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Help Yourself

Seek strength from inside yourself. canstockphoto0648164

And the hall light came on and Tom, lying in his bed, braced himself.

His dad came slowly into the room and sat on the bed.

“Is she gone?” Tom asked.

“I’m afraid so, son,” his father half whispered.

And they cried silent “men tears” for the mother and wife they each lost.

Her hard fought battle with cancer was finally over.

Cancer won.

And there was a funeral.

And people consoling Tom.  Telling him they would be there for him.

Telling him he could count on them.

And his father overheard all that and later told Tom it wasn’t true.  No one else could be counted on.

He needed to seek strength from inside himself.

He told him he loved him but a 17-year-old man doesn’t usually get a second mother.

And the reality was he was on his own now and needed to be resourceful, focused and strong.

And Tom listened.

And the following Monday Tom went back to school with a renewed resolve.

He found out he could get college credit by taking some college level courses at the high school.

He took as many as were available.

And he graduated high school with good marks.

And that first day of that summer he walked into the office of the man who did the grounds-keeping for the local community college.

And he got hired as a landscaper for minimum wage but as an employee of the college, he was able to take classes at half price.

So he combined the classes that he took in high school with the discounted classes at the community college and got himself an associate’s degree in less than two years.

By continuing to live with his father his living expenses were minimal.  But he kept the house tidy and neat as his mother would have if she were there.

He did that out of respect for his mother.  Out of respect for his father.  Out of respect for the life they made for him and the spirit of its continuance.

Most evenings he was home early enough to make dinner for he and his father and he would pack them each a decent lunch every night to take the next day.

He knew his dad was going through a lot as well.

They seemed better able to handle the challenges without mom by staying organized and focused.

And they prayed an evening prayer before their dinner.

And they went to church on Sunday as father and son.

And in time they began to smile again.

One day in the grocery store a rather rude and nasty shopper pulled something off the shelf and a box of cereal hit her in the head.  Tom looked over at his dad who was laughing at the sight of it.  A sound Tom hadn’t heard in years.  In that moment they shared a smile and acknowledged their slow but real recovery.

And Tom took his associate’s degree and got a front desk receptionist job in a large business office.

He dressed sharp.  He arrived early.  He worked through lunch.  He left late.  He was always willing.

Soon, there were managers fighting over who would get to take that “bright young man from the front desk.”  Tom accepted a position with the manager whose habits he had been most impressed with and made him a sort of mentor.

When he accepted the position he asked if there was a tuition reimbursement plan.  There was not.

He asked if he could create one.

They were willing to let him do so.

Tom created a plan and followed through by graduating with honors.  By accomplishing his bachelor’s degree, he was ready for bigger challenges in the company and he accomplished a promotion within 6 months of graduation.

The move up included a benefit plan.  He asked if there would be any plans that could include his father who was now ready to retire.  There weren’t.

Tom asked if he could approach the company insurer about some option like that.  The company allowed it and Tom’s research benefited all of the staff who had aging parents.

And Tom got good at what he did and soon was in charge of a substantial staff.

He bought out his dad’s final payments on the mortgage and had modifications done to the house so that Tom’s father had a suite of his own off the back of the house and the privacy a man sometimes needs as he ages.

Years passed.

Tom’s job was solid and there was money in the bank.  His father was certainly aging but his health was good and his mind was sharp.  He read a lot, had friends and activities and took a daily mile walk to the coffee shop on the corner where he and the other cronies debated the topics of the world.

One evening Tom saw a young woman at the library who was writing a college paper.  He overheard a question she asked of the librarian and he knew where to retrieve some of the sources that would answer her questions.  He brought her the books and she smiled up at him.

Tom got married to Elaine about a year later.

She moved into the home he now already owned and let her decorate in any way she chose.  She made it “their home” and Tom was happy just to see her happy.

Elaine had special affection for Tom’s dad and his presence in their lives was never obtrusive.

As time passed Tom and Elaine had two sons.  They believed if a couple could afford to keep mom at home it was the best way to raise children.  Tom’s dad became the perfect sitter which allowed Elaine time to shop, handle the house chores and prepare meals as well.

Tom’s dad ate with the family most nights and Tom and Elaine could see the benefits of having their boys so close to their grandfather; a kind, wise man.

One night Tom awoke to find the hall light on.  Elaine sat down on the bed and told him she had just checked on his father and found he had passed away in the night.  Tom held his breath and released it slowly.

He went to his dad’s suite on the back of the house.  He found him lying in his easy chair in front of the television.  A shadow of a faint smile graced his peaceful face.

Tom turned on one dim light and called the coroner’s office.

He waited for their arrival and pulled up a stool next to dad’s chair.

“Thanks Pop,” he whispered.  “Your lessons made me a man and will serve my sons as well.  Sleep well and give my very best to mom.  One day we’ll all be together again, huh?”

And there was a knock at the door and Tom capably and calmly stood and let the people in who would take his dad away.  Although a tear rolled down his cheek he was completely composed.

Composed like a man should be.  Strong, capable, honest, hard-working, resourceful, independent and without need of assistance to help for all he had not prepared for because, quite simply, he had prepared.

And by being prepared he found the help he had been promised all those years ago.

He’d helped himself.

Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com .

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