One of the great benefits, in my opinion, of my new job at the U.S. Olympic Committee is the quarterly marketing divisional meeting. It’s a mixture of business, community service and fun. For the first one, we spent half a day cleaning up and helping out at a homeless shelter, then we went cycling at the velodrome.
Last week, we had another quarterly meeting. The community service commenced at the St. Francis Nursing Home. We brought poinsettias and Olympic pins for the residents. A few of the guys and I took on the first floor, stopping at each room to drop off the gifts and chat. The old guys were instantly grateful and happy and ready to talk. The first guy, Rolland, talked about his career as a dance instructor and how once, for a publicity stunt, he tap danced on the back of a flat bed truck all the way up the Pikes Peak Highway to the top of the mountain. Next was Walter, he was so frail. Mary was fun and funny, but within 10 minutes, she brought up how she had lost her twins decades earlier.
I felt like I had had enough. I knew that we were brightening up these folks’ day, but the circumstances were a little too reminiscent of my mother’s final days in the hospice. My mom died on Sept. 9 and this community service was hitting too close to home for me. So I busied myself with looking for more pins, taking the plastic wrapping off the flowers, etc. But before not too long, I had run out of busy work.
I went looking for my friend Matt. I found him in a room alone talking with a woman in her 40s, who suffered from a severe spinal injury. Matt’s two-year-old daughter has spina bifida, so that visit was a little gut-wrenching to me, but Matt seemed to handle it well.
I started delivering flowers to residents, who were sleeping, or the room was empty. Finally, I got to Marilynn B.’s room … Room 106. I walked in and she was sleeping, so I looked around for a place to set her flowers. I looked at her sleeping with her hands folded under her chin and for a brief fleeting moment I thought, “She kind of looks like mom.” Then I noticed her looking at me and I said, “Hello?” Marilynn popped right up Well, she looked like she was in her upper 80s, so she didn’t exactly pop up. She too was overwhelmed and grateful. She told me to put the flowers close to her, so she could see them.
She held her arms out to hug me and in that instant I realized that I didn’t get to have that one final goodbye with my mom.
When I visited Minnesota in July, I brought the girls over to Mom and Dad’s each day and each day when we left Carli, Gina and I all hugged Mom and kissed her and told her that we loved her.
But when I arrived the day after her heart attack on Sept. 6, Mom was in the ICU, unconscious, and for all intent and purposes, gone.
So in that instant when Marilynn offered me a hug, I took a leap of faith. I closed my eyes and imagined that Marilynn was channeling my mom for one final hug. She kissed me on the cheek and we hugged.
We talked for a while about this and that. At first she was alert and the visit was going well, but then she started talking about sad things. Her kids sold her home. She wasn’t sure where she was spending Christmas. And the death of her husband. She got sad and started to cry, so I told her that I knew what she was going through because I had just lost my mother. We were sad together. I said, “Let’s talk about something else.” And we did and she got happier, but then it was time to go. I told her that I had other flowers to deliver. I felt bad for her. She seemed so unsure and helpless and alone.
I got up to leave and gave her another hug. She whispered in my ear, “I love you.”
I thought, “Mom, was that you?”
I love you too.