Relationships have the power that even when people leave our lives, the bond remains forever. Steve and George’s story is similar, with their dying relationship that still lives through George’s memories. But their story isn’t the typical kind. It’s the kind of loving bond that a soul has with another soul. The kinds where there is nothing more to ask, give or forgive.
Fare Thee Well by Lord Byron – A Separation Poem
A Dying Relationship
George was seventy-five when he first met Steve. He looked at him from the slight gap in the door, annoyed and red with anger. Hardly in his late twenties, Steve sat on the uncomfortable sofa that should’ve been thrown out about five years ago. George noticed how the well-groomed man in his living room observed every detail of the house. Steve spoke animatedly with George’s son and daughter-in-law.
A little while later, George joined the others in the living room, slowly creaking on his wheelchair. Steve stood up to introduce himself. “Hello, sir. I’m Steve. Your son has hired me to…”
“Cut it out. I’m not interested in having you here. And if my son thinks I’m incapable of tending to myself, he can leave too.”
George’s son excused himself and his father and led him back to his room. Steve could hear the two of them argue about how George was old and couldn’t live by himself anymore. George, on the other hand, didn’t want to accept the reality that he needed a 24/7 caretaker and so dismissed the idea. It took quite a while for George to give in to his son’s requests, on the condition that this would only be a trial for a month. Little did they know that it was the start of a dying relationship.
A dying relationship? What does that mean anyway? Do relationships die?
The next morning, Steve showed up at George’s door, his bags with him, and a smile that ruined George’s morning. “I wished you wouldn’t turn up.”
“I’m sorry I did?”
George led Steve to a room where he could stay, shared his schedule with him, and clarified that he mustn’t help unless asked. While Steve was unpacking, he got a little worried about how he would handle George and his unwillingness to seek help.
“So, what do you have for lunch?”
“Cold sandwiches,” George replied.
George shrugged his shoulders. “My sons do send me some warm food every once in a while. But I get the feeling that their wives don’t enjoy packing one extra lunch. They started sending me stale, warmed-up food. One day, I asked them not to send me food anymore and started bringing cold sandwiches from the cafe down the road. It works out okay. It’s a dying relationship with them.”
“Hmmm… would you like to have something different today?”
“Don’t bother,” George said as he wheeled off into his room and banged the door behind him. About an hour and a half later, a delicious smell dragged him out of the room and into the dining room. He saw Steve setting up the table, ready to have his meals. Steve noticed George in the doorway. “Hello, George. Hope you rested well. Your son said I could make food for myself. Would you like to join me for some soup, salad, and a little dessert after?”
George’s mouth said no but his heart was pounding a yes. He stayed there, watching Steve pour piping hot soup into a bowl. “Maybe… maybe I can have half a bowl. Not because I want to, but because I think you made too much! You will not be able to finish it yourself and I don’t like wasting food.”
“Sure, George. I’ll help you…”
“I can come by myself. You can help me by not treating me like an old, handicapped, helpless man. Pour me some soup.”
George and Steve’s first meal together, unaware their dying relationship would live on forever. Without saying a word, George went back to his room. When he woke up the next morning, he smelt something different, again! He couldn’t recognize his home when he stepped out of his room.
“Good morning, George.”
“What is all this? Where is all my stuff? How is the TV on?”
“Your old stuff is already in thrash. The newspapers are neatly bundled up in the corner. I made good use of the cabinets to put away the extra stuff. The TV needed a little wiring, so I fixed it. And then, I broomed and mopped the house. Doesn’t it look lovely?”
George didn’t want to admit that he loved everything Steve was doing. All this while he thought the caretaker was for him. But it hit him that the caretaker was also for the house. Extending his willingness to this lifestyle, this man in the dying relationship asked, “What are we having for breakfast?”
Steve smiled ear-to-ear, “Pancakes!”
And that morning sparked a relationship between the two generations. Not a dying relationship, but a companionship. Over the days, Steve shared how he was an orphan, and he chose the job of a caretaker so he could feel the warmth of living with elders in the family. George shared about the miserable life he’s been living because of an illness that has confined him to a wheelchair. His sons are too busy to take care of him and he didn’t want to impose.
