Bradley was a carefree college student nearing the end of his studies when a phone call changed his life. Suddenly, he had to abandon his dreams to shoulder the responsibilities thrust upon him.
Bradley rolled over and scowled at his phone. All the world was dark and silent except for the device ringing on his bedside table. His irritation about being woken vanished when he saw the caller ID.
An icy chill of fear coursed down his spine. Mom wouldn’t call this late unless something were wrong. His fear was confirmed when he heard his mother bawling on the other end of the line.
“He’s gone, Bradley,” she said between sobs.
“I tried to help, and the paramedics did their best, but…”
Mom dissolved into unintelligible sobs. Bradley was upright now, his heart beating fast while he tried to make sense of Mom’s words.
“Slow down, Mom. What happened?”
“Your father, Bradley.” Mom keened in anguish. “He’s gone.”
Over the next hour, Bradley got Mom’s full story. Dad had come home complaining of a cough and weakness, but his parents weren’t concerned until Dad collapsed. The paramedics said he’d had a heart attack. They rushed him to the hospital, but he never arrived.
Bradley absorbed it all with disbelief. He promised Mom he’d see her in the morning, then hung up. Bradley stared into the darkness in his room. He hadn’t been close to his father, but he’d known he could always rely on him. Now, he was gone forever.
Tears poured down Bradley’s cheeks. He’d assumed he had time to get to know Dad better when he left college, to build a relationship with him. Bradley had been counting on Dad to help him move into his first apartment and buy a new car.
Bradley wept for hours until a harsher truth dawned on him: he was the man in the family now. Since Mom had been entirely dependent on Dad from the time she married him at seventeen years old, Bradley now had to shoulder a lot of responsibility.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” Bradley muttered as he dried his tears, “I’ll make sure you always have everything you need in life, and more.”
Bradley arrived home to find his mom, Jane, devastated by the loss. She’d long ago stopped caring about her appearance in favor of looking after her family, but now she stopped eating. She cried all the time. He helped her sort through Dad’s paperwork and arranged the funeral.
Afterward, Bradley looked on as Mom collapsed on the couch and dissolved into tears. He realized he needed to make a plan to get his mom through this. The first step was to move back home for the holidays.
“I’m meeting the guys Dad employed at the site tomorrow,” Bradley told his mom as he unpacked. “According to the business records, they’re mostly finished with one construction project, and another team is finishing up a job doing home repairs.”
“You don’t have to do this,” Mom said from the door.
“I do.” Bradley turned to his mother and again was shocked by how frail and gaunt she looked.
“I know it’s tough, but we need to move forward. The future is waiting for us, and I want to make it as bright as possible.”
Jane couldn’t imagine any brightness in the world after this. Her days were an immense struggle to do basic tasks: cooking, cleaning, and getting dressed. It was like being stuck in quicksand. The more she struggled to be free, the more tempting it was to give in.
It might’ve been easier if Derek, Bradley’s father, had been a good man through and through. Instead, Jane struggled with memories of the nights he came home with lipstick on his shirt and his refusal to let her have independence by learning to drive or getting a job.
Derek had been Jane’s entire world. She resented him for dying so soon and felt guilty for thinking badly of him when she recalled the bad times. These thoughts constantly circled through her mind. When her dishwasher broke, it felt like the last straw.
Jane fell to her knees and beat her fists against the broken machine. When her hands grew sore, she burst into tears.
“You jerk,” she screamed at the dishwasher. “How dare you do this to me, how dare you leave me alone? I have nothing now, I am nothing, and it’s all your fault!”
Meanwhile, Bradley was at the construction site. He didn’t know much about the work, just a few details he’d picked up from Dad’s conversations and dim memories of DIY projects they’d completed when Bradley was a kid.
Bradley was relying on Dad’s employees, but he soon realized they had no respect for him. They second-guessed all his decisions and made him feel stupid.
“Listen, guys, our deadline for this project is coming up fast,” he told them.
“I know I’m not as experienced as any of you, nor do I know this job as you do, but I’m trying to learn.”
He eyed the group of hardened construction workers before him. “My Dad’s name is on this business. His reputation, and this business’s survival, depend on the work that all of you do now. You don’t have to like me, but we all need to pull together to succeed.”
The men weren’t as moved by Bradley’s speech as he’d hoped. Dissatisfied grumbles echoed through the crowd as they returned to work, but Bradley was determined to win them over. He just needed to figure out how.
That evening, Bradley was shocked when he came home and found his mother curled into a ball in front of the dishwasher.
“Mom, what’s wrong?” Bradley fell to his knees beside Mom, dropping the flowers he’d brought for her.
“The dishwasher broke,” she sobbed. She stared at the fallen bouquet. “Are those Stargazer lilies?”
“Yes. I got them for you. They’re still your favorite, right?”
Mom nodded and hugged the flowers to her chest. “They’re beautiful. I can’t even remember the last time someone bought me flowers.”
“Well, you can expect to get them regularly from now on.” Bradley put his arm around Mom. “And don’t worry about the dishwasher. I’ll fix it.”
That night, Bradley watched several tutorials on YouTube and eventually got the dishwasher working again. The following day, he surprised his mom with breakfast.
“What is all this?” Mom asked when she came downstairs to find the table set and a platter of pancakes waiting for her.
“It’s breakfast.” Bradley smiled at her.
“Your father never made me breakfast,” she said, frowning.
