Author’s note: The subject of love is universal, and we all need a reminder now and then to let our loved ones know how we feel — while we still can. The following story was originally written for the News-Times, then sold to the first Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul book and eventually went on to appear in newspapers across the country.
Most people need to hear those “three little words.” Once in awhile it happens just in time.
I met Connie when she was first admitted to the hospice ward in a large Los Angeles hospital where I worked as a volunteer. Her husband, Bill, stood nervously nearby as Connie was transferred from a gurney to the hospital bed. Although Connie was in the final stages of her fight against cancer, she was alert and almost cheerful — one of those patients who are a joy for caregivers.
We got her settled in while Bill was off filling out the usual forms. I finished marking her name on all the hospital supplies she would be using, then asked if she needed anything.
“Oh yes,” she said, “would you please show me how to work the television? I enjoy the soaps so much and don’t want to get behind in what’s happening.”
Connie was a romantic. She loved soap operas, romance novels and movies with a good love story. As we became acquainted, she confided how frustrating it was being married 32 years to a man who often called her “a silly woman.”
“I know he loves me,” she said, “but he has never been able to say he loves me or send cards to me.”
She sighed and looked out the window at the trees in the courtyard.
“I would give anything if Bill would say ‘I love you,’ but it’s just not in his nature.”
Bill visited Connie every day. He sat next to the bed while she watched soap operas, or else, when she began sleeping more, he paced up and down the hallway. Soon, when she no longer watched television and had fewer waking moments, I began spending more of my volunteer time with Bill.
He talked about having worked as a carpenter, and he loved fishing. They had no children, but had been enjoying retirement by traveling — until Connie got sick. Bill could not talk about the fact his wife was dying.
One day, over coffee in the cafeteria, I got him on the subject of women and the need for romance in our lives — how we love to get sentimental cards, maybe even a love letter.
“Do you tell Connie you love her?” I asked — knowing his answer — and he looked at me like I was crazy.
“I don’t have to,” he said. “She knows I do!”
“I’m sure she knows,” I said, reaching over and touching his hands, rough carpenter hands that were gripping the coffee cup as if it was the only thing he had to hang onto. “But she needs to hear it, Bill. She needs to hear what she has meant to you all these years. Please think about it.”
We walked back to Connie’s room, and Bill disappeared inside. I left to visit another patient and later saw Bill sitting by the bed, holding Connie’s hand as she slept. The date was Feb. 13.
The next day, I walked down the hospice ward at noon. There stood Bill, leaning against the wall in the hallway, staring at the floor. I already knew from the head nurse that Connie had died at 11 a.m.
When Bill saw me, he allowed himself to come into my arms for a long hug. His face was wet with tears, and he was trembling. Finally, he leaned back against the wall and took a deep breath.
“I have to say something,” he said. “I have to say how good I feel about telling her.”
He stopped to blow his nose. “I thought a lot about what you said, and last night I told her how much I loved her and loved being married to her. You shoulda seen her smile!”
I went into the room to say my own goodbye to Connie. There, on the bedside table, was a large Valentine card from Bill. You know, the sentimental kind that says, “To my wonderful wife — I love you.”
Bobbie Lippman is a professional writer who lives in Seal Rock with her cat, Purrfect. She is the author of “Good Grief: A Collection of Stories As One Woman Journeys From Heartbreak To Healing Through Honesty and Humor.” The book, with all proceeds going to the Rotary International Foundation, is available at JC Market in Newport and directly from Bobbie, who can be contacted at [email protected]