A bereaved older man was standing near his wife’s coffin, mourning her death, when a cassette tape with a note stuck out of her overcoat pocket. He silently took it away, guessing little how the recording on it would turn his life around very soon.
Christopher’s white hair was neatly combed into place. He was dressed crisp and clean, like a schoolboy on his first day of exams. His sparkly grey eyes wandered around, staring unkindly at guests in black, somber outfits. Some held a wreath, some candles, and some arrived with pale, cold faces, holding bouquets of the finest roses and lilies.
The 75-year-old hated so much fragrance and noise around. He couldn’t understand why his house, which used to be so calm, suddenly poured with so many unknown faces. The house that was only filled with his laughter, Elvis Presley’s best-ever classics playing on an old tape recorder, and Emma shouting at the top of her voice calling out his name now seemed empty and grave.
There was no laughter. No music. And certainly no Emma. There she lay, cold and still, in a casket, and Christopher still thought she was doing something in their bedroom. So he angrily rose, turning a cold eye on the guests, and marched to tell her to send the people away. He couldn’t still realize the cold, lifeless body in the coffin was his wife’s…
“Mr. Jenkins, where are you going?” a guest blocked Christopher’s way. “Your wife…”
Christopher stopped dead. He forgot he had headed to the next room and stood still. “Where’s my mother?” he asked, looking around for his mom Grace who had died decades back, puzzling the guest even more.
“Come here, please,” Martin, Christopher’s nephew, pulled the guest aside. “Mr. Jenkins, my uncle… he is hard of memory. He doesn’t remember my aunt has passed.”
Christopher marched to his room, and when everybody least expected it, he tapped the tape recorder on. Loud music thumped across the living room where Emma’s coffin was kept, surrounded by guests and mourners.
“He never allows anybody near the cassette. Nobody has heard it play. But it has got something in it this man doesn’t want anybody to know.”
“Somebody tell him his wife is dead… he wanted us to organize the funeral at home, but he seems to have forgotten everything,” a woman told Martin.
“I’ll go bring my uncle. Unfortunately, he has forgotten my name and doesn’t know who I am. Please give me a minute… I’ll just get back.”
When Martin barged into Christopher’s bedroom, he froze unblinking, unable to process what was before his eyes.
“Uncle Christopher? What are you doing?” he asked, his mouth clamped and eyes fixed.
Christopher was sitting on a rocking chair, holding Emma’s framed photo, tears endlessly splattering on the glass. Martin sighed with relief for a moment, assuming his uncle had come to the moment and remembered everything. Just as he approached him, Christopher said the unthinkable.
“Will she accept my proposal?” he asked, Elvis’s Can’t Help Falling in Love playing in the background.
“Take my hand… Take my whole life, too… For I can’t help falling in love with you…” Christopher began singing along.
“Uncle, what are you doing?”
“I’m rehearsing the song to propose to my girlfriend. She’s coming to the pub this evening, and I arranged with a local band to sing this song for her…”
Poor Christopher, he was still stuck in a time loop. He thought it was somewhere in 1975 when he hatched a plan with his friends to make the high school’s most popular girl, Emma, fall in love with him.
Having had enough of this, Martin angrily turned off the tape recorder and jolted Christopher to go out with him and see who was in the coffin.
“Uncle Christopher, Aunt Emma is gone… she’s gone forever and is not gonna come back… For Christ’s sake… are you getting any of this into your head??”
Martin grabbed Christopher’s hand and led him to the casket.
Christopher stood beside his wife’s coffin, squeezing his eyes, trying to force the tears away from the edges. He still could not believe the woman who showered him with kisses and hugged him to sleep three nights ago was dead and about to be buried soon.
He went down on his knees and cried like a kid, as his memories flashed before his eyes like drapes closing in on an empty stage after a play. Christopher still couldn’t remember his wife’s name. He tried to think hard, but he’d forgotten it. But not that face!
For fifty-four years, he’d woken up seeing that beautiful freckled face near his. How could he forget Emma, who was the only one to care for him all these years? How could he not remember the woman who cradled him to sleep on her lap, who followed him around like a shadow so that he wouldn’t get lost, and who cared for him like a mother after he was diagnosed with dementia at 65? Just how could he?
Everything seemed normal back then. Emma and Christopher were at the park, their favorite evening spot. They’d go there every day to watch kids running around. God had betrayed them. He never blessed them with a child, so being around little ones relieved the couple’s hearts.
One evening, which seemed usual, Emma and Christopher were at the park when all of a sudden, Emma found herself sitting alone on the bench. Her husband was missing. If she only knew what had gone wrong!
