Jack sat in the living room and looked around the house. It seemed empty and meaningless. His wife of 45 years had died nine months ago.
At 68 years old, Jack began to understand the pain of being alone. Waking up and going to bed in an empty home was depressing.
Jack’s house was clean because there was no one to mess it up. He mowed the lawn regularly and did the dishes each day. The gardens had been seeded to grass. There were still a few flowers here and there, but he planted them in the spring and they pretty much took care of themselves.
Jack and his wife had raised five kids. Jack considered himself a good father. He played ball and went to unending Little League games. When the kids were older, he attended high school sporting events.
He knew how to play with dolls and had built playhouses in the living room.
He thought his kids were well-rounded. Both the boys and the girls played sports. All were involved in concerts and plays.
Now that his children were grown, two lived nearby and the other three were within a few hours of driving.
After the funeral there were a lot of visitors to Jack’s home. Extended family and neighbors checked on him and letters arrived almost each day. But during the winter months it was far quieter at his house. Days and weeks went by with very few visitors.
Spring planting gave Jack purpose and helped him get up in the morning. Even though spring had been long and wet, he had little else to do and Jack’s crops looked better than most people’s around him.
But now summer was upon him. While there were days of spraying and other summertime projects, for the most part he got up in the morning and looked around the house for something to do. It was hard coping with loneliness. His friends encouraged him to start dating someone, but for Jack it was much too soon. He still was grieving.
Jack had been working since he was 20 years old. As his wife was dying, he tried to evaluate if he had spent too much time accumulating wealth. He did not consider himself rich, but he had more than enough to last through the rest of his life and still leave a sizable inheritance for his children. He struggled trying to figure out something else to do. While his wife was alive, they had traveled some, but he had little desire to see much of anything now.
On an early July morning, Jack sat on the couch and searched for the purpose of his life. After a while he wandered into the kitchen thinking he should have some breakfast. As he opened the refrigerator door, a piece of paper attached to the door caught his attention. It was a picture his granddaughter had drawn for him on Father’s Day. It was a stick figure of a person pushing someone else on a swing. At the bottom it said, “I love you, Grandpa.” It was signed by Stacy, written in large scrawled letters.
As Jack pulled out the milk jug, a thought entered his mind. While he considered himself a good parent, he was not a wonderful grandparent. He was not involved in his grandchildren’s lives as much as his wife had been. As the sun came up, Jack started planning.
There were eight grandchildren, with four living relatively close. The oldest was 17 and the youngest was 9 months. Jack decided he would take on some of the older kids first. The last time he was around them they talked about the Avengers movies.
Jack was not a great movie fan. In the past he would listen and appear to be interested as his grandchildren talked about the latest moves. Since none of his friends would be able to help him, he called one of his sons to find out what the Avengers movies were about.
After getting some idea, he called three of the kids and invited them to go to an Avengers movie with him. They were excited. They went through lots of popcorn and pop and after the movie went to Dairy Queen. He returned home late but now felt like a movie expert and was happy for the experience.
One of Jack’s daughters had three small children ages 5, 3 and 9 months old. When Jack was young he was a diaper changer, but it had been years since he watched little kids. His daughter seemed suspicious and a little skeptical when he volunteered to watch the kids so they could go out on a date night.
He arrived early the next evening at 4 o’clock. It took his daughter more than 30 minutes to go over all the things that needed to be done while they would be gone for five hours. She had written out a schedule, including when the kids should have baths and when to go to bed. She also listed phone numbers where they could be reached if there was a problem. He assured her they would be fine. As they drove out of the driveway, he wondered what he had gotten himself into.
Fortunately, the evening went by without any mishaps. The night ended with him sitting in a rocking chair with the 9 month old in his arms because she wouldn’t sleep anywhere else. As they sat and rocked, something changed in Jack. He wasn’t just watching some kids, he was rocking his granddaughter to sleep.
He looked at her little face and bright eyes. He touched her fingers and held her hand. Jack found a new purpose in his life.
Over the next 10 years he went to ball games and concerts. He fulfilled babysitting assignments. He went fishing and took his family on vacations. And he changed many more diapers. These experiences were wonderful. Jack still farmed, and some mornings when he woke up the house still seemed big and empty. But while the house was empty, Jack was not. He was happy.
During our lives we will be challenged. Perhaps we will face great financial challenges. Perhaps we will experience health problems or the loss of loved ones. If we open our eyes we will find that there are still opportunities to do good and find happiness.
Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org