A month went by, and George didn’t bring up the topic of letting Steve go. “My son called. I told him you’re staying.” George said before he went to bed one night. Steve felt immense happiness. It’s not that George was his first patient. But there was something more to this job than just caring for him.
The more time they spent together, the more they bonded in this dying relationship. Steve read books to George, cooked delicious, warm meals for them, and even took him out to the park every evening for some fresh air. This evening, when they returned from a walk, George looked around his living room. “My house looks so dull for years now.”
“Let’s change it then.”
“I cannot afford it.”
“Oh, yes, you can! Renovation begins tomorrow. For now, some pasta?”
The two men in a dying relationship woke up the morning, George was still confused about how it would all happen. “George, meet J. He’s my oldest buddy in town and he’s very good with small, odd jobs.”
Steve and J worked on the sofa springs, polished the furniture, fixed the hinges. After a day’s hard work, they ordered some food and enjoyed a hearty meal together. When J left for the day, George hugged Steve and said with a tear in his eye, “You’ve given me so much happiness today. It’s not the house. It’s just you! But… you’ve invested in a dying relationship, young man!”
“Why would you call it a dying relationship, George?”
“It’s time to accept the truth. My health is deteriorating, and soon, I will leave. I was scared before. But somehow, I am not anymore. You came here as a caretaker but became a son, Steve. You have to know, whenever I leave the world, I was happy. Okay?”
Steve nodded, also teared up by then. The next morning, J showed up with some pain boxes, and the men painted the house, room by room. It took them more than a week to fix the house and the garden outside, but it was all worth it. When George woke up from his nap on the last day of the renovation, he said, “Just the way Suzanne left it.”
“Yes, Steve. She loved keeping this house clean because it was a gift to her from him. Every few years, she would get the house repainted so we could find some newness in our lonely lives. After she left, nothing was the same anymore. I simply gave up on life, relationships, and this house! You brought it all back, Steve.”
George was a changed man. Despite knowing that it was a dying relationship and his health wasn’t up to the mark, he hummed around, feeling good about himself. They became inseparable. Geroge encouraged Steve to take some days off, date women, meet his friends. And Steve would bring home the women he liked to introduce to George. No one who saw them together believed they weren’t really father and son. “He is my son, and this is our beautiful dying relationship,” George would respond.
One morning, George woke up feeling as refreshed as ever, even though Steve observed he wasn’t looking himself. “Steve, we renovated the house. Shouldn’t we have people over?”
“Why not? I’ll run to the store and get everything we need. Anything special you want to serve?”
“Chicken… your chicken roast is the best. And soup… we should have soup. Wait, take me with you. I’ve not been to a store in years. My sons would get it delivered to me and then you came along.”
“Get dressed then! We’re going shopping, George. Let’s also invite people before we leave so we get a headcount.”
George invites both his sons, their families, his old friends, J, and even the girl Steve was dating at that time to their house of a dying relationship. It became a party of twelve and George couldn’t wait to hear his living room filled with chatter. He was like a two-year-old in the store, greeting people, and picking up stuff as he’d never been happier.
That night, there were no talks about George and Steve’s dying relationship. It was just a party, that George threw to celebrate life. His sons, their families, and friends were all shocked to see the renovations. “It’s all J and Steve. Do you know? J didn’t charge a rupee and used leftover materials from his work in the other houses. Come, I’ll show you my room.” George was unstoppable that night. He ate with everyone, laughed at people’s jokes, hugged his sons, gifted his grandchildren, and even sang songs.
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And it lived on… forever!
George peacefully passed that night after the party. Steve knew that there was something different about it that day. Like even George knew that it was his last day and he had to live it to his best and with his people. When Steve went into George’s room, he spoke to the empty walls, “I know you are happy, George, and will always look after me like a guardian angel. Say hi to my parents. I may have brought life to your life, George, but this undying relationship… it will live on forever, George! I wish I’d met you earlier. You’re an unforgettable man. I will miss you.”
A week later, Steve convinced George’s sons to not sell their father’s house for money but to do something with it that would make their late father happy. They agreed. And then Steve became the manager of, “George’s home,” where people could drop their children and senior citizens for care at nominal rates. Steve breathed life into many other lonely individuals but never built a dying relationship with anyone ever again.
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