to tell someone and thanked my grandfather for being a good friend to her father.
My grandparents were always deeply in love, and they were married for fifty years before my grandfather succumbed to cancer. My grandmother lived another twenty years after that, but she was never the same after my grandfather passed away.
This story has always stuck with me, and I think of it often. It's a reminder to cherish the time we have with our loved ones and to never take them for granted. We never know when our time with them will come to an end.