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Strangers to Family

I hold it true, whate'er befall; I feel it when I sorrow most;

'Tis better to have loved and lost. Than never to have loved at all.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

I am feeling a mixture of emotions today. Tomorrow I will attend the funeral with full military honors for my 97 year-old friend, Tom. I’m sad because I will miss my dear friend, but mostly, I am filled with gratitude that our lives intersected, and my granddaughters and I were able to know and to love him for so long.

My dearest friend, Tom.

Through the years I have had many adopted grandparents as friends. My granddaughters, Hadleigh and Miller have accompanied me on these visits since they were infants. Five years of so much love and laughter. There is something very special about the elderly and children. If I had to explain it, it would just be plain and The years on their faces melted away as they watched the girls toddling around from table to table, or when holding a little baby in their arms. It has been magical.

L-R: Me, Tom, my husband, Scott and Carolyn

One very dear friend of mine was Carolyn. When I came to visit her at lunch one day, she introduced me to her new friend Tom. From that time on, during our lunches, I sat at their table listening to Tom’ stories (many long and grand) and watched the love between my granddaughter’s and Tom grow.

When we arrived each week, they would run right over to Carolyn and Tom’s table and Hadleigh would sit up on his lap. He loved introducing Hadleigh and her new baby sister, Miller to anyone who passed by as his “adopted granddaughters.”

Hadleigh and Tom

Hadleighs sister Miller and Tom

One of his favorite things to do was to ask the waitress to bring a dish of strawberry ice cream for his little friend. Hadleigh and Tom would sit quietly like two little children, savoring the cold sweetness together. Tom and strawberry ice cream became forever entwined in Hadleigh’s mind. Each week the same scene played out over and over again.

Strawberry ice cream with Tom

After Tom’s fall, he was in a wheelchair. Hadleigh would “help” wheel him where he wanted to go. In the activity room, they played catch with the beach ball or tossed rings at pins or spent quiet time putting puzzles together. Tom became part of our family. The memories of these moments we will cherish for the rest of our lives.

Hadleigh helping Tom

Playing ball

When his friend, Carolyn moved to a nursing facility and eventually passed away, it was a hard time for Tom and for Hadleigh and I. But our friendship continued. Sharing our stories of times with Carolyn helped us both through the grief.

Tom and Carolyn

Carolyn meets Hadleigh for the first time.

During the pandemic, I would come and sit on the patio outside the activity room window and visit with Tom at a safe distance through the screen. During this long year, Tom missed my girls and they missed him. I remember one visit when we sat outside on the front porch. Tom didn’t seem to recognize me, but once I brought out pictures of Hadleigh and Miller, he knew who they were and really got a kick out of seeing the recent videos of them playing. When he saw my granddaughter Ella‘s red hair, he launched into wild stories about his brother in Scotland and all of his escapades and seemed confused when I tried to steer the conversation back. So, I figured maybe it was time to go.

When I grabbed his hand and said “Tom, I love you. I’ll be back to see you soon,” he said, “wait a minute there’s something I have to tell you.” I thought it was going be something confusing, but instead he looked me right in the eye and said “I want you to know that you are my family and that I really love you.” My heart burst open. What a gift that was. Over the years and many visits, we had gone from total strangers to family.

Our last visit with Tom

Our last visit was a few weeks before he passed, when I was finally able to bring Hadleigh to see Tom again. She was so excited to see him and hoped strawberry ice cream was on the menu :) She opened up the box of her favorite mermaid puzzle and she and Tom sat for an hour putting pieces together and talking. This was followed by splitting a homemade vanilla cupcake I had brought. I will cherish the picture I took of the three of us forever.

To read in his obituary what a full and long life he had is amazing. I feel so grateful for the time we spent together and that my granddaughter’s now have a wonderful, adopted grandfather to remember sharing strawberry ice cream with. God bless you, Tom. We will miss you.

Tom and our dear friend Scotty, who also passed this month. Hadleigh and I will miss them more than I can express. So blessed to know and love them both.


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