The Great Ocean Road stretches 243 kilometers along the south east coast of Australia. Its ancient cliffs and rough seas have created some of the most beautiful places in the world.
“I love it here,” my wife smiled weakly.
My family had been coming to Lorne for as long as I could remember.
“Do you remember where we first met?”
“Yes.” Mary spoke quietly, saving her strength. “At the trampolines.”
“I’ll never forget that day,” I stated. “You were the most beautiful girl at the beach.”
“I was 14 years old,” she laughed, “and my mother warned me about you.”
“My intentions were completely honorable,” I replied with mock offence.
I cut our sandwich into quarters and set the plate in front of her. “Chicken, lettuce and tomato with plenty of mayonnaise,” I smiled. “It’s your favorite.”
She ate slowly, stopping occasionally to rest.
“Yes, honey,” I looked up anxiously.
“Why are we here?”
The question surprised me.
“You mean Lorne?”
“We love Lorne,” I protested.
“But it’s winter. You don’t come to Lorne in winter.”
She was right of course. Out on the water a container ship battled the elements before it disappeared behind curtains of rain.
“I know,” I sighed.
Mary reached out and covered my hand with hers.
“It was something Pastor Harold said.” I hesitated but we had promised to be honest with each other. “Do remember that sermon he preached. I think he called it '5 things dying people taught me.'”
“I remember,” she said quietly.
“The holidays,” I whispered.
“The holidays,” Mary squeezed my hand.
Suddenly a chill wind brought the first drops of rain.
“Let’s get you home,” I fussed.
We hurried across the road to our holiday house. Mary gripped the arms of her wheel chair as I raced down the drive way.
“That was fun,” she laughed.
“Would you like me to light a fire?”
“That would be nice.” Mary struggled out of her wheel chair and walked the few steps to the couch. She watched bemused as I tried in vain to light the kindling wood in the fireplace. Eventually a wisp of smoke turned into flame as the fire took hold.
“Success!” I exclaimed.
I turned to see the woman I loved asleep on the couch. Her head resting uncomfortably on the arm rest.
“Oh honey,” I whispered. Once again sadness and grief washed over me. My wife’s hair was streaked with grey and the flesh around her eyes was puffy from the chemo therapy.
How long did we have? Our doctor had given us only a few more months at most.
“How will I live without you?” I whispered.
Suddenly a tear ran down her cheek. “I’m sorry, honey,” she murmured. “I tried so hard.”
“I know,” I spoke softly as I covered her with a blanket. “Just sleep, I’ll be here when you wake.”
Somewhere in Lorne our children were preparing a surprise party. Friends and family had been arriving all day and somehow we had kept their presence a secret.
Only a few months, I fretted.
A line from the sermon kept playing itself over in my head. “It’s not the money they remember. It’s the thousand ways you show love. It’s the flowers, the candlelit dinners, the picnics in the park. It’s the time you took from making a few more dollars to spend with the people who matter. But above all else – it’s the holidays. Because those few days together mean that they, and they alone, are enough to satisfy you.”
The fire had taken hold. Somehow watching the flames helped still the turmoil inside me. The list was still inside my coat pocket. Unfolding it I took my pen and crossed out ‘picnic in the park.’ The item underneath read ‘surprise birthday party.’ There were three more lines below that.
“Dear God,” I prayed quietly. “Just a little longer, please.”
Behind me Mary stirred and opened her eyes.
“Hi, beautiful,” I smiled.
“You silver tongue smoothy.” The sleep had obviously helped.
“Let’s try on that new dress I bought you,” I held out my hands. “I’ve got a surprise.”
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