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April 5, 1980. April 5, 2006.

Sherry and I were married 29 years ago today.

My father died three years ago today.

I could stop writing now. But I’m going to continue.


My father once said to me, “Death is part of life,” so I try not to let his death overshadow today’s celebration. And it’s not as if today is the only day I think of him. Rather, there’s rarely a day I don’t think of him. Sometimes during unfiltered glances into the mirror, I see his eyes shining back, intense, borderline angry in a way I never could understand in him and can’t understand in me. I think I inherited my depression from him, and my obsessive-compulsiveness.

But I inherited some positives from him too: for example, the ability to think through a problem, as I did this morning, trying to get a door to hang at a different angle so the latch would catch. Before my dad died, a project like that would see me inadvertently breaking something, or swearing a great deal, or abandoning the problem in anger, or any combination thereof. But somehow, after he died, I became patient—well, relatively—in such situations.

The solution this morning turned out to be putting washers around the screws attaching the latch plate to the doorjamb, behind the latch plate, out of sight. The washers I used had once been on my father’s workbench in his garage. They sat in a cabinet with small plastic labeled drawers full of little screws and washers. He didn’t take them when he and my mother moved to Florida because his health had deteriorated to the point he knew he wouldn’t be needing them anymore. I took them from the garage after they left, thinking I might have a use for them someday. My father was like that too.

But as I said, today isn’t a day when high clouds roll in and dim the sun. On the contrary, I choose to celebrate my wife every April 5.

The older I get, the more I realize how special she is. After all, it takes a woman of uncommon endurance to deal with me day in, day out. I have more warts than a toad; how Sherry has dealt with them so kindly and patiently for the past 29 years is beyond me. That makes it easy to say April 5, 1980, was the luckiest day in my life.

Where she finds the strength to get through the weeks is also beyond me. She’s an elementary school principal, and the students in her school are the most economically challenged in the district. That means the students confront a host of problems in their home lives. Shortly after she became principal, she said, “For a lot of these kids, school is the best part of their day,” and she makes them feel welcome. For example, she knows the name of every student in her school. She works long hours to ensure that school remains a positive experience for the students—a job growing more difficult as our governments decide it’s more important to preserve the power of the wealthy than it is to educate kids. Add that stress to the day-to-day challenges of the job, and it would be a full load for anyone.

She’s not here at home today, though. She’s taking her 83-year-old mother to visit her 79-year-old father, who has been in a nursing home for the past three years as Alzheimer’s disease eats his mind, body and soul. I don’t think he recognizes either of them anymore. At this point, Sherry devotes her time to helping her mother keep it together. Her mother was high-strung beyond belief before all this began, and this tragic ending-in-progress has only worsened things.

Sherry’s two sisters live in the same town their mother does, a small city in Pennsylvania about 90 minutes from here. But their involvement is minimal at best (in the case of her youngest sister) and almost nonexistent in the case of her second-youngest sister. Sherry handles all of the nursing home business. She makes sure her mother’s taxes are prepared properly. She handles her mother’s finances. She handles all the correspondence with the eldercare attorney, correspondence that is necessary because the state has contested her father’s Medicaid eligibility ever since he went into the nursing home. The case has advanced to Pennsylvania’s highest court and could eventually wind up in U.S. Supreme Court. Sherry’s mother, of course, can’t understand how slowly the scales of justice sway.

Why my wife hasn’t ripped into her sisters is a mystery. But she is not angry with them; rather, I’d describe her attitude as a mix of 60 percent disdain and 40 percent disappointment. She remains on speaking terms with them. That illustrates the great contrast in our character. I would have verbally charred her sisters years ago; Sherry realizes it would be futile, and besides, there are more important matters at hand.

In short, I am married to a beautiful, wise woman. So even though April 5 has a tinge of sadness, how can this day not be a celebration?

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