“Christopher? Where are you? Chris….” she looked around for him. Her forehead wrinkled in panic at seeing her husband launch himself down the slide and race with the children to be the first in line for ice cream. He was 65 and was behaving like a kid, something he’d never done before.
The unusual joy in Christopher’s eyes told Emma something was wrong… terribly wrong.
Two days later, at home, Christopher left in the middle of dinner, saying he’d bring her a can of soda from the fridge. Time ticked by, and Emma was worried. There was still no sign of the promised drink. She looked for Christopher and saw him staring at the can, puzzled.
“Are you okay, darling?” she asked him, worried.
Christopher slowly shook his head. “I don’t remember how to open this,” he answered. He’d forgotten how to open a can of soda he once used to open in seconds. But that was just the beginning of what would go on to become Emma’s worst nightmare.
From then on, she started noticing her husband was forgetting about random things. Doctors later told her to stay strong when he was diagnosed with dementia, and her heart crumbled. Emma fought with God for doing this to her.
“Why, Jesus, just why? Did it make you happy, putting us through this?” she cried many a sleepless night beside Christopher, who would stare at the blank ceiling, trying to remember something odd and random.
Sadly, then came a day when he forgot his wife’s name.
It hit Emma like a ton of bricks. “What is your name and who are you?” were not the sort of questions a wife would want to hear from her beloved husband. But there she was…gathering her broken pieces together to be Christopher’s sole pillar of strength when nobody did… not even family.
It was nothing short of pricking pain in her heart every time she tried to help her husband remember things. Memories of their first meeting…their passionate kiss, their romantic night under Manhattan’s starry sky, and everything beautiful.
And every time Christopher smiled and began talking about those precious memories, Emma made sure Elvis Presley’s classic songs played in the background. They seem to evoke his memories, she thought. And just a week before she died, she hatched a sweet surprise for her husband.
Maybe she guessed she was soon to be gone. Emma often cried to God, asking Him to take her and her beloved Christopher together. She didn’t want to leave him alone because she knew nobody would care for him like her. But once again, and for the last time, her prayers were unanswered…
Emma passed away from a stroke, and the family decided to arrange an at-home funeral that would buy Christopher enough time to mourn her loss. But here he was, unwilling to talk about anything, no matter how hard his family and friends persuaded him to.
Christopher’s breath shrank when he suddenly rose. Again, his memory started playing dirty tricks on him, and it took him some time to look closely at the face in the casket. He froze still, having realized again that his beloved woman was eternally asleep.
Christopher gently brushed the coffin when something drew his attention. A cassette tape and a note stuck out of the overcoat on Emma’s lifeless body.
When nobody noticed, Christopher took the note and read the words: “Listen to it, darling. I’ve not gone anywhere. I’m still with you. And I love you more and more.”
He quickly hid the cassette in his coat pocket, recalling how Emma once joked about leaving a sweet surprise for him even on her deathbed. Back then, he laughed at her innocence and love for him. But now, he cried.
Christopher’s heart thumped faster and faster to listen to that tape. He was impatient and couldn’t wait for everyone to leave after the funeral. He didn’t want anybody to see it, but unfortunately, Martin had already seen it.
“What is it, Uncle Christopher?” he asked, drawing everyone’s attention to Christopher. “I think I saw a tape in your hand just now…”
“Nothing…it’s just…” Christopher stammered, unable to think of anything.
“Can I see it?”
Martin and the guests pleaded with Christopher to show them the tape, but he sternly refused. He didn’t give in.
His memory might’ve failed him but his heart hadn’t. It kept ringing inside, telling him not to give the tape to anyone.
“Ah, it’s okay, Uncle! Take it easy,” Martin’s voice dripped with uneasiness and spite.
Just a week ago, Emma had asked him to take care of his uncle if something happened to her. Since his aunt and uncle had no children, Martin was cent percent sure he would inherit their house after his uncle. He agreed because that Victorian-era house was worth taking care of his old uncle.
The funeral was over, and everybody left but Martin. He stayed back with his uncle. He thought it would be easy to take care of him, but as time ticked away, it was trickier than he’d thought. One day, he saw Christopher putting away the cassette under his pillow and decided to steal it.
“What are you doing in my room??” Christopher suddenly awakened to pressure under his pillow. He grabbed Martin’s hand and snatched the tape.
“How dare you take it?” he fumed, a thread of warning in his voice.
“No, Uncle Christopher… I just wanted to…”
From that moment, Martin’s relationship with his uncle grew thinner. Christopher stopped talking to him and never allowed him to enter his bedroom. Martin thought his uncle would forget everything, considering his memory issues. So one day, he barged into his uncle’s bedroom to call him for lunch and saw the room was empty. Christopher was gone…God knew where.