“Mom, I know you’re struggling to try to get back to the way your life was before, but I want to do everything I can to make it better.”
He dished up a plate of pancakes and set them down in front of her.
Mom smiled for the first time in weeks. “You’re a good son, Bradley.”
A few weeks later, one of the neighbors invited Bradley and Jane to a Fourth of July barbeque. Jane didn’t want to go, but Bradley persuaded her it would be good to get out. He then presented her with a beauty salon voucher.
Jane looked terrific when she returned from the salon. Bradley couldn’t believe how different she looked from the Mom he always knew or how much the makeover improved her confidence. She socialized with the neighbors like she was a new woman.
Unfortunately, her transformation also drew the wrong sort of attention. Bradley watched with quiet fury as Chuck, a widower who’d recently moved to the neighborhood, flirted with Mom.
Didn’t this guy know Mom was recently widowed? Who did he think he was, making the moves on a woman whose husband died only a month ago? Bradley decided then and there that Chuck must be a creep.
It only confirmed his suspicions when Chuck started appearing around Mom’s house more often. He’d spent a half hour or more chatting to Mom while ineffectually trying to get his dog off their lawn or bring her a newspaper. Bradley saw through his tricks and didn’t like it at all.
What Bradley missed, however, was the smile Chuck brought to his mother’s face. It had been years since a man paid such attention to her, and she enjoyed it.
Jane knew nothing could happen between her and Chuck, no matter how often she guiltily pulled herself from daydreams of a relationship with him. It would be an insult to Derek for her to enter another relationship now, and she knew Bradley would disapprove.
However, it soon became clear to mother and son what Chuck’s true intentions were. One day, Bradley struggled alone to plaster the facade of a shop in the city. Two of the workers supposed to help had called in with excuses, and the third had yet to appear.
Bradley was still determined to keep his dad’s business going, so he rolled up his sleeves and set to work. He tried calling the missing worker several more times before giving up.
“I’m going to start firing them,” Bradley muttered.
“If they won’t respect me, and won’t work properly, I’ll be better off with an entirely new staff.”
“That sounds a bit harsh,” said a familiar voice behind Bradley.
“What would you know about it?” Bradley glared at Chuck over his shoulder.
“I know enough to see that you’re in a tough spot,” he replied. “Let me help you.”
“I don’t need your help.”
Chuck laughed. “That’s your pride talking, Bradley, but you and I both know you’ll be plastering for a week if you do it alone.”
Bradley shrugged. He didn’t object when Chuck took off his shirt and set to work. He hated to admit that Chuck was right, and Bradley couldn’t afford to disappoint his client.
As Chuck set to work, Bradley was dismayed to discover that his neighbor intended to spend the entire time chatting. He grunted an occasional response at first but soon found himself forming a new opinion of Chuck.
Chuck was not a creep. In fact, he was a good man who’d nursed his wife for several years before she finally succumbed to cancer three years ago.
“Losing her was tough,” Chuck said. “Jane is very lucky to have you here to help her. My daughter lives in Spain and couldn’t even afford to come home for the funeral. It was heartbreaking for both of us.”
“It sounds terrible,” Bradley replied. They were finishing up, and Bradley had to admit that Chuck did a great job. They’d even finished ahead of schedule.
“Bradley, there’s something I’ve got to say to you,” Chuck said.
“I know you don’t like me much, but I’ve got to be honest with you. I’ve developed strong feelings for Jane. I haven’t felt this way about anyone since my wife.”
“Now, I understand your dad passed recently, and I’m not trying to pressure your mom into a relationship,” Chuck continued. “But you’ll return to college soon, and I want you to know that I’ll be there for Jane if she needs help, no strings attached. If she one day decides she wants more, then I’ll do everything I can to make her happy.”
Bradley listened silently. He couldn’t imagine Mom with another man, but he also didn’t want her to be alone for the rest of her life. If Chuck made her happy, then Bradley would accept it.
On the last day of Bradley’s vacation, he looked at Mom with pride. Over the past three months, she’d transformed from a helpless widow consumed by grief to a confident and capable woman who could care for herself.
“You know, Mom,” Bradley said that night, “I won’t mind if you want to be with Chuck. You deserve to be happy.”
Jane scoffed and said she could never do that, but Bradley saw she was blushing and had a twinkle in her eye. He realized there was one last thing he needed to do for Mom.
The next day, Mom called to tell Bradley the bathroom shelf had broken, but Chuck had fixed it. The day after that, the washing machine broke, and the day after, it was the sitting room chandelier. Every time, Chuck fixed it.
“I’m beginning to think you’re right, son,” Mom said the next day. “I feel I can’t go any longer without this man in my life.”
Bradley grinned. “You deserve to be happy, Mom. One thing, don’t be surprised if your car doesn’t start. Just ask Chuck to check the spark plugs.”
Jane gasped. “You cunning little…you did something to make sure the shelf and washing machine would break! I can’t believe you, and I’m very grateful.”
Bradley chuckled. “Everything for you, Mom.”
What can we learn from this story?
Don’t wait to show the people you love how much they mean to you. Bradley thought he had time to build a strong relationship with his father, but he should’ve started working on it sooner.
True love doesn’t smother or cage you. Instead of controlling Jane, Bradley’s father should’ve helped her grow and learn; then, she would’ve been better equipped to cope without him.
Share this story with your friends. It might brighten their day and inspire them.