Fear and anxiety sprang into Martin’s nerves as he called everyone he knew, asking if they’d seen his uncle. Then his phone rang. It was the security at the park nearby.
“Mr. Jenkins is at the park, Mr. Van. He said he’s waiting for his wife… I heard Mrs. Jenkins passed away recently. That’s why I called you. Could you please come and take him home?” said the man.
On arriving at the park, Martin found Christopher sitting on a bench, staring at the blue sky, tears rolling down his cheeks.
“Uncle Christopher, are you alright?” he broke the man’s silence.
“Where’s my wife??” Christopher looked around and behind Martin. “Who are you??” he then asked.
Martin was tired of these questions and decided it would be better to leave his uncle in a nursing home where he would get all-day care.
Christopher was sent to a nursing home in a town nearby a week later. He took nothing much with him. Just an old suitcase with some clothes. His late wife’s favorite crisp white shirt still lingering with her fragrance that he hugged to sleep every night. And the precious cassette she left him and an old tape recorder. That’s all! No money, no worldly materials…just faint memories of his lost beloved!
Christopher lived among people his age and even older. But nobody seemed to make a difference to him. He never talked to anyone other than his nurse, Sophia. He ate when he wanted to and didn’t even if he was hungry. He was hurt, and Emma’s memories still haunted him. Somewhere in his heart, he was still waiting for her, but now, he had learned to accept that she was gone to the skies, never to come back.
Nobody saw him talk much, and that’s why everyone was stunned one day when he exploded into anger.
The janitors who’d cleaned his room had taken the cassette and tape recorder without his permission. Christopher was terribly mad.
“What’s in that tape?” some discussed at seeing a furious Christopher turning his room into hell with his swear words.
“Who knows? He never allows anybody near the cassette. Nobody has heard it play. But it has got something in it this man doesn’t want anybody to know.”
When Sophia walked in, the older men and women flocked outside Christopher’s room. They all knew that only she could calm him down and waited to see what was going to happen.
“Here’s your cassette and the tape recorder, Mr. Jenkins,” she said with a smile.
Christopher ran to her like a little kid, smiling and crying all at once.
“Thank you…thank you so much… thank you,” he kept harping, tears endlessly flowing down his wrinkled face.
Sophia smiled and understood how much that tape meant to him.
“Is it from a loved one you lost?” she asked him without pausing for an answer.
“When my mother died, I felt betrayed. I stopped believing in God… stopped going to church. I thought I had nobody, not even a dad! My life laughed at me like I was an ugly joke. I stood like an orphan. I felt lonely even when people crowded around me. I was that alone!”
“But I realized my mother had not gone anywhere. She still lives with me in my memories!”
Christopher sat still, stunned at the nurse’s words. What she’d just said seemed like an eye-opener, a key that unlocked his heart and let his emotions flow out. He took the tape, put it in the player, and pressed the button. For the first time, he increased the volume to let someone hear something his wife wanted only him to listen…
“Where will I go, who will I have to lie beside me…Is it something that’s inside me…I’m so lonely,” the player started with Elvis Presley’s I’m Leavin’ hit and continued to play some of the best tracks Christopher and Emma once danced to. In between each song was Emma’s voice she’d recorded to give Christopher a glimpse into the memory and specialty of each tune.
Each song had a unique moment of love Christopher connected with his beloved. Some made him laugh. To some, he cried…and to some, he froze, as if he didn’t want to come back to the present. Those memories…they were beautiful!
Sophia’s eyes rimmed with tears. She was shocked that a man with dementia who couldn’t recall his name, age, wife’s name, or anything remembered the beautiful past connected to his beloved. Sophia was amazed by the power of love this older man had for his late wife and couldn’t hold back her tears.
“Dance with me!!” she said, extending her warm hands to a bereaved Christopher. They danced that whole evening, tears of joy and pain overflowing their eyes.
Sophia hated God no more. She started believing in miracles and even vowed to Christ she would bring her new dad, Christopher, to church soon. Sophia decided to take Christopher home with her. She wanted him to be the father she never had. She wanted to call him dad, something she’d never called anyone, and care for him like his daughter until he reunited with his sweetheart in Heaven.
What can we learn from this story?
Grief is just another precious emotion that spills at the loss of a loved one. Christopher and Sophia were two beings apart, but their grief brought them together. While Christopher had lost his beloved wife, Emma, Sophia had lost her mother. They were shattered after losing their loved ones, and that grief drove them to shoulder each other.
No amount of money nor can a mountain of gold buy the most precious wealth you have: Your memories! No matter how everyone tried and cried, Christopher never allowed anybody to listen to the recordings on the tape his late wife left for him. Ultimately, the recordings turned out to be a compilation of the songs and her voice, each with a beautiful memory of the past they once cherished.
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